Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program Recognized with Award

The Division of Oil, Gas and Mining is one of nine joint winners of the 2022 Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Pulaski Award, recognizing outstanding interagency efforts to successfully manage the Bear and Bennion wildfires of June 2021. Partners include BLM-Green River District (Price Field Office), Manti-La Sal National Forest, Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands (Southeast Area), Moab Interagency Fire Center, Utah Department of Transportation, Price City, Helper City, and Carbon County.

Peerless Coal Fires Project

The Bear wildfire burned over 12,000 acres in the Wasatch Plateau and ignited multiple coal fires near Helper, in Hardscrabble Canyon, and the side canyons of Spring Canyon. Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program (AMRP) staff were contacted to assess and oversee the Peerless Coal Fires Project. Contractors excavated 2,100 cubic yards of burning coal in a refuse pile near the historic Peerless No. 1 mine and a coal seam between the Peerless No. 2 mine portals. Rapid response was crucial to fighting this fire since the burning coal seam connected to the old workings of the Peerless No. 2 mine and could have ignited and spread quickly into the workings. This project was successfully completed in August 2021.

Hardscrabble Refuse Fires Emergency Project

After a seven-week effort by AMRP and their contractors, the Hardscrabble Refuse Fires Emergency Project was completed in March 2022. Almost 23,000 cubic yards of burning coal refuse were excavated and quenched along Hardscrabble Canyon Road. The coal refuse was observed to be greater than 20 feet deep in some burning areas and extends over a one-half mile along the canyon floor, most likely stockpiled as waste from the historic Lolly and Carbon Fuels mines. Final reclamation of the site will occur in the next year or two. It will include partial removal and capping the coal of refuse, stream channel stabilization, and re-contouring and revegetating the project area.

The AMRP and BLM worked closely to complete project activities in environmentally sound ways, including ensuring clean soils mixed with burning coal were sourced from sites that would not introduce undesirable vegetation or materials into the project areas. The BLM and the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands cleared vegetation from the Hardscrabble burn area to minimize additional wildfire risk. These projects represent effective interagency cooperation.

Additional coal refuse fires have been reported in Peerless, Hardscrabble, and Storrs canyons. AMRP is planning the Spring Canyon Refuse Fires Project to address these new fires. As drought conditions continue and the fire season approaches, AMRP is prepared to take on recent coal fires at abandoned mines to protect public safety and the environment. AMRP funding is eligible for fighting coal fires that are associated with mining that predates the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA).

DIVISION’S ORPHAN WELL PROGRAM COMPLETES 15 WELL PLUGGING PROJECT

The Division’s Oil and Gas Program staff recently plugged 15 orphan wells on private land in Carbon and Emery counties. Approximately 70% of the project’s cost will be paid through bonds collected from the operators on the wells, and the remaining will be paid out of the orphan well fund. No tax dollars are used in the plugging of these wells.

Approximately 20 orphan wells remain in the program’s database, compared to other states, which have thousands. 

Program staff actively monitors and works with operators to plug wells that are no longer producing to prevent a backlog of wells that could become orphaned. This proactive approach protects against future orphan wells and is one of the main reasons the orphan well count in Utah is much lower than most other states.

The program has plugged over 100 wells and is funded by oil and gas producers through a .002 levy on the value of production and not through tax dollars. The fund is used to pay for plugging and reclamation of orphan wells where there is no reclamation surety or where the forfeited surety is insufficient to cover the plugging and reclamation costs. The program has expended approximately $2.5 M to plug orphan wells since its inception in 1992. 

Utah is eligible to apply for funds available through the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to address orphan wells on state and private lands. While Utah’s inventory is currently low, staff intend to apply for what they think is needed and can be spent once the application period opens.

MESSAGE FROM DIRECTOR JOHN BAZA

Director, John Baza

In October, I attended the One Utah Summit in Cedar City. It was an opportunity to discuss topics that unite us in Utah including water scarcity and resiliency, outdoor recreation, the beauty of Utah’s landscapes, economic entrepreneurship and self-sufficiency, cultural heritage, and diversity. This conference previously had the name of the Utah Rural Summit, but as the name change implies, it is a hallmark of the Cox-Henderson administration to bring all the parts of the state under the same banner of One Utah.

