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Conservationists, Industry Support Updating Utah’s Oil & Gas Rules

Photo of oil pump. / DennyThurstonPhotography

Imagine this: The oil and gas industry in Utah supports overhauling air-quality permits for their wells – and so do environmental groups. It’s what’s actually happening right now at the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ) with its proposed regulations for more than 12,000 oil and gas wells in the state.

“I think we’re getting to a good place where this rule represents improvement for Utah air quality and better certainty for companies,” says Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance.

Her Denver-based trade group originally resisted the changes that state regulators are proposing. But that's changed as the regulations undergo a public review process that ends in three weeks. Sgamma says her group still wants to see a few tweaks, but overall it's looking forward to a streamlined process for oil and gas operators.

Conservation groups are requesting a few changes, too – to make the rules tougher.

“It’s a step in the right direction," says Jon Goldstein, who follows the energy industry for the Environmental Defense Fund. "And we’d like to see that step going as far as possible to address the pollution problems the state’s facing and to get the biggest benefit to the people of Utah.”

Goldstein says the changes will mean less ozone pollution in the Uintah Basin, more profits for energy companies and more tax revenues for counties. DAQ plans to have the regulations in place early next year.

Update 10/25, 11:40 a.m.: This story was updated with a corrected name spelling.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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