By Donna Kemp Spangler
There’s been a lot of talk recently about how the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ) regulates emissions from evaporation ponds the oil and gas industry uses to process the contaminated water. In particular: Danish Flats Environmental Services, which operates a facility in a remote area of Grand County, north of Cisco. Danish Flats recently became news when DAQ reported in an Air Quality Board meeting that it negotiated a $50,000 penalty with the company for not seeking a proper permit based on its emissions. Some people question how could DAQ let this happen? Why was the penalty low?
I welcome the chance to discuss.
First of all, the Danish Flats case is the first analysis and permit for this type of operation in the state. The accompanying photo represents the 2,000 pages documenting the basis for the permit, required controls and air quality impacts.
As you can see, much analysis and work went into regulating the Danish Flats facility. Based on this effort, all other similar facilities under state air quality jurisdiction are in the process of permitting and installing similar needed controls. Consider this: 13 other facilities, located in areas throughout Utah under EPA jurisdiction, are operating with no permits or controls on their emissions. The state regulation of these facilities is much more protective and proactive than federal regulation.
Secondly, the initial analysis that determined a permit wasn’t needed didn’t account for methanol—a hazardous air pollutant that is not a naturally occurring component of produced water. In addition, there is no ambient standard for methanol or any other hazardous air pollutant. The state has proactively required a modeling analysis 30 times more protective than the occupational exposure standards to help ensure they are not exceeded at the fence line of the facility, thereby protective of public health.
Lastly, Danish Flats was not given any pass for violating Utah’s air quality rules. The penalty is significant based on the circumstances of the company—a consideration in negotiations. It addresses the current violations and serves as a significant deterrent to future violations.
Critics who say Utah is bowing to industry merely ignore the progress we are making to elevate air quality discussions into Utah’s political and public dialogue.
I welcome your input and opinion. Please consider responding by posting a comment below.
I am the Communications Director for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.
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