As a teen growing up in the 1960-70’s, I witnessed the significant changes in governmental policies relating to environmental impact and protection during those two decades.
The Clean Air Act was established in 1963, with revisions in 1970 that greatly expanded the role of the federal government; the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was introduced in 1969 and became effective on January 1, 1970; the first Earth Day was in April 1970; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was created in December 1970; and the Clean Water Act came about in 1972 with amendments to a previous water pollution law. Each of these actions was intended to change the historical behavior of American citizens and American industry to be more aware and protective of the planet’s resources and environment.
As I have now been involved with the energy and mineral extractive industries since my university years, I can attest that the 1970s brought similar attention for environmental protection to the petroleum and mining industries in the U.S. The decades since have seen increasing laws and regulatory processes designed to progressively reduce environmental impacts and minimize risk to public safety and health as well as the ecosystems that humans can affect.
Although the original Utah Oil and Gas Conservation Commission was established in 1955, this program was updated and revamped as a result of a legislative audit in 1982. The legislature also acted in 1975 to create the Utah Mined Land Reclamation Act that established a Minerals Regulatory Program in OGM. When the U.S. Congress passed the Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act in 1977, they included a provision for states to assume primacy delegation for the implementation of a coal regulatory system. Utah applied for and assumed that primacy in 1981.
It is often asked in the context of economic development discussions whether or not environmental policies have gone too far. Have we already accomplished what was intended by the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s? Should we attempt to cease all extractive industry activity and its related impact in the cause of terminating any potential risk to our natural world? Humans need the resources to be produced from the earth’s underground energy and mineral resources as much as they need clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. Thus, it is a matter of balancing responsible development with the duty to be good stewards of earth. But to ensure that we perform these actions responsibly means effort must be placed on good analysis, review, and monitoring of extractive development operations. OGM strives to perform these efforts efficiently and effectively and with due regard to balancing the public’s needs.
We are proud of the resulting outcome that the public continues to derive benefit from the production of oil, gas, coal and minerals in Utah with no significant impact to the vast majority of the citizens of the state.
The Oil and Gas Program implemented a new database system June 2017, a project that has taken nearly four years to complete. The database replaced an outdated system with newer technology and functions.
Data management is a critical element to the success of the program as it helps track all well data, production, injection, inspection, and compliance information. Over 16,000 wells and facilities statewide create a tremendous amount of data accessed daily by entities including federal, state and county governments. In addition, this data is critical to operators who use the records for exploration research and by the general public who may want information on wells and activities in their area.
Staff has also worked to update current policies and procedures and drafted the Division Standard Operating Procedures, which includes documents guiding staff through a multitude of program processes. These procedures are utilized as training material for new employees, as well as references for field staff.
Staff developed Guidance Documents for operators and stakeholders to use in an effort to reduce many of the variable interpretations of Division Statutes that have occurred in the past. Staff identified several hot topic issues including spills and reclamation activity and developed documents to aide operators with such events.
The development of Standard Operating Procedures and Guidance Documents is an ongoing project within the Oil and Gas Program that will be updated as additional policies and processes are identified and developed.
The Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program is conducting a statewide oral history project to help preserve Utah’s mining history. The goal of the project is to record the stories and voices of those who worked in the mines preserving information for the public, as well as mining historians.
The interviews are conducted by historians with experience in mining history research —most recently Lee Bennett in Monticello, Utah. She locates people to interview, learns about their involvement, and creates interview questions in a way that encourages people to talk about their unique experiences. Interviews to date include uranium, coal and metals mining from 1931 to 2006, in 11 counties from Salt Lake to San Juan.
The interviews are recorded by a professional videographer in order to create a high-quality visual and audio record. The entire interview is then transcribed, resulting in a written transcript that can be used for historical research. The camera footage is edited into a cohesive presentation that includes the best stories and most interesting tidbits, and the resulting video is published on YouTube.
The original recordings and the full transcripts are housed at the Utah State Archives where they are available for public use and research. YouTube videos and full interview transcripts are also available through the Division’s website https://www.ogm.utah.gov/amr/education.php#oralHistories. All materials are available for free public use.
If you know someone who has a story to tell, please contact Project Manager Jan Morse at 801-538-5327 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peter Brinton has been a reclamation specialist for the minerals program for seven years. His primary responsibilities include reviewing mine permit documents and providing guidance for mine permitting, inspecting mining operations to evaluate reclamation and compliance, and taking enforcement actions as needed.
Peter frequently works with smaller mine operators educating them on best mining and reclamation practices and helping facilitate permitting. He reviews large mine and reclamation plans for hazardous and non-hazardous materials, hydrology, and engineering components. He is also currently helping to develop a GIS-based interactive minerals program map identifying all mine locations and their status.
Prior to mining, Peter helps protect public safety and natural resources through the permitting process and by educating mine operators. At the end of a mine’s life, the program certifies that reclamation meets the state mineral mine reclamation rules for public safety and resource protection/mitigation.
According to Peter, ensuring responsible resource development is achieved by education and helping operators, particularly small mine operators, navigate the permitting process. Responsible development involves trying to implement the mine permitting requirements in a balanced way and facilitating the timelines of operators when possible.
Peter says the best part of his job is the ongoing learning opportunities and field work, including mine reclamation oversight.
Peter received a Bachelor of Science in Mining Engineering from the University of Utah and a Master of Science in Hydrology from the Colorado School of Mines.