The concept of One Utah is just as appropriate for energy and minerals extraction in the state. We all depend on abundant and affordable energy supplies and mineral resources that come from the earth. Even renewable sources of power, such as wind and solar, rely on materials derived from mined products at some point – whether it is the towers and blades that compose windmills or the minerals that end up in solar panels. In rural Utah, not only do we depend on the same consumer products of fuel and manufactured goods, but local economies are supported by industrial jobs and the service sector that is built around vibrant business activity.

It is easy to align ourselves with one faction or another in a political landscape. It allows us to disregard those sectors of society that do not comport with our views of the world. But the concept of One Utah is constructive by nature. By acknowledging and embracing our interdependence, we can build relationships, partnerships, and collaborations that provide benefit to Utahns wherever we reside. Our mutual successes in society are based on establishing and maintaining good working relationships in all corners of the state.

PEERLESS ABANDONED MINE RECLAMATION PROJECT

Staff with the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining’s Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program (AMRP) was contacted by staff from the Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands (FFSL) Price Office regarding a fire burning on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Spring Canyon near Helper, Utah. FFSL investigated and found the fire to be burning in a coal seam and very close to the old Peerless Coal Mine No 2 and No 3 portals. A study of old mine maps digitized by the Utah Geological Survey showed that the old portals connected to extensive underground workings on both sides of the canyon.  Further investigation indicated that several methane explosions and fatalities had occurred at the Peerless Mines while they were in operation. Continued observation showed that the fire was expanding into the coal seam by one foot per week.

Fire burning in a coal seam.

AMRP worked with the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to obtain emergency approval of grant fund expenditures and extinguish the fire as soon as possible. While preparing the project details for the coal seam fire, a second fire was observed at the coal refuse pile located near the Peerless Mine No 1 mine portal in the same canyon. The fire was located approximately 600 feet north of the coal seam fire. Both coal fires were likely ignited by the Bear wildfire that had burned through the area in June 2021. The addition of the coal refuse fire doubled the project size and cost.

A coordinated, three-week effort by the AMRP resulted in emergency procurement authorization. The AMRP hired a contractor with experience on several previous reclamation projects. Construction started on August 23 with a track hoe improving access along the reclaimed road to the old portals.  Modest improvements to the road allowed ATVs to transport materials to the site including water for quenching and mixing, fire-suppressant foam, and equipment fuel and minimizing impacts to the temporary access route. The burning coal seam was excavated, quenched with water and fire suppressant foam, mixed with soil from the site, then monitored for drops in temperature.  Temperatures of the actively burning coal varied between 500- and 800-degrees F and decreased to below 97 degrees before the final backfill. 

Construction work on the Peerless Abandoned Mine Reclamation Project.

The coal refuse pile was quenched with water and fire suppressant foam and blended with onsite soil. Surface temperatures measured at several smoking vents and fractures varied between 113- and 235-degrees F. After 24 hours, the temperature was reduced to less than 69 degrees F, the area backfilled, and the access road was restored to its pre-work condition. The entire project was completed in five days.

The Peerless Coal fire project highlighted a great interaction between the AMRP, FFSL, and Bureau of Land Management. This project required the group to develop new procedures for handling emergency projects and was successful due to the dedication from all involved.

EMPLOYEE HIGHLIGHT: KIM COBURN

Kim Coburn has been a reclamation specialist with the Minerals Program since 2018. She is a mine inspector ensuring operators mine within the permit boundaries and follow applicable rules. She is skilled in geographic information systems (GIS) and uses her knowledge to obtain accurate boundary maps to confirm operators have accurate bonds, which protects the state from operator liability. Kim assists the Minerals team with mapping, bonding, and hydrology reviews. She is a wealth of knowledge and respected by staff as a go-to person. Her favorite part about her job is the opportunity to travel throughout the state and seeing gorgeous and unique areas. 

