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.
While this past year presented us all with challenges and unforeseen circumstances, Division staff moved forward completing projects and adapting to new ways of doing business. Below are a few of the highlights from 2020.
Coal Program staff helped coal operators navigate the regulatory path nimbly and efficiently to continue their work. Skyline Mine operators determined that additional power was required for continued operations of their long wall miner. A corridor had previously been approved, however a larger corridor for the above ground powerline was needed, requiring additional permitting. Due to time constraints with the onset of winter, staff worked closely with the operator to get the additional permitting finalized so the powerline corridor could be completed.
Deer Creek Mine Reclamation of the Deer Creek mine was completed in late 2019. During 2020 spring runoff, several rills and gullies began to form on the reclaimed slopes. The operator and program staff immediately mobilized to the site and began working through the regulatory issues associated with repairing the erosion. A rogue culvert unknown during the operation of the Deer Creek Mine was identified as the issue. On-site field visits and conference calls with federal agencies were conducted to address regulatory issues and allow the operator to continue repair work before winter.
On March 20, Division staff was notified that operations at the Lisbon Valley Mine in southeastern Utah had shut down. The Division subsequently issued an order for final reclamation to be complete by September 30, 2021. Over the next several months program staff spent many hours overseeing reclamation operations and reviewing the mine plan and reclamation cost estimate. In January 2021, the operator submitted an adequate bond and obtained Division approval to re-start operations.
In December 2019, staff issued tentative approval of the revised Notice of Intention (NOI) for the Benjamin Quarry in Utah County. This decision was appealed informally to the Division by concerned area residents and then formally to the Board of Oil, Gas and Mining, which upheld the Division’s decision to approve the NOI with certain conditions. One issue of the appeal included the concern for petroglyphs around the mine.
Staff continue using tablets to record inspections and are working to expand the efficiencies by developing an inspection prioritization application. The tablets help inspectors keep track of inspection frequency, which is a major aspect of determining inspection scheduling.
Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program
Despite a slow and unusual start to the construction season due to the uncertainties presented by COVID, the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program (AMRP) completed two coal and six non-coal abandoned mine reclamation projects this year.
Coal reclamation consisted of the Clear Creek Refuse Reclamation Project and the Hiawatha Culvert Maintenance Project located in Carbon County. Non-coal projects closed a total of 170 hazardous abandoned mines and completed maintenance at 30 previously closed mine openings. Projects included the completion of the Spor Project in Juab County that began in the fall of 2019, the White and Deer Flat Project in San Juan County, Phase I of the Willard Peak Project in Weber County, the Westdip Bat Cupola Project in Tooele County, and the Buckmaster-OIG Project in Emery County. Maintenance projects included the Jacob City Maintenance Project in Tooele County, and the Temple Mountain Maintenance Project in Emery County.
The Hiawatha Culvert Maintenance Project was located about 14 miles southwest of Price at the historic Hiawatha mine. In 1914 mine operators built a culvert over a stretch of Miller Creek to accommodate a road crossing. The 200-foot culvert is constructed of large sandstone blocks and features a rare and striking barrel vault top exhibiting fine craftsmanship representative of the Italian and Greek immigrant stonemasonry of the early 20th century.
In 2012, the Seeley forest fire destroyed much of the vegetation on the Wasatch Plateau above Hiawatha. As a result, storms washed trees and rock debris down the watershed. Flooding washed out extensive portions of the century-old culvert walls and AMRP staff feared that the unsupported block culvert walls would collapse into the creek. At best, this would dump sediment in the creek; at worst, the creek could be dammed and risk a catastrophic flood event Besides losing a remarkable cultural feature and road access across the creek, structural failure of the culvert would have a significant effect on water quality and downstream fisheries.
Last September AMRP staff contracted with Strong Solutions, LLC of Fairfield, Utah to stabilized the damaged culvert by replacing the washed-out portions of the walls and floors with reinforced concrete. Immediately downstream of the culvert, a log jam was removed, and a deep gully head cut that threatened to undermine the culvert was stabilized by building a rock drop structure with stairstep basins to allow fish to migrate upstream.
