Wyoming news briefs for May 3

Railcar explosion investigation could last months

RIVERTON — Work force safety officials say their investigation into last week’s fatal railcar explosion in Shoshoni could continue for several months. 

Until then, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will offer no comment on the incident, Wyoming Department of Workforce Services communications manager Ty Stockton said Wednesday. 

Stockton also noted that OSHA may not have jurisdiction over the incident, which occurred at a railcar repair yard and could fall under the purview of the Federal Railroad Association instead.

The investigation is ongoing despite the jurisdictional questions, Stockton said, adding that OSHA does not approach the incident from a “criminal or otherwise standpoint,” but rather “in terms of workplace safety and whether the rules were followed.” 

Wyoming even has an occupational epidemiologist who determines whether each workplace safety incident represents a “one-off sort of thing” or signals a need to “make some changes (to) protect workers,” Stockton said. 

Other elements of the case – for example, the question of cause – often are investigated by partnering agencies like local fire departments and police departments, “depending on the incident,” he said. 

Two local men died in last week’s explosion: Dallas Mitchell, 28, of Riverton, and Daniel Conway, 18, of Shoshoni, both employees of Wasatch Rail Repair. 

Officials said the men were inside of a railcar tanker conducting routine maintenance when an explosion occurred at about 3:25 p.m. Wednesday, April 21.


State denies Pine Bluffs schools mask variance

CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Department of Health has denied Laramie County School District 2’s request for an exemption to the state’s continued mask mandate in K-12 schools.

The rural eastern Laramie County district, which serves roughly 1,050 students in grades K-12, applied for the exemption a couple weeks ago and received notice that it was denied earlier this week. According to the district’s website, it counted two active cases of COVID-19 and 12 individuals in quarantine as of Tuesday afternoon.

Laramie County, as a whole, is experiencing some of the highest case numbers in Wyoming, recording 102 active COVID-19 cases as of Thursday afternoon. Although Gov. Mark Gordon recently lifted the statewide mask mandate for most other public spaces, including gyms and bars, face coverings are still required in schools when social distancing is not possible. Students and staff who are wearing masks if and when they are exposed to an infected individual do not have to quarantine.

To date, the state health department has granted exemptions to 20 of Wyoming’s 48 total school districts, and all of those are in areas with low case counts.

Every district granted an exemption fell into the department’s so-called green zones, which means it encompasses an area with fewer than 19 cases per 100,000 people. Laramie County, however, does not fall into the green zone.

Laramie County School District 1, Wyoming largest district, has already said it will not seek an exemption to the mask mandate.


ITC to host $51.7M carbon capture research

GILLETTE — Less than two weeks removed from announcing the winners of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize, the Integrated Test Center is at the center of another large, high-profile carbon capture project.

Gov. Mark Gordon announced Friday afternoon that the ITC, attached to the Dry Fork Station coal-fired power plant about 10 miles north of Gillette, will host one of two large U.S. Department of Energy CO2 capture research projects.

The DOE has awarded $99 million to a pair of projects to continue their research into Phase III of the federal Demonstration of Large-Scale Pilot Carbon Capture Technologies program.

One of those Phase III projects is from a group called Membrane Technology and Research (MTR), which was awarded $51.7 million. Along with other non-federal financial backing, the project will bring more than $64 million in research money to Wyoming and Campbell County, Gordon said in a press release announcing the funding awards.

“This is exactly the type of research that was envisioned when the ITC was developed and Wyoming will continue to support these efforts,” Gordon said in a news release.

CarbonBuilt, a research team from the University of California-Los Angeles, was one of two teams of scientists that tested their CO2 capture and reuse technologies at the ITC last summer. On April 19, CarbonBuilt was announced as one of two XPrize winners, with each getting a $7.5 million award.


Wyoming, Colorado Boy Scout councils merge

CASPER — The Greater Wyoming Council and Long Peaks Council officially merged into one Boy Scouts council Saturday, according to a news release by Longs Peak Council. 

The talks to consolidate both councils began late last year after leaders decided the merge would make the councils more efficient and sustainable. 

“This model will provide enhanced opportunities for youth in our programs, more resources to welcome and support additional youth members and adult leaders, and far more opportunity to be innovative in making scouting strong and accessible throughout our combined service area,” said Steve Olsen, volunteer president of the Longs Peak Council. 

The merging of the two councils has no official name; however, it is operating under the temporary name of the Greater Wyoming-Longs Peak Council. 

John L Coleman Jr., scout executive and CEO of the Longs Peak Council, will remain CEO and believes that by combining resources from both councils, the merger will better serve the region.

While the Greater Wyoming Council is headquartered in Casper and the Long Peaks Council in Greeley, Colorado, other existing service centers and properties will remain open to ensure a smooth adjustment, officials said. 

“We are eager to build on the exciting work each council has done in our communities for years, including providing a combined 35,743 hours of service last year alone,” said Ed Morrow, volunteer president of the Greater Wyoming Council. “By working together and streamlining resources, we will help ensure that scouting is well-positioned to serve local youth and communities for years to come.”