Many in northeastern Wyoming, especially those in the oil industry, are familiar with the Minnelusa Formation, the sandstone formation more than 9,300 feet underground that stretches across the Powder River Basin.
Minnelusa is said to mean “rapid water” in Sioux, and the formation was named by N.H. Winchell in 1895 near Rapid City, South Dakota.
The formation was created during the Permian period of the Paleozoic era, meaning the sandstone was deposited more than 250 million years ago. It was a time of extreme climate change that caused a great deal of sea-level rise and sea-level fall.
“As glaciers formed in the North and South Poles, sea levels regressed and there were Sahara desert-type dune sands that marched across the sea floor and deposited sand dunes,” Fred McLaughlin, the interim director of the Center for Economic Geology Research at the University of Wyoming, told the crowd at Dry Fork Station on Tuesday night. “Then the ice caps would melt, the seaway would come back over and cover the dunes up and you’d get thick carbonate beds that were put down, and you see that time and time again in this formation.”
According to a 2010 study of the basin conducted by U.S. Geological Survey, oil seeps were first observed in the area in the early 1900s, and the first Minnelusa oil field was drilled in 1906. Most of the oil-producing Minnelusa fields are to the east of this area, into the Black Hills and South Dakota.
The oil-producing properties of the Minnelusa formation provided a key insight to scientists like McLaughlin: The formation’s ability to hold fluid was quite high.
The Wyoming CarbonSAFE project, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, now seeks to drill down all the way to the Minnelusa Formation to explore its suitability to hold a different kind of fluid — the fluid-like dense state of carbon dioxide after it has been captured and converted from a power plant’s flue stack.
So the Minnelusa Formation, created millions of years ago due to extreme climate change and famously known for its ability to produce crude oil, will provide a key storage area for millions of tons of carbon dioxide, safely and securely and permanently, as technology tries to combat climate change.
Carbon capture in the Carbon Valley
The Powder River Basin wants to be the hub of a so-called Carbon Valley, a center of development and innovation in the world of carbon similar to what California’s Silicon Valley became to technology and computers.
Sitting on some 25 billion tons of recoverable coal, the basin long ago made itself indispensable in the energy world, shipping coal to dozens of states all over the country and providing 43% of all coal mined in the United States.
But the reality of the energy industry in Wyoming is stark and simple: The state relies heavily on the exporting of its energy resources, and as a result, it is subject to market forces that are influenced by factors far outside the borders of the state. Those factors can include state-specific regulations, federal regulations and even international treaties, as governments and businesses around the world consider the alternatives to the status quo when it comes to energy production and consumption and seek to curb greenhouse gas emissions, namely carbon dioxide, in hopes of slowing down the forward march of climate change.
At the public outreach session on Tuesday night, Scott Quillinan, the senior director of research at the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources, showed two maps of the country that he found to be particularly interesting on this point.
The first showed a common starting point in Wyoming and the Powder River Basin, with rays extending outward, most of them to the east, to different locations in various states, all of them illustrating where the basin’s coal is shipped.
The second map is like a heat-source map, but instead of showing areas of high temperatures, it showed areas of high carbon emissions.
The hot-spots on the second map very closely mirror the destinations of Wyoming’s exports.
“That’s Powder River Basin coal,” Quillinan said. More fascinating still, Quillinan said, was the areas marked on that hot-spot map that were potentially good locations for carbon capture and storage.
“What we’re doing here at Dry Fork today is exportable, it’s deployable, and it can go almost everywhere Powder River Basin coal is shipped,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important.”
Carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) is on the cutting edge researching and perfecting technology that might help reduce a power plant’s carbon footprint. Wyoming CarbonSAFE is a specific program testing that technology in, among other places, northeast Wyoming.
The basics of the process were explained by Holly Krutka, the executive director of the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources.
“Basically, it’s technology that prevents CO2, or carbon dioxide, from coming out of the stacks,” Krutka said. “The way we do that is we either use a membrane or a liquid that reacts with the CO2, and the point is we pull it out of the gas that’s going to go up the stack. It’s concentrated; it’s pure. We pressurize it, and then we have the ability to use it, or store it underground, or both.”
On the “use it” side of things, Krutka pointed to some of the technologies that had been demonstrated at the ITC, like a new cement block or hand sanitizer. Large-scale uses, like enhanced oil recovery, the process of injecting CO2 into a depleted oil field to help push the oil up, are also available.
But the CarbonSAFE project is mostly focused on storage potential.
“It’s a huge focus for the state of Wyoming and the School of Energy Resources,” Krutka said.