Kim Coburn

Kim is a licensed professional Civil Engineer and has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering with a minor in astrophysics from the University of Toledo. Prior to her employment with the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, she was a consultant focusing on municipal engineering where she learned mapping software and project management. 

When Kim isn’t working, she enjoys exploring with her husband and two dogs. Recently, she’s ventured into the world of kayaking.

MESSAGE FROM DIRECTOR JOHN BAZA

Director, John Baza

Utah’s current drought conditions have raised public awareness toward water scarcity and water conservation by water users. It highlights the importance of protecting all potential water supplies both on the surface and underground.

Division staff takes these principles very seriously in our work to regulate and require responsible development of the state’s underground energy and mineral resources. It takes water to develop energy resources and it takes energy resources to develop water.

The Energy-Water Nexus is well-recognized by both the private sector and policymakers in government. Division staff belongs to the national association of state oil/gas and water regulators known as the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) that has established itself as a knowledge-based organization dedicated to protecting the nation’s groundwater resources, especially as it relates to the extraction of underground petroleum resources. The association is non-profit and is organized into work groups and committees that produce valuable information regarding hydraulic fracture stimulation in the oil and gas industry, produced water reuse, aquifer storage and recovery, source water protection, carbon capture utilization and storage, and groundwater data collection and management.

GWPC is holding its annual forum at the Sheraton Hotel in Salt Lake City on September 27 – 29. Subject matter experts and representatives from state regulatory agencies nationwide will convene to provide presentations and discuss pertinent information to the overall concept of the Energy-Water Nexus. The event is not only timely for Utah and other western states as drought conditions worsen, but it is also the first in-person meeting of the GWPC after two years of virtual meetings and conferences.

For more information about the 2021 GWPC Annual Forum in Salt Lake City, visit www.gwpc.org.

NEW OIL AND GAS PROGRAM PENALTY RULES

During the 2020 General Legislative Session, the Utah legislature passed Senate Bill 148 requiring the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining to modify the process for imposing and collecting administrative penalties. 

Division staff worked with interested stakeholders to revise the current administrative rules regarding final orders, administrative remedies, and create a new rule establishing rules and procedures for imposing and collecting administrative penalties. Penalty rules were approved at the May 26 Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining (UBOGM) Hearing.

Below are highlights of R649-11, however the full rule is available here:

  • A Notice of Violation (NOV) describes the nature of the violation, action required, amount of time operators have to resolve violations, and a description of the operation/location.
  • Operators can resolve violations during the time specified in the NOV without receiving a penalty.
  • If violations are not resolved in the specified time listed in the NOV, the penalty accrual starts at the time the NOV was originally issued.
  • Operators can request a compliance conference with Division staff if they disagree with the NOV.
  • A Division assessment officer will determine whether a penalty will be assessed and if so, what amount. There are three classes of penalties, with a maximum Division penalty of $5,000/day and a Board maximum penalty of $10,000/day. Administrative penalties can reach a maximum of $200,000 per penalty.
  • Operators can appeal penalties to the UBOGM.
    Division staff now has clearly defined procedures to hold non-compliant operators fiscally responsible for violations not addressed. This rule provides Oil and Gas Program inspectors with an enforcement tool that ensures Utah’s resources are being developed responsibly.

2021 BOARD OF OIL, GAS AND MINING ENVIRONMENTAL EXCELLENCE AWARDS

Each year, the Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining presents Environmental Excellence Awards to companies, organizations or individuals who go above and beyond what is required by regulation to protect the environment, while developing Utah’s natural resources.

Awards are presented in the areas of oil and gas, minerals mining and coal mining. Specific award categories are environmental improvement to an active mine site, exploration site, or producing field; outstanding results following applications of innovative environmental technology; and outstanding final reclamation or site restoration.

The following companies received Environmental Excellence Awards for 2021:

American Gilsonite Company (AGC)– Outstanding reclamation in the Bonanza area of Uintah County: AGC reclaimed 14 total locations, including nine full mine sites, amounting to over 20% of their total reclamation obligations. They went beyond regulations by capping shafts using methods that ensure long term stability, separated materials for recycling, and are promoting successful regrowth of vegetation through researched seed selection, moisture retainment, and additional water for improved germination. Although Uintah County was among the Utah counties hardest hit by unemployment due to Covid, AGS was able to keep vital employees working through one of the most difficult times in the company’s history.

