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Utah oil recycler agrees to $70,000 fine for environmental violations

Published August 12, 2014 10:54 am

Environment • Violations surfaced after 2012 fire at Rock Canyon Oil in American Fork.
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Utah hazardous-waste officials are fining a Utah County oil recycler for numerous environmental violations in the wake of a fire that seriously damaged the facility, including deliberately covering a heat sensor that was supposed to trigger fire-suppression equipment.

Rock Canyon Oil LLC has also been under investigation by federal authorities trying to determine the source of defective diesel that could have fouled an Amtrak locomotive.

Now, Rock Canyon General Manager Gary Maxwell has agreed to pay nearly $70,000 in fines to resolve a lengthy notice of violation the state issued last year. It alleged his firm ignored 19 provisions of the permits issued by the Utah Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste.

The division's board will decide whether to approve the settlement at its Thursday meeting, after the Tuesday deadline for public comment.

"We had the perfect storm that hit us at the wrong time. We are in complete compliance now," Maxwell said Monday. "Did we make some mistakes? Sure. Have we rectified them? Absolutely."

He said he appreciates the state solid waste division's efforts to get the firm to operate in compliance with its permits, but he emphasized that as a government entity, the agency has little experience with the challenges faced by small businesses.

Maxwell denied supplying the diesel that left Amtrak unhappy, noting the federal passenger rail corporation has taken no action against Rock Canyon other than to file suit to force compliance with a subpoena.

Recycling used motor oil into fuels and lubricants is the preferred way, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, of processing this common waste, which is produced by everyone who uses cars and other equipment powered by internal combustion engines. The practice can conserve energy and keep hazardous contaminants that build up in motor oil out of the environment.

"We are proud of the fact that we are greener than anyone in the state when it comes to handling oil," Maxwell said. He pays $1.50 per gallon for used oil collected from car dealers, lube shops and other places that change engine oil, removes the impurities and refines it into new products.

Rock Canyon's state oil processing permit authorizes it to handle up 50,000 gallons a day through filtration, gravity separation and vacuum distillation.

The limited liability corporation, which operates its tank farm and plant at 1669 S. 580 East in American Fork, began processing used oil in 2011 and found itself mired in regulatory and legal problems early on.

Two vendors have filed suit seeking payment for debts. Ranka Enterprises holds a judgment for $390,000 for equipment Rock Canyon paid for with checks that bounced. And Emerald Enterprises alleges it's owed $154,000 for oil it supplied to Rock Canyon and another $135,000 for failing to provide refined product as promised.

Even before it began operations, Rock Canyon's smelly emissions prompted local authorities to shut it down temporarily. Then in April 2012, a malfunctioning processor sparked a fire. American Fork firefighters knocked down the flames multiple times only to see the fire reignite. Spilled oil ruined firefighting equipment, resulting in a $250,000 insurance settlement, according to Fire Chief Kriss Garcia.

The damage kept the facility out of commission for several months, but since it resumed operations in December 2012, local authorities have encountered no new problems.

"It has gotten much better. We inspect twice a year. They seem like they have gotten their issues taken care of," Garcia said.

After the fire, state regulators closely examined the plant near Utah Lake's industrial north shore and found many problems, later detailed in a notice of violation issued last November. The violations ranged from minor, such as leaving a gate unlocked and failure to submit a spill report within 15 days, to serious, such as a failure to provide secondary containment and covering a fire sensor with an insulated can.

These two flaws exacerbated damage from the 2012 fire. Investigators discovered that for the two days before the fire, two processing units had run hotter than was allowed under the permit.

"The fire suppression system sensor that was covered was located directly above the processing unit that overheated and started a fire, which triggered a release of used oil into the storm sewer system and wetlands," Department of Environmental Quality documents state. "The sensor was purposely covered because it kept triggering due to excessive heat being generated below it by the processing unit."

The company also was cited for transferring and storing used oil into rail cars in a nearby rail yard that was not certified that purpose.

Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the company would pay $69,250 in monthly installments spread over the next six years.





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