Company cited for violations at three gas wells in county
Australia-based drilling company Marion Energy has come under fire recently for a series of three notices of violation at gas well sites located in Carbon County. The Utah Division of Oil Gas and Mining sent three notices of violation to Marion's United States headquarters in McKinney, Texas, on March 14.
Two notices cite violations in the Kennilworth area.
At the Cordingly Canyon well site, DOGM found violations relating to pollution and surface damage control, reserve pits and on-site pits, and waste management and disposal.
"Marion personnel have admitted to dumping trash, garbage, metal, soils and snow contaminated with diesel fuel from another location. The reserve pit is unlined and is not approved for this type of use," wrote DOGM enforcement and compliance manager Michael Hebertson in the notice of violation.
The state requested that Marion remove any materials dumped in the the pit and contaminated soils.
At a Ballpark Canyon well site, DOGM officials found evidence that fluids from a reserve pit had left the well site and spilled into an ephemeral wash. Inspectors found that fluids had been transported from other well sites, resulting in an overfilled reserve pit.
"Reserve pits are considered temporary and are not to be used as disposal sites," stated the violation notice.
DOGM required that Marion Energy close the reserve pit and dispose of fluids at an approved disposal facility.
But a third notice in the Clear Creek area has received statewide publicity, with media outlets across the country picking up on the story.
The well site where violations were discovered is located on Alpine School District's camp about two miles south of Scofield.
A directional well from the school-owned surface is expected to tap the Ferron formation some 5,000 feet underground.
Mineral rights for the well are recorded as being owned by the Utah School and Institutional Trust Land Administration.
DOGM spokesperson Jim Springer said Marion had been sited for eight specific issues involving five rules.
Springer said the violations were considered minor and Marion was taking steps to correct the concerns.
"Our inspection brought up some problems related to the drill rig," stated Springer in an interview on Wednesday.
In the notice sent to Marion, DOGM officials identified unauthorized uses at the well site, such as vehicle storage, drill pipes, pallets, trash and various other items.
Inspections at the site during which the division found violations date back as far as Dec. 19, 2006.
At least four more inspections were performed at the site before DOGM sent the notice of violation.
Inspectors also found offsite surface pollution and noted that melting snow had spread contaminates, which had left the drilling site on an access road.
In November, state officials found contents of a reserve pit which had spilled from the pit and well site,
During the December inspection, DOGM also found general housekeeping problems such as improper trash disposal which repeatedly worsened during four subsequent inspections.
State officials also found an unauthorized drain field in September 2006. And in January inspectors found evidence of an unreported diesel fuel spill.
State inspectors suggested testing for diesel fuel percolating at the well site which may have entered the watershed through the unauthorized drain field.
All of the sites appear to be improving. According to an e-mail from DOGM petroleum operations specialist Mark Jones to Carbon County deputy zoning administrator Gayla Williams, conditions at each of the three well sites have improved since the March inspections which resulted the the notices of violation.
Williams said in an interview on Wednesday that the noise pollution at the Alpine District well site were not out of the ordinary - about 50 decibels. She added that the well site is fenced according tho conditional uses approved by the county.
"A little kid who wanted to get to that well would really have to want to do it," said the county planning officials. She added that she had been present at the time the pre-drilling inspection of the well site along with DOGM, Marion, SITLA and school district officials.
Earlier this week the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News reported concerns from Alpine School District officials, primarily relating to school kids' safety while at the school camp, but also reflecting concerns about the quality of education with the noise generated by the well site.
As early as May 2006, DOGM officials indicated concerns about safety and interruption of school activities near the well site.
"The primary surface use of the immediate and surrounding area of the proposed well is Alpine School District education and recreation activities as well as wildlife habitat," wrote Jones in a June 6, 2006 review of Marion's drilling permit application. "There are significant impacts to the operations of the school district's education program that takes place on this property. Safety of school children is of great concern."
Marion Energy chief executive officer Jeffrey Clarke did not respond to a request for comment.
Alpine School District assistant superintendent Rob Smith said concerns expressed by the district had been addressed in a Tuesday meeting with Marion executives.
Smith said changes have been made as fas as personnel at the drilling site and hopes the remaining concerns can be resolved.
SITLA, the owner of the mineral rights, has been involved in some discussions. However, concerns over the surface use appear to be between the school district and Marion.
"We're not in this fight," said SITLA spokesperson Dave Hebertson.