Not only does the technology pose a potential key weapon in the ongoing fight against climate change, it provides new economic opportunities.
“The School of Energy Resources, our focus and our mission is energy-driven economic development for the state of Wyoming,” Krutka said. “That’s what we do every day, and we feel that carbon capture fits really squarely in that bucket. Why we look at it as a state is it saves jobs, and it actually creates jobs as a technology class. It’s going to help enable Wyoming fuels in a carbon-constrained future that we are facing.”
Wyoming, Krutka said, has the best potential of anywhere in the world to develop this technology.
“Gov. (Mark) Gordon has challenged us, as a state, to get to net-negative emissions,” Krutka said. “That’s not going to happen without carbon capture and storage. Lot of places say they’re going to get to net-neutral emissions, ‘We’re not going to have any more emissions.’ But here, we’ve actually been challenged to go actually negative. That really is not possible without the carbon capture and storage technology we’re going to talk about today.”
And then there were five
The Department of Energy announced the Carbon Storage Assurance and Facility Enterprise (CarbonSAFE) program in 2016. The goal of the program was to fund several projects to large-scale carbon capture projects by 2025.
Each would have the same goal: to capture and geologically store in one or more saline reservoirs a minimum of 50 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (or approximately 2 million metric tons per year over a 25-year project life) with the preferred carbon dioxide source being a coal-fired power plant.
When it first began, there were 13 projects, of which Dry Fork Station was one. Through the successive phases, the total number of projects has winnowed down to just five. Dry Fork Station is competing against projects in Illinois, Mississippi, North Dakota and New Mexico.
Now in its third phase, the Wyoming CarbonSAFE program already has drilled one test well and hopes to drill another in the coming years, all for the purpose of analyzing how the different types of subsurface formations, including the Minnelusa, might respond to millions of tons of dense-state carbon dioxide being injected into the ground for permanent storage.
“The idea of having two wells is so we can actually test the reservoir that hasn’t been tested to-date,” McLaughlin told the crowd Tuesday night. “There are other reservoirs that produce oil and gas in the region, and we know because of the production history how they produce and how they pump and how they react to fluid moving through these.”
The researchers will run what they call interference tests on these wells using water to see how fluid transfers to the surface. McLaughlin called it a sort of “call and response system” between the wells which “will tell us a lot more of how fluid propagates through the subsurface than we can get with just one well.”
But in this third phase, it’s still a research project. No actual carbon dioxide is going to be injected, McLaughlin said on a call the day after the public outreach session at Dry Fork Station.
“It’s just the due diligence to try to prove this is feasible,” he said. “Science, or research, is about ‘trying to prove,’ not ‘to prove.’ If you go in assuming your model is right already, that’s not a good thing. All of the data will be available at the end of this, and I think that’s an important thing. We don’t have commercial interest in this thing. It’s not, ‘We’re either going to make this work no matter what or we’re going to lose our investors.’”
Another goal of Wyoming CarbonSAFE’s third phase is to secure what the Environmental Protection Agency calls a Class VI permit for the wells, which is what allows for the injection of carbon dioxide into the ground. The EPA’s Underground Injection Control Program, which aims to protect underground sources of drinking water, imposes rigorous requirements on wells used for the purpose of carbon capture and storage.
In 2020, Wyoming was granted primary enforcement responsibility over Class VI wells, meaning that permitting is done through Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality instead of the more cumbersome EPA process.
“This final rule will give Wyoming the authority to permit many more carbon capture projects,” said U.S. Sen. John Barrasso in September when the EPA announced the change. “Wyoming is blessed with an abundance of resources like coal, natural gas, and oil that power America’s homes and businesses. Under the EPA’s final rule, Washington will recognize Wyoming’s expertise in capturing excess carbon and sequestering it underground.”
McLaughlin said, if granted, the two test wells would be the first wells in Wyoming to meet Class VI standards.
So what exactly were the leaders of the CarbonSAFE project hoping to convey to the public at Tuesday night’s outreach session? In many ways, it’s that, for as advanced as the science and technology are, carbon capture and storage is actually building off a well-known and existing body of information.
“The ability for people to understand the ultimate goal of long-term, safe, reliable, and known and quantifiable carbon storage,” McLaughlin said. “This sounds new, but it’s not a new industry. People have been doing gas storage, generally, there’s an industry that’s existed well over a hundred years almost to do gas storage. We’re able to build off a lot of the methods and techniques and real-life learning that has been employed and deployed successfully.”