Coal mining at Hiawatha began around 1909 and continued until 1992 with extensive operations in four canyons and in multiple coal seams. The company town of Hiawatha, with a peak population of approximately 1,500 residents in the 1940s, supported the operations.
Oil and Gas Program
The Division’s Oil and Gas Program successfully launched the Field Inspection Prioritization application that uses specific criteria to generate and implement data-driven decisions. Staff has worked with the Groundwater Protection Council (GWPC) to develop and implement the application designed to display in a spatial and report form which oil and gas sites should be inspected according to various inputs.
All oil and gas wells were given a priority rating from one (highest priority) to three (low priority). Prioritization is based on operational factors such as compliance issues and history, age of the well and how long since the last inspection. Geographic factors include well proximity to surface water, groundwater, human population density and wildlife habitat.
The program has been operational since January 2020 and has already helped our inspectors increase their inspection efficiency. The field application allows real time data collection that is automatically uploaded to the database saving inspectors time and reducing input errors. The program empowers program staff to consistently make decisions leading to reduced risk and more effective regulation through timely inspections.
This is an effective tool that will give management and staff the ability to make data driven decisions ensuring protection of Utah’s resources, while promoting responsible development.
Todd Miller is a biologist with the Coal Program and oversees the active coal mine operations in the state. He has been with the program for 2.5 years.
He ensures coal mine operators are in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations relating to biology including the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA).
His position makes certain that active coal operations are able to function and fulfill their role in energy development without creating undue negative environmental effects to wildlife and vegetation. He also ensures that when coal mines are reclaimed, they are done so in a way that enables the land to fulfill its highest and best post-mining land use. Usually that means the mine is reclaimed in a way that is best suited to encourage and aid wildlife but it can also be for grazing, recreational or other uses.
The best thing Todd likes about his job is the people he works with and the time he gets to spend outdoors.
Seeing a coal mine that has produced untold amounts of energy for the state in its lifetime and is now completely reclaimed and blended in to the point of being unnoticeable is pretty good too.
Todd went to school at Dixie State University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology as well as a Bachelor of Science in Human Communication. Prior to his position with the Coal Program, he spent 2.5 years working as a contractor for the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management in southern Utah and Arizona.
He is the proud father of three little girls ages 1-7. When Todd isn’t working, he enjoys getting outdoors as much as possible whether that is hiking, canoeing, riding motorcycles, nature photography or playing sports. He also likes to dabble in woodworking and outdoor cooking.
In the fall of 2018, Coal Program staff oversaw the reclamation of the Horizon coal mine, a bond forfeiture site in Carbon County. It took roughly three months to remove the coal mine’s five-acre footprint and re-contour the site to match the surrounding landscape. Topsoil recovered from stockpiles was placed on the final grade of the hillslopes above the riprap-hardened channels. Straw mulch was spread and incorporated into the soil by creating large divots called pocks that aid in soil stability and water retention. Two seed mixes, riparian and shrub/grassland, were spread before the winter season started.
In 2018, staff contracted with the Utah Correctional Industries (UCI) horticulture program to grow native plants to be used at the site. UCI runs an impressive greenhouse used to train inmates in all aspects of growing ornamental species. This was an opportunity for them to add native species to their teaching curriculum. UCI propagated some species from “mother” plants and others from seed. Plants were ordered for delivery in 8-inch long tubeling size for ease of carrying, planting and watering-in. However the plants were so vigorous that many had been transplanted into one and two gallon pots.
In early October staff returned to the site to plant approximately 1,000 plants to aid in the revegetation efforts. A planting schematic was created by Coal Program Biologist Todd Miller detailing where each species should be planted. Four employees from Millcreek Gardens were sub-contracted by UCI to complete the work over four days. Coal Program staff from Price and Salt Lake City were on site daily to deliver water from a 1,000 gallon water tank and 400 feet of hose. Staff also hauled water using backpack sprayers to hundreds of plants out of reach of the hose. Staff also spent a full day spraying and removing noxious weeds.
Coal Program staff would like to thank the crew from Millcreek Gardens who encountered the less than ideal conditions of hard soil and rocks; UCI Officer Todd Barszcz and the inmate staff who nurtured the plants over the year; and the Division of Wildlife Resources for their time and water truck.
