For the past several years I have been extolling the tri-part mission of the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining (OGM): 1) Foster responsible development of the state’s petroleum and mineral resources, 2) Protect the public from health and safety impacts of such development and 3) Preserve the environment by requiring effective restoration and reclamation of lands after development has ceased. As we commence a new year and look back at OGM’s accomplishments of 2018, it allows us to assess how well we have achieved our objectives.
The success of the extractive industries in Utah speaks for itself. According to the most recent website references of the U.S. Energy Information Association, Utah ranks 10th in the nation for crude oil production, 13th for natural gas production, and 11th for coal production. The Utah Geological Survey released a report in December entitled “Utah Mining 2017” that characterizes the entire petroleum and mining industries in Utah equating to $5.8 billion in value during that year. OGM is proud to be a catalyst for this industrial activity as the chief regulatory agency responsible for oil, gas and mining permit activity as well as ensuring that such development occurs in a responsible manner.
However along with this valuable development and the important commodities that are produced for consumption by everyone, there are impacts. Risk mitigation becomes a key component of ensuring that development occurs responsibly. Several of the Division’s principal business processes revolve around risk mitigation. For example, the process of reviewing and approving permits for drilling or mining is performed by skilled personnel who have been trained in earth sciences, hydrology, and engineering. By using discerning judgement and a sound regulatory framework, they help companies prudently plan their operations according to established standards. Similarly, the observations of on-the-ground inspection staff determine that extractive industry activities remain in compliance with those same established standards. Other risk mitigation OGM processes are effective data management and record-keeping for transparency to the public, and a public adjudicative process through the Board of Oil, Gas and Mining.
As a consumer society, we all benefit from the extractive industry commodities produced in Utah. As such we are also very much reliant on the efforts of Division personnel in keeping the industrial materials flowing to the marketplace with as minimal risk to the public and environment as possible.
Oil and Gas Program staff worked on the exploration and production waste disposal facilities five year permit renewals requiring operators to have full-cost bonding for their facilities. The state rule, modified and approved by the Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining in 2013, required an independent, third party review of reclamation and closure cost estimates be submitted by July 2018 and that the Division issue new permits for these facilities, which are valid for five years.
Twenty eight of the 30 facilities submitted permit applications by the deadline. Operators who did not submit an application are no longer permitted to operate; operators who do not post a full cost bond or otherwise fulfill the permit application requirements will not have their permits renewed and will not be allowed to operate. Operators without a valid permit will be required to reclaim their facilities.
Bonding protects the Division and the state of Utah against expensive reclamation costs requiring state funds.
The Uinta Basin has seen a boom in horizontal well development. There are presently about 200 horizontal wells drilled in the Basin. As operators drill more wells, they are becoming increasingly more productive with advancing technology and science. Industry experts have estimated that there are 55 billion barrels of oil in place in the Uinta Basin, and this production per section can compete with any other fields in the the country.
Over the last year, three program managers retired with over 95 years Division experience between them. In addition, two experienced field inspectors also left the Division. It is always difficult to replace institutional knowledge and it has been a challenge to replace those valuable employees. However, staff stepped up to fill these voids and we have moved forward with hiring new staff so the program can continue providing quality services to the state of Utah.
Coal Program staff oversaw the reclamation of the Horizon coal mine, a bond forfeiture site in Carbon County. It took roughly three months to remove the coal mine’s five-acre footprint and re-contour the site to match the surrounding landscape. Reclamation involved demolishing and sealing the portals, re-establishing the stream channels through the facility and parking fill pads, and applying topsoil, mulch and seed to the final contoured slopes.
The program had a very busy year with 69 permit amendments processed, 271 field inspections, 90 water quality reports produced, and two bond release applications. Program staff approved significant coal lease additions at several operations extending coal mining well into the future in Utah. Additionally, the Emery No. 2 Mine began producing coal in earnest this year and the Division has received a new permit application package for the construction of the Kinney No. 2 Mine located near Scofield Reservoir.
The program also saw the retirement of two long-time and devoted employees: Program Manager Daron Haddock and Biologist Joe Helfrich with 68 years of combined experience. A new program manager will be hired in February.
The Minerals Program received new applications for five large mines in 2018. Three are for engineered rock products and two are for salts. The most significant application is the Sevier Playa project which is proposed to produce 328,500 tons of potassium sulfate fertilizer annually. This project would cover much of the bed of Sevier Lake and would include other processing and transportation facilities. The Division is not yet ready to approve the project.
The Scipio Pass quarry has been issued tentative approval and would disturb 160 acres near I-15 in Millard County. Clyde Companies anticipates producing 200,000 tons of aggregate products per year for the first five years, with the life of mine currently expected to be 30 years. Two other large mines for aggregate products have been proposed for Washington County.
Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program
In 2018, the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program (AMRP) completed three coal and six non-coal abandoned mine reclamation projects. Work consisted of the construction of 1,600 feet of stream channel at Kenilworth, a previously reclaimed abandoned coal mine, the installation of a concrete plug and backfilling of a subsidence hole with over 13,000 cubic yards of fill material, and the closure of approximately 243 hazardous abandoned mine openings statewide. In addition, maintenance was performed at 15 previously closed abandoned mine sites.
The program received an award for work completed on the Wolf Den Fire reclamation project in the Uintah Basin. The National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs (NAAMLP) publicly recognized Utah for the exemplary physical safety hazard mitigation in the reclamation of abandoned hard rock mines and presented them the nation’s highest achievement at its annual conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. Steve Fluke, AMRP manager and AMRP Archaeologist Seth Button attended the banquet and accepted the award.
Education outreach efforts included the distribution of more than 23,000 “Mining Utah’s Heritage” workbooks to 4th grade classes, designing and printing 1,700 calendars for distribution featuring historic coal mines from Carbon County’s Spring Canyon, and participating in 13 public outreach events.
Each year the Abandoned Mine Reclamation (AMR) Program creates a calendar highlighting the history of mining in Utah. The calendar is part of the fourth grade education program focusing on abandoned mine safety.
This year marks 150 years since the Golden Spike was driven at Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869, linking the nation coast to coast by rail. The AMR Program chose to celebrate this anniversary by recognizing the inextricably linked histories of mines and rails.
Mines use rail for efficient haulage onsite and rely on railroads for offsite shipping. Railroads are today as they were in 1869, one of the most efficient ways to move heavy loads over land. For Utah mines, the transcontinental railroad meant an affordable path to new markets and a way to bring in new workers.
If you would like a free calendar, please send your mailing address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining is accepting nominations for the 2019 Environmental Excellence Awards now through Thursday, February 28. Environmental Excellence Awards recognize reclamation projects, technological innovations, and best practices going above and beyond what is normally expected under industry and regulatory requirements. Innovations in environmental technology, environmental improvement to active mine sites, outstanding final reclamation, and community outreach efforts are eligible for consideration.
Keenan Storrar is a hydrologist and project manager in the Division’s Coal Program. He’s worked in this position for over four years. The majority of his job is reviewing permit amendments and making sure operators are compliant with state regulations and coal mining rules.
His hydrogeology and surface hydrology skills are applied on a daily basis for permitting new and existing coal mining operations in the state. Hydrology reviews involve in-depth analyses to foresee and understand potential impacts to the hydrologic balance stemming from underground and surface coal mining operations.
As a project manager, he oversaw the reclamation of the Horizon Coal mine in Carbon County last summer. He enjoyed this project because he was able to apply knowledge gained from his time working for the Division as well as from his Master’s Degree in hydrology.
Keenan has a Bachelor of Science Degree in geology and a Master of Science Degree in surface hydrology both from the University of Montana.