Campbell County commissioners will meet with the Campbell County Public Library board next week to discuss the ongoing controversy over LBGTQ+ material that has divided the community over the past few weeks.
After listening to more than half an hour of public comment at the commissioners’ regular meeting Tuesday morning, the board agreed to meet with the library board on Thursday.
The special meeting will take place at 9 a.m. in the Wyoming Room at the Campbell County Public Library. Commissioners will meet with board members to discuss library operations, including the library collection development policy, the collection challenge process and training programs.
On July 7, some residents criticized the Campbell County Public Library about a Facebook post promoting its LGBTQ teen collection for Rainbow Book Month.
Six days later, Mikayla Oz, a magician who had been scheduled to perform at the library, canceled due to safety concerns after it was learned that she was a transgender woman.
On July 26, a library board meeting became contentious and heated as people on both sides of the issue made their arguments. At that meeting, numerous people asked the board and library director Terri Lesley to resign.
The saga continued Tuesday. Commission Chairman Bob Maul limited each person to a minute and a half for the sake of time because the board had a lengthy agenda.
Kevin Bennett took his 90 seconds to pray that Maul, as well as Commissioners Rusty Bell and D.G. Reardon, would be moved to repent.
“The commissioners who are against this are more interested in keeping time than they are in helping our children,” Bennett prayed. “They are more interested in publicity shots with Miss Campbell County than they are protecting children like that from being abused by our tax dollars and public institutions like the library.”
Right before the public comment period, the commissioners met the winners of the Miss Campbell County pageant.
“I think it was the hand of God that he had little children pass among you today,” said Ed Sisti, pastor of Open Door Church.
In his prayer, Bennett said that Reardon has been “quiet on an issue you can’t be quiet about,” and that Bell has said that he’s interested in a diverse economy, but “he’s going to vote for a collegiate program that will kill jobs at the coal mines and he says that diversity is our strength and we should attract leftist ideologies.”
“I pray Father in Heaven that you would move these men to repent of their actions and do the right thing and if you will not move them to repent I pray you would remove them from office either by recall or by resignation, Father in Heaven,” Bennett prayed.
Sara Painter said the community is in a sorry state.
“In Campbell County, pedophiles get a slap on the wrist and a pat on the back while grown men who solicit grown women for sex get two years in jail,” she said.
Painter said she’s not against the LGBTQ community, and that “every letter of the alphabet should be here speaking out” against sexual materials being available to children.
“The public library is complicit in the solicitation of statutory rape,” she said, adding that the community has a problem, and “we can’t fix it at the polls if the polls are fixed.”
Susan Sisti said she’s been researching the library’s collection, which she promised to continue doing and speak at every commissioner meeting.
She said there were “89 books in the library for transgender,” and 180 for alternative lifestyles.
“The library is full of trans, lesbian, and everything else authors — all but straight, almost,” she said.
She said the teen section has many books about “sexual perversion,” and noted that “there’s a lot of foreign writers that are writing” about that topic.
“The teen section is full of rebellion. It’s not good for our youth,” she said.
Additionally, the library is being filled with books written by authors who attended writing schools in New York, she said.
“New York is very liberal. This is Wyoming, we’re not New York,” Sisti said.
The library needs to change the process in which it chooses what books to put on the shelves, Ben Decker said. He asked the commissioners to stop the library from relying on the American Library Association, and to “remove books that encourage sexual activity, whether straight or gay” from the teen and children’s sections.
The commissioners are going to have to discriminate against certain groups of people, he added, but it’s the right thing to do.
“You’ll have to discriminate against people who want to groom children, those who want to traffic children and those who want to make obscene profits from abortions,” Decker said. “Please don’t tell me that we have to accept pedophilia, please don’t tell me it’s OK to tell children to have sex.”
At a previous commissioners meeting, Maul said that if parents don’t want their kids going to the teen room or reading questionable books, it’s their job to keep the children from doing so.
Susan Bennett said that by this line of thought, the commissioners are discriminating against latchkey kids.
“You assume every family is a traditional nuclear family,” she said. “Well, the family’s been under attack by people that do nothing for so long that there’s not very many traditional nuclear families.”
That also was mentioned in Kevin Bennett’s prayer.
“If the children don’t have good parents, I guess the wolverines in the state can take them and do whatever they want,” he prayed. “Or children will lose their ability to be children and rebel.”
Former librarian Sue Knesel, the only person Tuesday to speak in support of the library, said she didn’t think much would come out of continuing “this discussion this way, with one side and the other just repeating the same information.”
The library’s mission is to provide information to everyone, she said.