Caerus Uinta, LLC: Outstanding final reclamation at the Greater Natural Buttes site in Uintah County: From October 2020 to February 2021, Caerus staff reclaimed, contoured, and seeded approximately 108 acres. They focused on soil amendments, native soil nutrient needs, and native custom seed mixes. Soil samples taken throughout the area indicated the native desert soil was deficient in important plant nutrients including nitrogen, phosphate, and zinc. By amending the compost with crucial nutrients and tailoring the amount of compost used, the reclaimed sites were designed for peak native seed germination and vegetation establishment. Caerus Uinta’s goal is to implement more science-based advanced seeding methods into their reclamation projects.

Canyon Fuels Company, LLC- Skyline Mine- Public/private partnership yielding environmental improvement- The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining’s Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program nominated Canyon Fuel Company’s Skyline Mine for its material support to the program’s Clear Creek Refuse Piles reclamation project. The mine’s donation of waste storage capacity at its refuse disposal site resulted in substantial cost saving to the program and facilitated the overall planning and execution of the reclamation.

Dominion Energy Questar Pipeline, LLC- Methane Emissions Reduction Program:
Since 2019 Dominion Energy Questar Pipeline, LLC has implemented a methane reduction program across its operating footprint. Dominion Energy Questar Pipeline has prevented over 267 million cubic feet of natural gas from being emitted into the atmosphere. This volume equates to removing 3,165 passenger vehicles from the road or heating 1,690 homes for one year.

The program consists of modifying infrastructure, improving systems, and several voluntary initiatives such as sending methane to adjacent low pressure pipeline systems instead of venting during maintenance.

Through this program, Dominion Energy Questar Pipeline has reduced the percentage of methane gas saved during maintenance events along pipelines and at stations by 86% in 2019 and 90% in 2020.

Manti- La Sal National Forest- Compliance Enforcement and Outreach:
The Manti-La Sal National Forest Service Minerals Team went above and beyond regulatory requirements to keep the public safe when an operator reopened an abandoned mine without authorization, sending sediment into a perennial creek approximately ½ mile upstream from Blanding’s water supply intake.

They quickly responded, coordinating with several outside agencies and stakeholders to protect public health and properly close the mine. 

Marathon Petroleum Corporation (MPLX)- Environmental improvement to an active drilling site: MPLX developed a quarterly oil and gas industry best management practice program at its Ironhorse gas processing facility and compressors station, which is not subject to federal regulation. The program includes inspections to quickly identify large leaks and minimize emissions into the Uintah Basin, working to preserve Utah’s vital oil and gas supply while protecting the environment.

In 2020, repairs of leaks found during quarterly monitoring reduced emissions from 249,672 pounds of volatile organic compound to 62,615 pounds, the energy saving equivalent to the CO2 output of supplying 254 homes with power for a year.

EMPLOYEE HIGHLIGHT: STEVE DEMCZAK

Steve Demczak works in the Division’s Coal Program as a reclamation specialist III and mining engineer. He has been with the Division for almost 31 years. His main responsibility is conducting environmental inspections of Utah coal mines to ensure compliance with laws and rules. Steve also performs inspections with the Office of Surface Mine (OSM), a federal agency. He is the sole reviewer of minor coal explorations notices of intent to mine. Recently, Steve was assigned to assess violations for the Minerals Program including environmental impact and financial penalties.

Steve’s favorite part of his job is providing his knowledge and experience to operators looking for recommendations for solving problems and issues. He also enjoys exchanging ideas with co-workers and those in the industry.

Steve received an associate degree in Pre-Engineering from the College of Eastern Utah and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mining Engineering from the University of Utah. He has worked underground in coal mines in Utah as a foreman and mining engineer.

When Steve is not working, he enjoys traveling with his wife especially to Ukraine, her native country, to sight-see and learn Russian. He loves home remodeling projects and is a sports car enthusiast.

Photo of Steve Demczak