The company that has been operating evaporation ponds near Cisco since 2008 has agreed to pay a fine of $50,000 to the Utah Division of Air Quality because state regulators charge that it has been operating without a permit from the DAQ. That same company, Danish Flats Environmental Services, based in Colorado, was fined by Grand County in 2009 because it expanded its operations without county approval.
The recent fine levied by the state against the Danish Flats firm was a settlement out of court, with no admission of guilt by the company. But it looks as though this business is fairly unaware of how to operate within legal guidelines, or its management heads think that no one is checking on what’s happening in the ghost town near Interstate 70.
The evaporation ponds are the end result of oil and gas development in our area. The wastewater used to extract oil and gas throughout our region is placed into these disposal ponds, where it evaporates and leaves salt, chemicals and volatile organic compounds. Sometimes the butane, propane and other lightweight hydrocarbons can be harvested for other uses, but while they are drying up, pollutants are released into the air. State regulators have alleged that the company ignored permitting requirements under both state law and the federal Clean Air Act.
It appears the state may have gone a little easy on the Danish Flats company, due in part because business has slowed down quite a bit since the company added six ponds to its original eight five years ago. At that time the company was struggling to handle a flood of dirty water, calculated at 5.3 million barrels per year. But then demand dropped, and the facility processed just 2 million barrels the next year. In 2013, the company said it handled just a million barrels.
Last fall, state regulators told the company that it was lacking some construction and air quality permits, and proposed an $84,000 fine. The declining financial status of the business caused the state to reduce the penalty, and it has agreed to accept a payoff of $50,000 over the course of a year. The company has approval to continue operating, but still needs a further permit relevant to clean air requirements.
I don’t consider Cisco to be a garden spot of Grand County. But its barren vastness has a beauty unto itself that needs to be protected just like other lands within local, state and federal laws that manage its use. Its proximity to I-70, and the major rail line that passes through there, may breathe yet more demand for commercial operations at the abandoned hamlet.
This is an era where energy projects are being scrutinized to a greater degree than at any previous time because the public has seen environmental sacrifices in the name of energy and defense that have left irreparable damage. We rely on government regulators on all levels to manage these projects in ways that adhere to modern, protective laws. And we rely on honesty from the private sector.
It is unconscionable that a company would expand and operate a facility without required permits. That behavior is a black eye on the entire energy production sector. And it gives environmental advocates who oppose development an “I-told-you-so” edge that fuels divisiveness and blocks worthy projects.
Moab’s environmental advocates routinely allege that development companies are not following the rules and regulations under which they have been permitted to operate. The example of poor practices at Cisco is evidence that regulators need to keep a close eye on all the projects in our energy-rich region.