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.


Do you have a topic you’d like discussed or feedback for our staff? If so, please email We welcome your comments.

1594 West North Temple, Suite 1210
Salt Lake City, Utah 84114