The Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining (OGM) began as the Utah Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in 1955. The primary focus as governed by Utah statute was and has remained fossil fuels and energy resources developed with drilling and mining technology. For this reason, the Division is often a magnet for public policy issues and debate over fossil fuel development in Utah.
I have learned in my career that public opinion about fossil energy development exists in a wide spectrum. There are friends and foes of fossil fuels with moderate to strong opinions in both camps.
In recent years there have emerged very polar extreme opinions on both ends of the spectrum or what I call the fanatics. I’ve observed that very little can be done to sway these vocal extremists away from their almost religious fervor about their beliefs. While very outspoken, I believe they represent the minority opinion for society as a whole.
In the middle of the opinion spectrum there are those who don’t have an opinion or the fence-sitters; the fickle who tip one way or the other depending on the last thing they heard or read; and the fearful who worry that establishing opinions may harm their ability to take advantage of opportunities in either direction.
I believe the majority of this spectrum or the ‘rational middle’ understands the value and need for energy development on all levels including fossil fuels and renewables. It is my great hope that those in the rational middle, who run the gamut of moderate foes to friends, will dictate the policies for energy development in our society going forward.
Our Division is committed to the future of oil, gas and mining in Utah. As our population and demand for energy resources increase, we will continue to ensure responsible resource development, protect the public’s safety and preserve the environment while permitting access to affordable and reliable energy sources for future generations.
In March 2015, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) publicized a new regulation known as the Hydraulic Fracturing Rule. This Rule came after more than four years of BLM efforts to govern hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” operations on all federal and Indian lands in the U.S.
Specifically, the Rule was aimed at protecting groundwater resources through new casing and cementing requirements and increasing transparency through greater public disclosure of chemicals used. However, the Rule’s one-size-fits-all approach added red tape and bureaucracy without actually improving resource protection.
A coalition of states and two industry groups immediately challenged the Rule in federal court. Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota and Utah argued that the Rule should be struck down for two reasons. First, the Rule was outside of the BLM’s authority and second, the BLM did not support the Rule with the best available science required.
In June 2016, the court sided with the states and held that the Rule was outside of the BLM’s power. This decision is currently on appeal.
Utah already regulates hydraulic fracturing on both state and federal lands, and there have been no fracking-related undesirable events in the state. As such, the Rule would have been a burden to operators working on federal land without any additional environmental protections; that is, the Rule imposed costs without benefits.
The Division’s Oil and Gas Program will continue to require best engineering practices for any given location that provides maximum protection to groundwater and other natural resources, the environment, and the citizens of Utah.
Hydraulic fracturing produces fractures in the rock formation that stimulate the flow of natural gas or oil, increasing the volumes that can be recovered. Fractures are created by pumping large quantities of fluid at high pressure down a wellbore and into the target rock formation. Hydraulic fracturing fluid commonly consists of water, sand and chemical additives that open and enlarge fractures within the rock formation.
Once the injection process is completed, the fluid is pumped to the surface through the wellbore. This fluid is known as produced water and may contain the injected chemicals plus naturally occurring materials such as brines and hydrocarbons. The produced water is typically stored on site in tanks or pits before treatment, disposal or recycling. In many cases, it is injected underground for disposal.
The first commercially successful application of hydraulic fracturing occurred in 1950. Today it is a common practice and is generally necessary to achieve adequate flow rates in oil and gas wells.
The rapid decline of energy prices has proved challenging for Utah and the Division. Earlier this year no new oil wells were being drilled in the state- a first since the late 1960’s. As of July 20, there are four rigs operating, compared with 17 in 2015 and 25 in 2014.
In 2014, oil prices topped out at $100 a barrel. Last year, they bottomed at $30 and have gone as low as $20 this year. Oil currently is selling for under $50 a barrel.
The Division relies heavily on monies generated from a conservation tax, which is two-tenths of one percent (.002) of the value of oil and gas produced and saved, sold, or transported from the field in Utah where the oil or gas is produced. Due to the rapid decline of the value of oil and gas, the Division is facing budget shortages impacting the oil and gas program and administration. Voluntary out-of-state travel restrictions have been implemented and vacant positions have not been filled.
We monitor the prices daily and hope for a rebound of prices in the near future.
The White Oak Mine, also know as the Belina Mine, was an underground coal mine established prior to the 1975 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) requiring a reclamation bond prior to operation. The surface was privately owned and the coal was owned by the United States.