“What I’m hearing here today is that one person’s information is considered pornography by others,” Knesel said.
The library has a process in place for books to be challenged. Susan Bennett said no one has the time to go “through the bureaucratic red tape they want us to go through” on each of the books.
Ed Sisti read a quote from Noah Webster, who said “society requires that the education of youth should be watched with the most scrupulous attention.”
“Do the right thing. Monitor the library,” Sisti said. “Make it right. It’s your responsibility.”
In late July, the county released a statement on tolerance and anti-discrimination. County Administrative Director Carol Seeger said Commission Chairman Bob Maul had asked for the statement to be crafted following the commissioners’ second July meeting.
The statement read that the county “is committed in policy, practice and principal to fostering and maintaining an environment that respects every individual regardless of background, experience and culture,” and that discrimination and harassment, including those based on gender and sexual orientation, won’t be tolerated.
A couple of people used their 90 seconds to criticize the statement, including Bob Vomhof, who said it violates the First Amendment, citing three historic court cases.
“I hate to break it to all the snowflakes, but nice isn’t the law, and my rights don’t end where your feelings begin,” Vomhof said. “In essence, I can say anything I want short of attack.”
He asked the commissioners to retract the statement and apologize for “violating the civil rights of all Campbell County residents.”
Susan Bennett told the commissioners that when they were elected, they took an oath to serve the residents of Campbell County.
“Part of your oath is to be the legislative, executive judicial branch of Campbell County and represent us,” she said.
The only thing the statement does is put the county at risk for a lawsuit, she added.
“If you let this material continue and somebody gets sick or one of those horrible diseases, legally you are putting our children in danger.”
A 21st birthday is a special day in any person’s life because it commemorates the legal transition into adulthood.
But for Colorado Air National Guard Airman 1st Class Solomon Petz, it was a day to remember and forget.
Petz woke up at 5:30 a.m. on his birthday, June 30. It was supposed to be a day where friends and family would call or text him wishing happy birthday or put on a party for him.
Instead of making plans to do something fun, the Moorcroft High School graduate looked out his bedroom window and discovered that his blue 2000 Chevrolet Silverado was missing.
He thought that perhaps his sister had car trouble and borrowed the pickup.
He called his buddies to see if they knew anything
“I was hoping someone was playing a prank,” Petz said.
It was no MTV prank. No cameras were around to gauge his reaction to a practical joke.
Within five minutes of realizing it was not a stunt, Petz called police to report that someone stole the Chevy, a vehicle that was much more than basic transportation.
“I’m just upset because I had so many things in there,” he said. “The monetary value isn’t really what it’s worth to me. It’s sentimental.”
Among the items taken was a bag with Petz’s uniform and other military-related items.
It is disheartening to think about someone taking his military gear, said his mom, Gyspy Petz, adding that his uniforms were probably thrown out or sold to a pawn shop.
“That part makes me sick,” she said.
The Colorado Air National Guard informed Solomon he will be issued new uniforms.
The Chevy also contained equipment he used to go fishing with his grandfather.
“That was rough,” he said. “I had those memories of being a little kid in (the truck). I learned how to drive in it.”
Gypsy was disgusted by what happened to her son.
“Solomon was trying to get going and get started in life,” she said. “He was just a victim of someone else’s ability to not work hard and just take from others.”
Moorcroft Police Chief Bill Bryant said Solomon’s missing Silverado was entered into the National Crime Information Center database shortly after it was reported June 30.
“Right now, we’re kind of waiting to see if it shows up somewhere,” Bryant said, adding that the case is difficult to resolve because the incident happened at night and there were no witnesses and no evidence. “There’s not much we can really do.”
“The hardest part about everything is that it was stolen from our house, outside my son’s bedroom window,” Gypsy said. “It makes you feel pretty victimized.”
The truck’s license plate number is 17-25153.
“It is a clean truck,” Solomon said. “It only had a few nicks and scratches. Nothing you can see.”
If people have information, they can call the Moorcroft Police Department at 307-756-3301.
In the meantime, he is driving his sister’s Ford Fiesta.
“It’s hailed out, but it gets me from point A to point B,” Solomon said.
About a week ago, Gypsy created a GoFundMe account to raise about $5,000 for her son to buy another vehicle.
“I thought I would put it out there,” she said. “It was a way to get it out to more people so we don’t keep asking the same people (for a contribution).”
As of Thursday morning, $220 had been raised.
Solomon needs a vehicle sooner than later because he has to get back to Buckley Air Force Base in the coming months. This winter, he is going to be deployed overseas.