Inside Energy

Stories from Inside Energy

Andrew Cullen / Inside Energy

As Lea Anne Shellberg knows, spring can be a difficult time. It's when the winter power bills start piling up. A broken back and a recurring skin cancer battle ended her career as an interior designer. When I first tried arranging an interview, she was in trouble.

"This is gonna be fun," she said, "we're literally going to be sitting in the dark."

Despite Shellberg and her daughter taking extra care to keep lights off and appliances unplugged, the charges for the last two months at her modular home were unexpectedly high, $470. With a fixed and razor-thin budget, she couldn't pay the bill.

When it comes to covering utility costs, the poor are paying more than they can afford and energy assistance programs are struggling to keep pace.

Dan Boyce / Inside Energy

Colorado Supreme Court justices unanimously ruled that state laws protecting the oil and gas industry overrule a hydraulic fracturing ban in Longmont [.pdf] and a five-year moratorium in Fort Collins [.pdf], calling both of the voter-approved moves "invalid and unenforceable." While the industry sees the decision as a big win, opponents view the ballot box as the likely outlet now for gaining more local control.

Fort Collins and Longmont's oil and gas control measures were the headline examples, but they weren't alone in the state. What happens now with similar efforts in Boulder County and Broomfield?

Dan Boyce / Inside Energy

The costs of wind and solar power have fallen dramatically in recent years. Still, renewables only account for a fraction of the energy produced in the United States.

That's one of the challenges facing the new director of the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado. Dr. Martin Keller, who took over following the retirement of Dan Arvizu in late 2015, describes NREL's mission -- acting as the nation's premier renewable energy research laboratory -- as one of filling in the gaps in science and technology.

Colorado Wind Energy Gets A Burst Of Good News

Apr 12, 2016
NCAR/UCAR

Unlike fossil fuels, wind energy is booming.

Xcel Energy has announced a proposal with Denmark-based Vestas Wind Systems to build a 300 turbine project in eastern Colorado. It would be the state's largest wind farm. The utility isn't releasing further information until the project is formally filed with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

Even without firm details on the project, the wind industry is clearly growing.

The Electric Bill Of The Near Future Just Might Use 'Time-Of-Use' Pricing

Mar 17, 2016
Anders B Knudsen / Flickr - Creative Commons

Electricity pricing for your home has been relatively straightforward. The more you use, the more you pay. That simple equation is no longer so simple. Increasingly, the time of day when you use electricity factors into the cost as well. It's called time-of-use pricing, and while it can save money and energy, it's not always popular.

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The U.S. oil and gas industry was shocked by the sudden death of Aubrey McClendon. The former CEO of Chesapeake Energy, a major producer now floundering under low oil and gas prices, was an influential executive. His death came just a day after being indicted on bid rigging and price fixing charges.

Chesapeake Energy was a key leader in the U.S. oil and gas boom of the last decade. It was aggressive with new technologies and took big risks leasing a lot of land with oil and gas locked up in tight shale rock formations. These days though, there's a lot of bad news coming from the oilfield. Companies large and small are laying off workers and selling off assets. Even among companies in trouble, there's just something different about Oklahoma-based Chesapeake.

Inside Energy

On a cold night in January 2012, Dustin Bergsing climbed to the top of a storage tank on a well pad in the North Dakotan Bakken oilfield. Bergsing was a well watcher; he measured the oil levels of the tanks.

He was later found dead by a co-worker, slumped on the catwalk.

An autopsy revealed that his blood contained hydrocarbons like benzene, ethane and butane – the same compounds found in natural gas. At that point, few people had heard of oil workers dying, out in the open, from inhaling petroleum gases. Because of Bergsing's case, four years later oilfield hydrocarbon vapor poisoning is a known occupational hazard. One that workers are still being exposed to every day as a routine part of doing their job.

Emily Guerin / Inside Energy

Bankruptcies of oilfield companies large and small have grown as prices remain at their lowest levels in a decade or more. But company insolvencies aren't the only way a worker can be left underpaid. A growing number of oil workers are turning to the courts, saying they weren't paid fairly — even when times were good.

In Colorado, there were nine times as many wage suits against oil and gas companies in 2015 as there were in 2010.

Old Oil & Gas Wells Living Under Your Colorado Neighborhood? It's A Hard Question To Answer

Feb 16, 2016
Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

When a well no longer produces commercial quantities of oil and gas, companies "abandon" it, usually by placing cement plugs inside the wellbore, to stop the flow of gas and fluids. The industry considers that the end of the life of a well.

It then just lurks beneath the surface, out of sight and maybe forgotten. So it was news to Jeff Parsek that state records show there is an abandoned oil and gas well in the driveway of his Fort Collins, Colorado home.

"If it started to emit something, then I might [be worried]," he said. "But to this point, I'm not concerned."

North Dakota Is Feeling The Pinch Of The Commodities And Oil Price Slide

Feb 3, 2016
Emily Guerin / Inside Energy

On the surface, North Dakota doesn't seem like a state full of risk-takers. It's conservative, faith and family-oriented. Yet many of the state's residents are constantly making big bets on how much money they're going to make next year, or whether they're going to have a job in a few months.

That's because the state economy is dominated by commodities – raw goods like crude oil, cattle or wheat – which have all fallen 34 percent, 30 percent and 16 percent respectively in the past year. The entire state is feeling the effect, but residents of small towns like Killdeer are on the front lines.

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