Message from Director John Baza – Spring 2017

Preventative maintenance is important for our health, home, and vehicles to avoid major expenses in the future. The same can be said for the extractive industries with maintenance including confirming equipment isn’t worn, leaks and spills are controlled, and valves or hatches are properly lubricated and functional. This preventive maintenance is not a function of available cash flow, but must be performed even when economic conditions are poor.

Regulatory agencies must also conduct routine monitoring and compliance at all inspectable units to avoid catastrophic failure of physical infrastructure, especially when the petroleum industry is in a downturn.

When I came to work for the Division over twenty years ago, the inventory of active oil and gas wells was approximately 5000 to 6000. Since then, the number has grown to over 16,000 active wells, a large responsibility for the nine inspectors working for the oil and gas program.

In order to have an effective regulatory program, we must commit to having adequate staffing within OGM to perform the necessary field monitoring and compliance efforts, even during lean times in the petroleum industry. Problems can be continually addressed and the overall health of the extractive industries sustained.

I do not anticipate that every person benefiting from the consumption of products obtained from mining and the petroleum industry will truly appreciate the efforts made to maintain a healthy and safe industry in Utah. My hope is that industrial operators and the general public can gain a greater understanding of the efforts of our dedicated OGM staff and that these industries can operate in Utah with relatively few negative impacts to the environment and citizens.

2017 Earth Day Award Winners

Each year, the Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining presents Earth Day 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 Earth Day Awards for 2017:

Alpine Gems, LLC- Butler Valley Quarries reclamation project in Kane County

Canyon Fuel Company, LLC- Sufco Mine wildlife habitat improvement projects in Sevier County

Anadarko Petroleum Corporation- Greater Natural Buttes reclamation and seeding project in Uintah County

Rio Tinto- Kennecott Utah Copper, LLC- East Waste Rock Extension project in Salt Lake County

Produced Water in Utah

Produced water is a byproduct of oil and gas production. In 2016, Utah produced approximately 30.5 million barrels of oil and 158.8 million barrels of produced water, equating to roughly 5.2 barrels of produced water for every barrel of oil.

Produced water contains salts, petroleum residue and naturally occurring inorganic and organic chemicals. The proper handling of produced water is a critical part of the petroleum production process and must be disposed of in permitted facilities designed exclusively for oil and gas production water.

In Utah, two types of facilities exist for the disposal of produced water. Evaporative ponds, approximately one to eight acres by 15 feet deep, are doubled lined with synthetic liners and leak detection systems. These facilities have very strict regulations and are monitored on a regular basis by the Division (Rule R649-9 Waste Management and Disposal). In this process, the water is evaporated and the residual solid material is left behind and will be disposed of when the facility is closed. Approximately 5 percent of all produced water goes into evaporative ponds.

Class II injection wells are the second type of disposal facility where produced water is injected back into the ground. The Division has primacy from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for regulating these injection wells on non-Indian countr

y in Utah. The Division has very strict regulations defining criteria for wells that can be permitted as a Class II injection well (Rule R649-5. Underground Injection Control of Recovery Operations and Class II Injection Wells)

A detailed analysis of engineering, geology, nearby water sources both surface and ground are all considered to determine the integrity of the well before a permit is given. Analysis ensures that water injected into an accepting rock formation will prevent wastewater from migrating to the surface or to ground water. In Utah approximating 95% of produced water is disposed of in class II injection wells.

Recently, class II injection wells have been associated with induced seismicity or earthquakes in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, Ohio and Kansas. Current studies conclude that earthquakes are associated with large volumes of water disposal and unique geological conditions. The volumes and geology are significantly different in Utah than that of the mid-west. Utah has not experienced induced seismicity from water injection, but the Division will continue to monitor and react if conditions change.

Management of produced water is critical to the success of a well. If costs become too large, the well becomes uneconomic and resources are left in the ground. With further study and technological advancements, new methods can make this process more efficient and increase safety. The treatment and processing of produced water can benefit industry, the environment and Utah’s citizens.

Orphan Well Program

The Division oversees the state orphan well program- wells that are unplugged or abandoned.
The program has plugged over 100 wells and is funded by producers of oil and gas through a .002 levy on the value of production. 

Staff from the program recently went to Mexican Hat to inventory the orphan wells in the area.

Mexican Hat is the oldest oil field in the state. After oil was found in San Juan County in 1908, approximately seven oil companies had started work on no less than 25 wells near Mexican Hat. Over the next few decades, many wells were drilled in the area- some produced and some were drilled as exploratory and never used.

A database is used to mark all the known wells on the map, which makes finding the wells  easier. Information such as when it was drilled, depth, gas or oil, status of well (shut-in, producing, plugged and abandoned, or temporarily abandoned) is included in the database. Photos can also be added for additional reference. Staff compares the information in the database to what is found in the field. It is not unusual for legacy wells to be found that are not accounted for in the database. Legacy wells were generally drilled prior to the establishment of the Oil and Gas Commission (now the Division) and before regulations were in place governing well drilling in Utah. 

Currently there are six wells on the orphan list to be plugged, but as a result of the field work, 11 additional wells were identified and added to the list. When staff is ready to begin plugging, they will work with State Purchasing to acquire and evaluate bids. After a contractor has been selected, staff will witness and direct operations for properly plugging and abandoning the wells.

As part of the Division’s mission to preserve the environment, it is important for staff to go in the field and verify the status of each well to prevent any incidental damage to the environment.

While many of the well locations are located in beautiful desert country like Mexican Hat, staff also encounters hazards including rattlesnakes, flash flooding and remote areas while on inspections.

Petroleum Engineer Dustin Doucet identifying an orphan well in San Juan County.

Employee Highlight – Spring 2017

Amy Doebele is a petroleum specialist/environmental scientist for the oil and gas program in the Uinta Basin. She has worked for the Division since November 2015.  Her primary responsibility is to ensure responsible development of oil and gas resources in the State of Utah.

Amy is responsible for performing well and facility inspections for all aspects of oil and gas activities within her area of review.  These activities vary from the initial development and pre-site of a well to the decommissioning and reclamation of a well or facility. Her area of review includes oversight of the Greater Monument Buttes enhanced oil recovery project in Duchesne and Uintah counties. This is the largest enhance recovery waterflood project in the state, comprising of approximately 1350 water injection wells. 

Through the ongoing oversight Amy provides during these operations, she is able to work cooperatively with operators to ensure proper land management use while promoting resource extraction.  She is able to be involved in the process from start to finish, which allows her to react quickly when changes arise to ensure there is no threat to the environment or public safety.

She is also involved in developing standard operating procedures to be used by Division staff conducting various field operations, as well as guidance documents to provide operators and stakeholders with further guidance of state regulations and processes.

According to Amy, the best part of her job is the ability to be involved in nearly every aspect of oil and gas development in the basin. Her job allows the flexibility to be engaged in many different projects in the Uinta Basin and throughout the state, which many other state regulatory agencies do not have.  She grew up in a family that was involved in oil and gas, and it is very rewarding being part of an industry that is so involved in the community.

Amy graduated in 2010 with an Associate’s Degree in Animals Science from Casper College. She then transferred to the University of Wyoming and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Energy Resource Management and Development in 2013.  Before working for the Division, she worked in Denver, Colorado for an oil and gas operator as a regulatory agent. 

Amy grew up in Vernal and was very excited for the opportunity to return home and work for the Division.  She enjoys hunting and fishing and spends most of her time outside of work at Flaming Gorge or on the Green River. She and her husband often travel to Wyoming to visit family with their two dogs Moose and Cooper.


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Salt Lake City, Utah 84114