The following upland and riparian species were grown:
Oil and Gas Program staff worked on the exploration and production waste disposal facilities five year permit renewals requiring operators to have full-cost bonding for their facilities. The state rule, modified and approved by the Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining in 2013, required an independent, third party review of reclamation and closure cost estimates be submitted by July 2018 and that the Division issue new permits for these facilities, which are valid for five years.
Twenty eight of the 30 facilities submitted permit applications by the deadline. Operators who did not submit an application are no longer permitted to operate; operators who do not post a full cost bond or otherwise fulfill the permit application requirements will not have their permits renewed and will not be allowed to operate. Operators without a valid permit will be required to reclaim their facilities.
Bonding protects the Division and the state of Utah against expensive reclamation costs requiring state funds.
The Uinta Basin has seen a boom in horizontal well development. There are presently about 200 horizontal wells drilled in the Basin. As operators drill more wells, they are becoming increasingly more productive with advancing technology and science. Industry experts have estimated that there are 55 billion barrels of oil in place in the Uinta Basin, and this production per section can compete with any other fields in the the country.
Over the last year, three program managers retired with over 95 years Division experience between them. In addition, two experienced field inspectors also left the Division. It is always difficult to replace institutional knowledge and it has been a challenge to replace those valuable employees. However, staff stepped up to fill these voids and we have moved forward with hiring new staff so the program can continue providing quality services to the state of Utah.
Coal Program staff oversaw the reclamation of the Horizon coal mine, a bond forfeiture site in Carbon County. It took roughly three months to remove the coal mine’s five-acre footprint and re-contour the site to match the surrounding landscape. Reclamation involved demolishing and sealing the portals, re-establishing the stream channels through the facility and parking fill pads, and applying topsoil, mulch and seed to the final contoured slopes.
The program had a very busy year with 69 permit amendments processed, 271 field inspections, 90 water quality reports produced, and two bond release applications. Program staff approved significant coal lease additions at several operations extending coal mining well into the future in Utah. Additionally, the Emery No. 2 Mine began producing coal in earnest this year and the Division has received a new permit application package for the construction of the Kinney No. 2 Mine located near Scofield Reservoir.
The program also saw the retirement of two long-time and devoted employees: Program Manager Daron Haddock and Biologist Joe Helfrich with 68 years of combined experience. A new program manager will be hired in February.
The Minerals Program received new applications for five large mines in 2018. Three are for engineered rock products and two are for salts. The most significant application is the Sevier Playa project which is proposed to produce 328,500 tons of potassium sulfate fertilizer annually. This project would cover much of the bed of Sevier Lake and would include other processing and transportation facilities. The Division is not yet ready to approve the project.
The Scipio Pass quarry has been issued tentative approval and would disturb 160 acres near I-15 in Millard County. Clyde Companies anticipates producing 200,000 tons of aggregate products per year for the first five years, with the life of mine currently expected to be 30 years. Two other large mines for aggregate products have been proposed for Washington County.
Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program
In 2018, the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program (AMRP) completed three coal and six non-coal abandoned mine reclamation projects. Work consisted of the construction of 1,600 feet of stream channel at Kenilworth, a previously reclaimed abandoned coal mine, the installation of a concrete plug and backfilling of a subsidence hole with over 13,000 cubic yards of fill material, and the closure of approximately 243 hazardous abandoned mine openings statewide. In addition, maintenance was performed at 15 previously closed abandoned mine sites.
The program received an award for work completed on the Wolf Den Fire reclamation project in the Uintah Basin. The National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs (NAAMLP) publicly recognized Utah for the exemplary physical safety hazard mitigation in the reclamation of abandoned hard rock mines and presented them the nation’s highest achievement at its annual conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. Steve Fluke, AMRP manager and AMRP Archaeologist Seth Button attended the banquet and accepted the award.
Education outreach efforts included the distribution of more than 23,000 “Mining Utah’s Heritage” workbooks to 4th grade classes, designing and printing 1,700 calendars for distribution featuring historic coal mines from Carbon County’s Spring Canyon, and participating in 13 public outreach events.