This project was very successful due to the partnerships with Utah Division of Water Quality, Spanish Fork Public Works and Price River Water Improvement District, Skyline CWMA, Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, Skyline Mine, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Snow College, Carbon County Road Department and the Utah Geological Survey and the Office of Surface Mining.
1984 – 2001 Mine permit was held by several operators Valley Camp of Utah, White Oak Mining & Construction and finally Lodestar Energy.
2001 60.9- acres of surfacing mining was permitted.
2001 Lodestar’s bonding company, Frontier Insurance Company went into “rehabilitation.”
2003 Lodestar went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
2004 Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining (OGM) recovered General Settlement Funds for reclamation.
2004-2005 Loadout and surface mine facilities were reclaimed.
2007 – 2008 Sediment loading, poor vegetation growth, severe erosion and sink holes were noted in Eccles Creek.
2009 Obtained Stream Alteration Permit from the Utah Division of Water Rights and received authorization from the Utah Division of Water Quality (DWQ) to apply bio-solids to the reclaimed area. Received a Utah Non-point Source Grant from DWQ for bio solids use on the project.
2010 – 2011 Constructed terraces, applied bio solids from the Spanish Fork Wastewater Reclamation and Price River Water Treatment facilities; seeded with native species and Triticale as a sterile cover crop; applied straw and wood straw mulch. Constructed drop structures and riprap ladders in steep sections of Whiskey Creek. Work was completed by Innovative Excavation, Inc.
2013 Worked with the Skyline Cooperative Weed Management Area (CWMA) to coordinate weed control in a six square mile area adjacent to the White Oak Mine for three years.
2014 Landowner requested the mile-long mine access road be reclaimed. Carbon County Road Department accepted the re-milled asphalt and hauled it away for reuse in the Scofield area. Work was completed by Feller Enterprises. Received Utah Department of Agriculture and Food grant to support a three-year weed control and mapping effort. Grant employed Snow College students to map area invasive species.
2015 Utah Geologic Survey staff surveyed elevations in Eccles Creek to help obtain a stream alteration permit. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and OGM staff collected willow cuttings, sedge and rush plugs from Eccles Creek to replant in the reconstructed channel. Nelco Contractors, Inc. removed 7,600 cubic yards (cy) of fill from Eccles Creek and reconstructed the Eccles Creek channel to allow fish passage. Funded by an Office of Surface Mining Civil Penalties Grant and a contribution from the DWR SE Utah Regional Aquatic Program. Skyline Mine also contributed by hauling fill away.
2016 Obtained stream alteration permit for Whiskey Creek to repair erosion caused by sediment from the mine facilities at the head of the watershed. Work was completed by Nelco Contractors, Inc. with a grant from the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative (WRI).
Leslie Heppler is an Environmental Scientist III/Reclamation Specialist in the Minerals Program and has been with the Division since March 2008. Her diverse knowledge allows her to contribute to mining engineering, geology and geotechnical engineering concerns confronting the Division on a daily basis.
Mining builds wealth to our society and is the backbone that provides metals and materials allowing the standard of living we all enjoy. Leslie works to find solutions that keep the public and environment protected, while allowing responsible resource development. Responsible miners plan from “cradle to grave” with the goal to move materials only once and end with successful reclamation- it is a win-win for the environment and society.
Her formal training consists of a Bachelor of Science Degree in Geology from Western State College. Leslie’s school of hard “rocks” consisted of three summers with Homestake Mining in uranium exploration; three years with Amoco Minerals exploring Wyoming for Precambrian volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits, Arizona porphyry copper deposits and a mid-Miocene aged extensional tectonic gold prospect that became the Copperstone Gold Mine.
She spent 10 years with Kennecott in the exploration department and at the Barneys Canyon Mine. Her experience at Barneys Canyon included a year as mine foreman where she had the number one production and safety record. She also worked as the drill and blast foreman detonating 300 holes a day, five days a week. She is very proud of the work she did and attributes her successes to her crews with whom she worked.
Seeking a more quiet life, Leslie took a job with the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) monitoring and fixing landslides, responding to geotechnical emergencies and new slope design for the next 13 years.
Leslie has been a state employee for 21 years. She enjoys all the challenges of working in the Minerals program. She credits the best part of her job to the team of co-workers she works with and the support of management who allows her the freedom to do what needs to be done.
When Leslie is not working, she spends time with her latest rescue puppy “Maggie von Waggles” who is always up for a hike, walk or chasing the ball. She also enjoys puttering in the garden, updating her home and frequent trips to Colorado to help her parents.