VERNAL — The water used by Uintah County earlier this month to de-ice a roadside culvert contained 21 times the permissible level of grease and oil, according to testing conducted by a Salt Lake City laboratory.
American West Analytical Laboratories, which conducted the tests for the state of Utah, found that the water contained 210 parts per million of oil and grease. The permitted discharge level is 10 ppm, said Darrin Brown, director of environmental health for the TriCounty Health Department.
"There's a lot of petroleum product in (that water)," Brown said.
The water sample — taken from a facility where evaporation and other processes are used to separate contaminants from water produced during oil and natural gas extraction — also showed a higher than permitted level for biochemical oxygen demand. BOD, as it's known, refers to the quantity of oxygen needed to support the decomposition of organic compounds by microorganisms.
The privately owned facility that road crews were drawing water from for winter maintenance of Uintah County's culverts has a BOD discharge limit of 25 ppm average per month. The tested water had a BOD level of 45 ppm, Brown said.
"That's more polluted than they're allowed to discharge," he said.
Environmental officials first learned about the county's practice of using oil-field production water to de-ice culverts on Jan. 10. That's when a property owner spotted a Uintah County Road Department employee pumping an estimated 1,000 gallons of the foul-smelling liquid into a roadside ditch.
The water used to treat the culverts came from ponds in Uintah County owned by Western Energy Operating LLC, which is based in Casper, Wyo. It was obtained before it had been fully treated and ranged in temperatures from 85 to 100 degrees, according to state and local officials.
John Whitehead, assistant director of the state Division of Water Quality, said there have already been discussions within the agency about enforcement action against the county. The division may also take action against Western Energy.