Drones and Geographic Information Systems

In government we aim to drive down costs, reduce our action times and support decision making and policy decisions that improve the overall quality of life for Utah residents. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are typically thought of as data plus analytics equals data driven decisions. The Division of Oil, Gas and Mining uses GIS to extend that equation where data plus analytics plus data driven decisions equals improved service delivery to both the public and to industry. In using GIS we are able to take limited resources and very easily and strategically fix problems where and when they occur, which extends our limited resources and improves our efficiencies. 

When Division staff didn’t have the capability to fly drones for data acquisition, they were limited to conducting their work using traditional methods. They would use pen, pad, and cameras to collect data and then come back to the office to manually enter it into a computer database. Staff has now begun using Esri GIS software, web GIS and geodatabase management applications on mobile devices to minimize time and errors.

By implementing database standardization and drone technology, staff are now generating data sets that can be archived and used to accurately document existing conditions for oil, gas, and mining activities. This data has reduced disputes and provided data that could be used for litigation matters.

Web based applications help regulate, innovate, and educate our staff and the public so they can stay updated and informed with natural resource activities in Utah. Staff are focused on centralizing data and publishing it to ArcGIS Online, allowing them to spend more time ensuring responsible development of natural resources and environmental protection. The public can be more confident that tax payer dollars are being used responsibly and consistently.

We are building geodatabases for each of our programs- Coal, Minerals, Oil and Gas, and Abandoned Mine Reclamation. We are working with our existing databases to produce web maps, applications, and hosted feature layers. By utilizing these types of databases we are hoping to aggregate, integrate and standardize our geospatial data across the division. We are also leveraging drones and remote sensing to provide much needed insight and documentation to ensure compliance rules are being met and best management practices are being applied to our lands in Utah. The derived drone data will be published to ArcGIS Online for the inspectors to view and make better land management decisions.

Senior GIS Analyst Tom Thompson and Director John Baza were presented with the prestigious SAG award, presented at the annual ESRI conference in San Diego this month. This award is given to .01 of 1% of ESRI users. The award was given for Tom’s presentation Inquiring Mines want to know: Leveraging Location Intelligence for Mine Inspection, incollaboration with Engineering Technician Michael Van Hatten, Associate Director Dana Dean, and Division Director John Baza.

Photo L to R: Division of Oil, Gas and Mining Senior GIS Analyst Tom Thompson, Esri Founder and CEO Jack Dangermond, Division of Oil, Gas and Mining Director John Baza

Employee Highlight – Summer 2019

Peter Brinton is a reclamation specialist with the Minerals Program. He has been with the Division for nine years. 

As a reclamation specialist, he reviews mine and reclamation plans, evaluates environmental impacts, educates industry about permitting and reclamation, inspects sites for compliance, and enforces the Utah Mined Land Reclamation Act. His review responsibilities often include mine waste management/disposal (e.g. tailings, waste rock), hydrology, engineering, and bond calculations. Peter enjoys the occasional opportunity to review archaeology reports and inter-agency documents (EISs and a Species Status Assessment), and to manage/implement bond forfeiture reclamation projects.

The permit review work Peter does helps operators plan for final reclamation and aids in the mitigation and avoidance of environmental damage. Inspections and enforcement actions can help avoid or minimize unplanned environmental impacts.  The goal of reclamation is that a sustainable post-mining land use is achieved (like wildlife habitat or grazing).

According to Peter, the best parts of his job are the exposure to lots of unique operations and reclamation scenarios, the field time and job autonomy, and working in a multi-disciplinary environment with good co-workers who are willing to share what they know and their senses of humor.

Peter has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mining Engineering from the University of Utah and a Master’s of Science Degree in Hydrology from the Colorado School of Mines. When he isn’t working, he enjoys spending time outside, especially in the Uintas and Grand Teton National Park. He also likes time with family and friends, playing soccer, anything science and history-related, and staying fluent in his Spanish. 

Environmental Excellence Awards – 2019

The Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining announced the recipients of the 2019 Environmental Excellence Awards at an open house this week. Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox attended and presented the awards.   
The Board recognizes companies that choose reclamation projects, technological innovations, and best practices far exceeding what is normally expected under industry practices and regulatory requirements. It is also an opportunity for companies to demonstrate technical expertise and show pride in their industry.

2019 Environmental Excellence Award recipients:

Alton Coal Development, LLC., for the North Private Lease Area Kanab Creek Off-Site Mitigation Project near the Coal Hollow Mine in Kane County.

Pictured L to R: Board Chairman Ruland Gill, Kirk Nicholes, Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox

Ashley National Forest for the final reclamation work completed at the Golden Phoenix mine site in Duchesne County.

Pictured L to R: Board Chairman Ruland Gill, David Herron, Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox

Canyon Fuels Company, LLC- Skyline Mine for going above and beyond regulatory requirements and partnering with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to conduct a full scale study on mining induced seismicity. 