Hydrologist and Project Manager Keenan Storrar along with Coal Program staff oversaw the reclamation of the Horizon coal mine, a bond forfeiture site in Carbon County. It took roughly three months to remove the coal mine’s five-acre footprint and re-contour the site to match the surrounding landscape. Reclamation involved demolishing and sealing the portals, re-establishing the stream channels through the facility and parking fill pads, and applying topsoil, mulch and seed to the final contoured slopes.
From the time the mine ceased operations in 2012 until the bond was forfeited in 2017, the site had fallen into disrepair. Coal waste covered the facility and loadout areas and was piled in berms around the site. The temporary portal seals installed when the mine was idled, had been broken into and posed a significant hazard to the public. Most of the culverts and ditches at the site were blocked and no longer functioning as designed causing significant erosion across the site. While the sediment pond at the lower end of the site captured most of the sediment erosion and suspended coal fines, the pond was nearly full and the owner was no longer sampling and reporting discharges, a direct violation of the Clean Water Act.
The site sits at the junction of Jewkes and Portal canyons. Once the portals were demolished and sealed, over 20,000 cubic yards of fill were excavated and backfilled against the surrounding cut slopes to reestablish the channels at the bottom of the canyons. Topsoil recovered from stockpiles was placed on the final grade of the hill slopes above the rip rapped hardened channels. Straw mulch was spread and incorporated into the soil by pocking the surface. Pocking is the process of creating large divots in the soil that aid in soil stability and water retention. Two seed mixes, riparian and shrub/grassland, were spread just before the area received the much needed rain and snow that fell in early October. Hopefully in the spring the site will have a high germination success rate and the native plants will help the site blend into the surrounding landscape.
Coal Program Reclamation Specialist Priscilla Burton initiated working with the Utah State Prison horticulture program to grow native plant starts that will be planted next fall for additional vegetative cover. More information will follow on this beneficial program and opportunity.
The Coal Program worked closely with PacifiCorp and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) to approve an innovative reclamation technique called pocking at the Cottonwood/Wilberg Mine in Emery County. Pocking is a relatively new hillslope stabilization technique used as an erosion control measure that consists of deep gouging the final hillslope grade with irregularly oriented depressions of 18 – 24 inches.
Traditionally one large sedimentation pond is required to remain in place at a reclamation site for at least two-years after regrading and seeding to capture run-off. This pocking method replaces the large pond with multiple smaller catchment basins encouraging water retention and revegetation of the disturbed area.
PacifiCorp and Division staff convinced OSMRE to allow removal of the pond at Cottonwood/Wilberg and use the pocking method instead. The Division received funds from a Utah State University (USU) grant to monitor mine reclamation success using drones. The Division is funding a USU graduate student for two years to conduct scientific research on the pocking at Cottonwood/Wilberg to provide a quantitative tool to efficiently and economically evaluate the success of land reclamation activities, specifically the effectiveness of pocking as an erosion control measure.
Coal Program Hydrologist Keenan Storrar received the 2017 Oil, Gas and Mining Achievement Award. In his two years plus with the Division, Keenan has developed into an exemplary employee. He has steadily expanded his knowledge and expertise in not only the Surface Mining Control Reclamation Act (SMCRA) and its application to the Division, but also the processes and rules of other state and federal regulatory agencies with whom he interacts.
Keenan routinely initiates projects on his own with minimal oversight. For example, Keenan has initiated a joint project with OSM and PacifiCorp to utilize LIDAR technology in evaluating the effectiveness of reclamation technique called ‘pocking’ or sometimes referred to as ‘deep gouging.’ It is a reclamation technique that is primarily utilized in the arid southwest and has been successfully implemented at several coal mine reclamation sites.
However, little to any scientific work has been done nationwide to quantify and examine the effectiveness of this technique. Keenan is working towards obtaining precise sedimentation data by utilizing LIDAR technology in concert with OSM and PacifiCorp at the Cottonwood/Wilberg Mine in Emery County. The reclamation of the mine began this month. In obtaining this data, Keenan is at the forefront of advancing the understanding and application of pocking as a reclamation technique and its effectiveness to control erosion on steep, reclaimed slopes in arid, semi-arid environments. Its work that the Division will take immense pride in in the years to come as this reclamation technique can be utilized in all manner of slope stabilization applications from hard rock mining, to highway projects to general construction, etc.
