Dominion Energy fired an oilfield worker in Rock Springs after the employee saved an estimated 50 waterfowl from wastewater ponds.
Adam Roich said he’s rescued about that many waterfowl in the last five years after they landed in tainted ponds at his worksite about 50 miles south of Rock Springs. He would take the oil-slicked birds to a company facility, wash them with Dawn household soap, warm them in his truck, then set them free on clean water, he told WyoFile in an interview.
“I got fired a couple days before Christmas for rescuing these guys throughout the years,” he posted recently on Facebook above many photographs of his avian patients. “I only did what I thought was right.”
Dominion terminated Roich on Dec. 19 for violating company policy, according to a letter obtained by WyoFile. His firing followed an internal investigation, the seven-sentence letter read.
Dominion wouldn’t say why it fired Roich, calling the issue “an internal matter.”
“[T]he company has fully complied with the applicable laws and company policies with respect to the individual,” Dominion’s Don Porter, media relations manager, wrote WyoFile. “[W]e abide by federal regulations which direct us to notify the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service only in the event of a bird fatality.”
Roich described a sad scene at the water’s edge: “They’d get oil on their feathers,” he said. “They’d just go to the bank and sit there. They’d freeze to death if I didn’t grab them.”
Four ponds, the largest about the size of a football field, dot the Canyon Creek energy field complex along the southern border of the state, Roich said. “It’s really toxic water,” he said. “Slicks of oil on them accumulate over time.”
A net covers one of them, Dominion’s Porter wrote. A BirdAvert system uses radar to deploy plastic falcons, strobes and falcon screeches to scare waterfowl away from the others.
“The system doesn’t work that well,” Roich said. Dominion called the bird-scaring system “not 100% effective,” and wrote that some birds alight in the ponds anyway, landing in produced water from natural gas wells — contaminated groundwater that contains gas and other substances.
Oilfield workers at the Canyon Creek field employed their own rescue system, Roich said. “We had a net out there,” he said. “I would just net the duck or grab it.
“I would take into our facility,” he said. “I would wash it. They rode around with me in my truck loving the heat while I worked my ass off.”
At the end of the day, Roich would release the rehabilitated ducks in a freshwater pond nearby, he said. Most would fly off.
Roich contacted state wildlife officials who told him what he was doing was probably OK, he said. But Dominion wrote that such rescues by employees are not allowed.
“When this happens, Dominion Energy follows federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act-related regulations, which forbid our employees from retrieving the fowl,” Dominion’s Porter wrote WyoFile.
Roich said other workers had been rescuing ducks during his five years with the company and beyond. “Before I was there they were doing the same thing,” he said. “Others did the same, but it all got pinned on me.”
Roich said he tried to work within the system. He believes Dominion could get a permit to handle the ducks and told supervisors as much.
Federal regulations allow licensed veterinarians to rescue migratory birds without a rehabilitation permit, but they must transfer the birds to an authorized rehabilitator within 24 hours after they are stabilized.
This fall a supervisor told Roich not to rescue any more waterfowl, Roich said. “He recently ordered me to let them die and not touch them,” he wrote on Facebook. After that, “I never touched another duck,” he told WyoFile.
Dominion put him on paid leave for almost two months, Roich said. “Like I’m some criminal,” he said. He called the episode a two-month ordeal that led up to his firing.
“Then I was terminated.” Ducks were at issue, Roich said. “An HR person told me that.”
Dominion’s Porter said the company is following federal regulations.
“We did not create these rules and regulations, but we are committed to adhering to them,” he wrote. “One of Dominion Energy’s core values is ‘ethics,’ which we take seriously — especially pertaining to government regulations concerning our business operations.”
Dominion fired him for violating the company’s code of ethics, Roich said he was told. “I don’t think there’s anything about ducks in the code of ethics,” he said.
Roich has another job in a Rock Springs auto shop in Rock Springs, he said, but isn’t making as much as he used to in the oil patch. He believes he’s made the right decisions.
“I don’t regret it,” he said.
WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.