Pictured L to R: Board Chairman Ruland Gill, Taylon Earl, Gregg Galecki, Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox

In 1992, the Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining created Earth Day Awards to recognize operators in the oil, gas, and mining industries who went above and beyond what was expected under regulatory requirements to protect the environment. 

In 2018, the Board changed the name to Environmental Excellence Awards, a change that more accurately represents the intent of the award. As opinions over fossil fuels and mining have changed over the years, it is as important as ever for these industries to show they value protecting the environment, while providing resources that enhance the quality of our lives. 

Message from Director John Baza – Spring 2019

For the past four years, I have represented the Rocky Mountain region states on the Board of the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC). It is an organization composed of the oil and gas directors and environmental water quality directors of multiple U.S. states. In April 2017, the GWPC Board approved Resolution 17-1, “Creating a National Study Group to Focus on Regulatory, Scientific and Technological Challenges concerning the Beneficial Use of Produced Water from Oil and Gas Production.”  Since that time, I have served as the Co-Chairman of that study group along with Ms. Shellie Chard, Director of the Oklahoma Water Quality Division. Following our two years of effort and over 400 pages of text contributed by a qualified team of scientists, petroleum industry and water quality professionals, and legal experts, the GWPC Board recently approved the results of the study for publication. I expect final editing and printing of the report to be accomplished in mid- to late-June.

As complex as the petroleum industry can be, the subset of knowledge pertaining to produced water from oilfields requires an even deeper level of understanding. Produced water has historically been handled as a waste by-product of oil and gas production. It often contains high concentrations of dissolved salt and traces of other materials. The traditional method of disposing of produced water has been to re-inject the fluid into deep wells far removed from shallower fresh water intervals or back into petroleum producing zones for secondary recovery of crude oil. But the basis of the GWPC Board resolution in 2017 was to ask, “what else can be done with produced water?” Even if produced water cannot be consumed or provide benefit to agriculture (and in some specific scenarios, agriculture use is viable), if it could displace current secondary uses of fresh water, then there may be potential win-win applications for the petroleum industry and the general public. And the current volumes of produced water being processed by the petroleum industry are not insignificant.

The conclusions of the report are summarized by the closing paragraphs of the soon-to-be-published Executive Summary:

“Operators and regulators alike are rethinking the economics and long-term sustainability of traditional produced water management practices. Many operators are reusing more produced water than ever. As water becomes scarcer, the increasing benefits of reusing produced water in some regions may outweigh the costs of managing, treating, storing, and transporting it if health and environmental risks can be understood and appropriately managed. While most near-term alternatives focus on reuse of produced water to reduce fresh water consumption in unconventional oil and gas operations, interest is growing in the potential for reuse outside the oil and gas industry.

Produced water is not uniform, and neither are the circumstances of its potential treatment and reuse. Research, treatment decisions, risk management strategies, and in some cases even approval processes should be tailored to address the reuse of a particular produced water for a particular type of reuse. Identifying specific reuse options that address current or emerging needs or drivers in specific regions is an important next-step opportunity in order to prioritize investment in purposeful and actionable research and development with a defined set of facts and circumstances. Additional regulations to protect public health and the environment may apply or be developed in response to increased beneficial reuse outside the oil and gas industry.”

I am proud to be associated with the creation of the coming report. I expect that it will establish a foundation for future consideration of legal framework modification, academic and research efforts, and any additional updates to the comprehensive study of produced water represented by the current report.

Application to Drill Permitting Process

The Oil and Gas Program often receives inquiries regarding how long it takes to process an application to drill permit (APD). Program staff strives to approve applications within 60 days, but there are many steps in the process that need to be completed before approval.

Once an operator submits a request, several staff members with specific expertise are involved in the review process. This system is necessary to ensure the environment and residents are protected, while allowing responsible development and conservation of oil and gas resources that benefits the citizens of Utah.

Technical Review

The purpose of the technical review is to evaluate relevant local and regional information that may be beneficial in assessing the location of a proposed drilling project and identifying any associated potential impacts.

Issues in the technical review include geologic assessment, cultural resources, soil assessment, regional precipitation, existing infrastructure, potential impacts to wildlife and habitat, previous area development, local/county ordinances, and well spacing requirements.

The geology/groundwater section of the permit is completed by a geologist who reviews the application for protection of water resources and other geology related issues. Items include the existence or absence of underground sources of drinking water and how it will be protected by the proposed casing program, location of any known water wells or nearby springs, and other mineral resources.

The Division’s petroleum engineer reviews the APD for well construction and safety standards consistent with industry standards and Division rules. This includes evaluating the drilling plan, casing and cementing design and blow out prevention pressure control systems to ensure the well is constructed properly to allow drilling to the depths proposed safely while isolating and protecting any oil, gas or water resources from migrating from one horizon to another.