Keenan is a genuine asset to the Division. His rapport with his colleagues, co-workers and coal operators is genuine and one of mutual respect. Keenan is well-deserving of the award as he continues to go above and beyond on a daily basis.
The White Oak Mine, also know as the Belina Mine, was an underground coal mine established prior to the 1975 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) requiring a reclamation bond prior to operation. The surface was privately owned and the coal was owned by the United States.
This project was very successful due to the partnerships with Utah Division of Water Quality, Spanish Fork Public Works and Price River Water Improvement District, Skyline CWMA, Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, Skyline Mine, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Snow College, Carbon County Road Department and the Utah Geological Survey and the Office of Surface Mining.
1984 – 2001 Mine permit was held by several operators Valley Camp of Utah, White Oak Mining & Construction and finally Lodestar Energy.
2001 60.9- acres of surfacing mining was permitted.
2001 Lodestar’s bonding company, Frontier Insurance Company went into “rehabilitation.”
2003 Lodestar went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
2004 Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining (OGM) recovered General Settlement Funds for reclamation.
2004-2005 Loadout and surface mine facilities were reclaimed.
2007 – 2008 Sediment loading, poor vegetation growth, severe erosion and sink holes were noted in Eccles Creek.
2009 Obtained Stream Alteration Permit from the Utah Division of Water Rights and received authorization from the Utah Division of Water Quality (DWQ) to apply bio-solids to the reclaimed area. Received a Utah Non-point Source Grant from DWQ for bio solids use on the project.
2010 – 2011 Constructed terraces, applied bio solids from the Spanish Fork Wastewater Reclamation and Price River Water Treatment facilities; seeded with native species and Triticale as a sterile cover crop; applied straw and wood straw mulch. Constructed drop structures and riprap ladders in steep sections of Whiskey Creek. Work was completed by Innovative Excavation, Inc.
2013 Worked with the Skyline Cooperative Weed Management Area (CWMA) to coordinate weed control in a six square mile area adjacent to the White Oak Mine for three years.
2014 Landowner requested the mile-long mine access road be reclaimed. Carbon County Road Department accepted the re-milled asphalt and hauled it away for reuse in the Scofield area. Work was completed by Feller Enterprises. Received Utah Department of Agriculture and Food grant to support a three-year weed control and mapping effort. Grant employed Snow College students to map area invasive species.
2015 Utah Geologic Survey staff surveyed elevations in Eccles Creek to help obtain a stream alteration permit. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and OGM staff collected willow cuttings, sedge and rush plugs from Eccles Creek to replant in the reconstructed channel. Nelco Contractors, Inc. removed 7,600 cubic yards (cy) of fill from Eccles Creek and reconstructed the Eccles Creek channel to allow fish passage. Funded by an Office of Surface Mining Civil Penalties Grant and a contribution from the DWR SE Utah Regional Aquatic Program. Skyline Mine also contributed by hauling fill away.
2016 Obtained stream alteration permit for Whiskey Creek to repair erosion caused by sediment from the mine facilities at the head of the watershed. Work was completed by Nelco Contractors, Inc. with a grant from the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative (WRI).
The Coal Program is responsible for providing permits to coal companies, completing site inspections to confirm compliance and overseeing the reclamation and bond release process. Ensuring provisions of the coal rules are followed allows for continued extraction of coal to occur in a way that reduces and/or eliminates long term impacts to the environment.
Take a look at the interactive map that explores Utah’s coal mines permitted by the Division.
Coal extraction is important to Utah. In 2014, six Utah coal operators produced 17.9-million short tons of coal valued at $600 million. Communities in Carbon and Emery counties rely on the coal industry to provide jobs and stimulate their local economies.
When a mining operation ends, the operator is responsible for reclaiming and restoring the area as close to its pre-mined condition as possible. Once requirements are met, a 10-year period begins and the site is monitored to assure reclamation is successful. After this period, the bond is released. Several notable reclamation projects have occurred in the state including the DesBee Dove Mine, Star Point and White Oak.