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.
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.
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.
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.