Resources used in the evaluation include the Division’s database, Google Earth, ArcGIS, Utah Division of Water Resources data and mapping resources, Utah Geologic Survey data and mapping resources, Division of Wildlife Sage Grouse Management Area Map, USDA Web Soils Survey, along with well data and technical publications from the Utah Division of Water Rights.


Staff check for adequate bonding to make certain the state is protected by ensuring sufficient monies are available for reclamation in the event an operator abandons a well. Once adequate bonding is verified, the well is attached to the bond record.

Pre-Site Evaluation

The purpose of the pre-site evaluation is to provide coordination between interested parties early in the permitting process allowing the opportunity for the operator, surface owner, and Division representatives to look at and evaluate a site. 

At this point in the process the location has been surveyed and the proposed well locations and other features of the pad have been staked so that all parties can see the “footprint” of the project. Division field staff look at the proposed location and evaluate the planned drill pad for environmental and health risks including proximity to domestic or municipal water wells, surface waters, soil permeability, and natural drainages that could transport spilled fluids. Various mitigation techniques such as rerouting drainages, constructing containment berms,or requiring closed-loop drilling methods may then be stipulated. The pre-drilling land characteristics of the site are also noted which will help in the site reclamation when the well is plugged.  


After all of the required steps are completed, the application is sent to the permit manager for final review and approval. If all permit requirements are in order, the permit is approved.

2018 Permits

Last year, 290 APDs were approved. While not all approved APDs will result in a well being drilled as operators’ priorities shift due to economic and other constraints, the number of approved APDs can provide an indication of what the oil and gas industry is projecting for future production, which has a direct impact on Utah’s economy and funding for the Oil and Gas Program.

Employee Highlight – Spring 2019

Mark Reinbold joined the Oil and Gas Program in January 2009 as an environmental scientist/geologist. His responsibilities have included writing permits for water injection wells in the Monument Butte waterflood project near Myton, in the Uintah Basin. When oil prices were high, there were numerous applications, but when oil prices decreased in 2014, his responsibilities changed. Since then his focus has shifted more to the field, still largely involving Monument Butte and nearby fields in the Basin, but now the primary responsibilities are well inspections for water injection wells and production wells. There are more than 1,300 water injection wells in the Monument Butte Field. Also, he witnesses mechanical integrity tests (MITs) on the injection wells.

Mark has worked on various other projects including writing permits for various saltwater disposal wells and the Oil and Gas Program’s Standard Operating Procedures and Guidance documents for field inspections and permitting procedures. 

Mark’s job ensures responsible resource development, while also protecting the environment by protecting groundwater and surface waters from contamination by the oil field. Mark works with operators to address little problems before they become larger issues. 

Mark likes that his job is largely independent, but that help is always available when needed. He enjoys having been given opportunities to see some beautiful areas and great geology in the state, even some beyond the Uintah Basin. 

Mark is native to southeastern Illinois and grew up on a farm. He has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Geology from Eastern Illinois University and a Master of Science Degree in Geology, specializing in stratigraphy from the University of Illinois. In the past, he has worked at the Illinois State Geological Survey, ARCO Exploration in Denver, the Colorado Geological Survey, and environmental engineering companies in Minnesota. He moved to Utah from the Twin Cities, Minnesota and as bad as this winter has been, he still doesn’t miss the Minnesota winters.

Mark has two grown children, a son in Phoenix and a daughter in Madrid, Spain. Mark met his wife Hang Dao in Salt Lake City in 2013. She is from Hanoi, Vietnam and they have taken several trips to visit. Mark says it is a fascinating place.

In addition to traveling, they enjoy hiking, biking, and camping.

#BeMinedUtah19 Social Media Contest

Oscarson Elementary in Piute School District and Eisenhower Junior High School in Granite School District submitted winning photographs to the #BeMined Challenge showing how minerals power their classrooms, and won $500 each for science education at their schools.

The Oscarson Elementary winning photograph, submitted by teacher Sally James and her fourth grade class, showed student creations crafted from their 3D printer and explained how the printer includes components made from a variety of minerals such as beryllium, boron, and barium.

Eisenhower Junior High School submitted a winning photograph of their school’s Maker Space area where students work on coding and other skills with electronics that are in part powered by copper, beryllium, chromite, and iron-nickel. 

The #BeMinedUtah19 photo challenge was co-sponsored by School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) and the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining (OGM) to increase awareness about the importance of minerals in everyday life, specifically in Utah classrooms.

The two winning photographs were selected from all statewide entries. The challenge was open to all K-12 public school students, teachers, principals, and administrators statewide. Judges from both agencies selected their favorite photographs based on theme relevancy and creativity.

Message from Director John Baza – Winter 2019

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.

Year in Review – 2018

Oil and Gas Program

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

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.

Minerals Program

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.

2019 Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program Calendars Available

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 amrinfo@utah.gov.