The Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, Utah Petroleum Association, and Emery and Carbon counties hosted a legislative tour sponsored by Senator Hinkins on August 2 to educate legislators and elected officials on the current status and opportunities of energy resources in the area. The trip included tours of the San Rafael Energy Research Center and Hunter Power Plant in Emery County. Additional presentations were provided by the division’s Coal, Oil and Gas, and Abandoned Mine Reclamation programs.
EUREKA, Utah – The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program (AMRP) staff recently oversaw the closure of 56 abandoned mine openings on private land near Eureka in the Tintic Mining District in Utah County. The project included the Tintic Standard Mine No. 2, the mine shaft where the bodies of Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson and Riley Powell were recovered in 2018.
“The area is private property, but easily accessible and close to popular off-highway vehicle trails,” said AMRP Manager Steve Fluke. “Safeguarding these mines ensures that future risks are minimized or eliminated, improving public safety. Closure methods, including backfills, rebar grates, walls and polyurethane foam, were selected to protect features of historical significance and animal habitats while protecting public safety.”
The Tintic Mining District has a rich mining history dating back to the late 19th century. It experienced a significant boom during the late 1800s and early 1900s, with numerous mines and mining towns in the area. At its peak, the district was one of Utah’s most important mining regions and played a crucial role in the state’s economic development.
Today there are an estimated 17,000 abandoned mine openings scattered across Utah. Since the AMRP began in 1983, approximately 7,000 openings have been closed. When mines were no longer producing, they were often abandoned, leaving equipment, open shafts, tunnels and piles of waste rock. In 1975, the Utah Mined Reclamation Act was passed, making it illegal for mines to be abandoned.
The AMRP protects the public from the dangers of old mines by sealing off access to openings and cleaning up waste. Old mining sites can contain dangerous gases, unstable structures, and explosives. For more information on the AMRP, visit ogm.utah.gov/amr/index.php.
The Division of Oil, Gas and Mining (OGM) has held the Uintah Basin Oil and Gas Collaborative meeting in Vernal and Duchesne since 1999. The goal of this meeting was to get the various government agencies, from local, state, tribal and federal agencies, to collaborate to increase the efficiency of the regulation of the petroleum industry, as well as to address the associated environmental concerns in the Basin.
In 1999, the Department of Natural Resources leadership recognized the disconnection between governmental agencies and urged OGM management to initiate a meeting to enhance working relationships. As a result, the Collaborative has become an educational forum and platform for exchanging ideas and creating valuable relationships. In addition, it communicates constituents’ needs concerning oil and gas production in the Uintah Basin.
At the last meeting in April, issues were addressed, including wastewater disposal, air quality updates, oil and gas regulations, new technology from the University of Utah and the economic impacts of oil and gas in Utah. The subjects are wide-ranging but always timely concerning the industry in the Basin.
This meeting has been a resounding success. It has brought together government agencies, operators, citizens, consultants, environmentalists and anyone concerned with the petroleum industry in the Uintah Basin. Even a U.S. senator, congressman, and several Utah legislators have participated and shown their support and desire to learn more about the petroleum industry in Utah.
The petroleum industry is a critical part of the economy of the Uintah Basin, as well as Utah. The collaboration between all entities involved in this meeting has helped the industry move forward to provide essential energy more efficiently to Utah and address the environmental concerns associated with the oil and gas industry.
If interested in attending a collaborative meeting, contact Environmental Manager John Rogers firstname.lastname@example.org or subscribe to OGM’s YouTube channel @UtahDivisionOfOilGasMining.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Division GIS Analyst Cat Schooley was awarded Best Interactive Map Winner at the 2021 Utah Geographic Information Council (UGIC) conference. The interactive map portrays the growth of the oil and gas industry within Utah from 1970 to the present. https://cschooley95.github.io/
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 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.