Tuesday, March 27, 2007

AZGS opens Phoenix office

In the 126 years since the first Territorial Geologist was appointed in 1881, the Arizona Geological Survey (under a variety of names) has always run our operations out of Tucson. [AZGS Phoenix office is in the ADMMR building, right]

This week, however, we opened our first branch office, in Phoenix. Mimi Diaz, a geologist formerly with the Arizona Division of Emergency Management, is now serving as our Phoenix manager. She is housed at the Arizona Dept of Mines and Mineral Resources at 1502 W. Washington (in the Mining & Mineral Museum). This is one of the most important results of the renewed cooperation between our two state agencies and a particularly generous arrangement. DMMR Director Dr. Madan Singh has been unselfish in accommodating our office needs.

Mimi will be focusing primarily on natural hazards, especially earth fissures, and groundwater resources. We expect this office to grow in the coming years to better meet the needs of state and local agencies and of the public in this large and rapidly growing market.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Arizona geothermal potential greater than perceived

The message I came away with from the Arizona Geothermal Working Group meeting in Tucson last Friday, is that geothermal resources are

[above left - Geothermal Resource Potential map produced by the Southern Methodist University Geothermal Laboratory Source: http://www.smu.edu/geothermal/georesou/georesourcesmap.htm]

[above right - geothermal areas of western US, from NAU]

greater in Arizona and especially southern Arizona than is generally understood. While Arizona doesn't have the steaming geysers found in Yellowstone and to lesser extent in Nevada and Utah, there is substantial heat flow that could be tapped.

Arizona geothermal potential is more in the low to medium temperature range, which is excellent for geothermal heat pumps and space heating, rather than electricity generation that requires the higher temperature resource.

Particularly encouraging is the Arizona Corporation Commission's proposal to establish a 15% Renewable Portfolio Standard for the state. That would require regulated electric utilities to get 15% of their electric generation from renewable energy resources. The old standard was one of the first in the nation, but set at only 1.1%.

The old standard excluded geothermal energy but the new one includes it. The proposed RPS is in review by the Attorney General. It "carves out" 30% of the total requirement from distributed generation and includes thermal energy, for heating, cooling, or hot water. This means that the use of geothermal for greenhouses or residential/commercial heating and cooling would qualify. Thus, Arizona utilities could be expected to support these kinds of projects financially, to help meet their RPS commitments.

One reason Arizona is not viewed as attractive as some other areas, according to Joel Renner with the Idaho National Engineering Lab, is that the old USGS assessments only considered resources above 3 km (roughly 10,000 feet) depth. We also have not seen any reservoir stimulation at commercial scales yet. This is what used to be called "hot dry rock" geothermal. The key element of "Enhanced/Engineered Geothermal Systems" (EGS) is moving water through hot rock. The near-term goal of this program is to improve the productivity of existing geothermal fields.

Paul Morgan, formerly of NAU and recently moved to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, reported that the water geochemistry infers that reservoir water temperatures of 180-212 degrees F (76-100 C) are widespread in Arizona, and temperatures of 213-300 F can be found.

Jim Witcher, consultant from New Mexico, noted that geothermal energy is produced 24/7 compared to solar (needs the sun) and wind (which needs the wind to be blowing). This allows geothermal to be built into utilities base load capacity.

Jim also suggested geothermal heat could speed up chemical and kinetic reactions such as improving the speed and efficiency of copper leaching, an issue of great importance to Arizona. No one has tested this concept.

One reason is that the geothermal research budget in the federal budget is zeroed this year. The existing programs in the Dept of Energy and National Labs have been told to close down their programs. Last Friday, the Senate approved continuing the funding for the remaining 5 months of the federal fiscal year (through September) but it's unclear if the House will agree.

More on the Arizona Geothermal Working Group at http://geothermal.nau.edu/working-group.shtml

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Arizona #1 mining state again

Arizona was the largest mineral producing state in the nation again in 2006 according to the Mineral Commodity Summary report recently released by the U.S. Geological Survey (http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/mcs/2007/mcs2007.pdf)

Arizona’s raw non-fuel minerals (i.e., excluding fuel minerals such as coal and uranium) were valued last year at $6,710,000, equal to 10.42% of all the non-fuel minerals produced in the U.S. The major minerals in Arizona were copper, molybdenum concentrates, sand and gravel (construction), cement (portland), lime.

The value of copper production was up 97% over 2005, and is largely responsible for pushing Arizona ahead of recent leader Nevada. Nevada was second at $5,240,000 (8.14% of the total U.S. production), but their leading mineral is gold, which rose a still robust 68%.

Interestingly, the U.S. imported 40% of our copper needs last year. Combined with China’s announcement that they will build their copper reserves over the next 4 years along with other key minerals, indicates that global demand for copper will remain strong. This is likely to stoke continued exploration and development activity across Arizona.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Frank Press, Jimmy Carter, and the Neutrino Crisis

Geologist and former Presidential Science Advisor Dr. Frank Press told a wonderful story the other night about President Jimmy Carter. We were gathered at the stately Cosmos Club (founded by John Wesley Powell) near DuPont Circle in Washington DC for the annual Pick and Gavel awards ceremony. The Pick and Gavel award (http://www.stategeologists.org/pick.html) is given by the Association of American State Geologists (of which Arizona is a member) to recognize significant contributions to the geosciences in the public policy arena. The event has become one for the entire DC geoscience community to come together in celebration.

2007 Pick & Gavel Award to Dr. Frank Press is unique fluorite-sphalerite specimen (above)

Frank Press, in addition to his presidential advisor role from 1977-1981, was also president of the National Academies of Science for 12 years, and is the co-author of one of the most acclaimed and widely read geology text books in the world, “Earth.”

The Pick and Gavel award itself is always a unique mineral specimen, typically valued at many thousands of dollars mounted on a wooden base.

Well, in accepting the award, Frank talked warmly about the relationship that developed between him and his boss, Jimmy Carter, who Frank characterizes as the most scientifically literate president since Thomas Jefferson.

Carter would hold daily staff meetings at 7am, often being the first one there, after pouring over the daily newspapers. At one memorable meeting, Carter, sitting at the head of the large conference table, called to Frank who was across the room at the other end, and said that he had seen in the New York Times science section that a new report showed there was a shortage of neutrinos coming from the Sun. He finished by saying, “keep me apprised of the situation, Frank.”

As soon as the meeting ended, Frank found himself surrounded by the other presidential staff. The National Security Advisor hurried over and pushed to the front of the crowd, worriedly asking, “Frank, is this a crisis?’

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Congress to take on the 1872 Mining Law

The Congressional field hearing in Tucson on Feb 24 chaired by US Rep. Raul Grijalva is viewed by the nation’s mining industry as the opening salvo in a full fledged “attack” on the 1872 Mining Law. Mr. Grijalva chairs the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Parks and Public Lands. In the hearing, he announced his opposition to proposed Rosemont copper mining activities on Forest Service lands and concerns over the Mining Law.

[right- Mission mine complex, courtesy Asarco]

In a meeting with the leadership of the National Mining Association in DC last Tuesday, they told us that the chair of the Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Nick Rahall of WV, plans to have hearings on the Mining Law in May and draft reform legislation by June with intent to pass the bill this year.

NMA says they are open to certain reforms, aimed at clarifying and expediting the permitting process, but that the core elements of the Mining Law such as continued access to public lands must be continued. When asked if they could go along with a royalty on production, they argue that they already pay a higher lease fee than the oil and gas industry pays on public lands, and that the proposal of 8% on gross production is intended not so much as a revenue raiser as a punitive measure to halt mining altogether.

All in all, this appears to shaping up as one heck of a fight.

Word from DC: "All climate, all the time"

Last week I was in Washington DC with a number of other State Geologists on our semi-annual rounds of meetings with federal agencies, congressional committees, and NGO’s to find out what is happening that will affect the geoscience profession and our individual states. It’s also a chance to offer input on legislation and the appropriations process which is in full swing now.

One thing we heard repeatedly is that it’s “all climate change, all the time,” as a senior official in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy told our group. He said the arguments about the validity of climate change are over and the focus is on what to do about it.

In addition, Kraig Naasz, president of the National Mining Association, told us that climate change now appears to be at the top of the domestic policy agenda of the new Congress. NMA members include many of the nation’s largest coal mines, which goes principally to burn in power plants for electricity. About 51% of US electricity comes from burning coal and thus is a major source of CO2 emissions. Capturing the CO2 from the power plant smokestacks and separating it out from the other flue gases could be challenging and costly. Then there’s the problem of what to do with all that CO2 once you capture it.

The leading solution is thought to be geologic sequestration – permanently burying the CO2 in deep geologic units, most likely by pumping it down well bores into porous sedimentary layers. There are a number of test projects underway in the US and internationally to assess the technical challenges and costs in doing this at a large scale. Plus there is the question of whether the CO2 will stay trapped underground or leak back into the atmosphere.

Answers to these questions will have a profound effect on the electric power industry and thus the coal industry.

A couple of years ago, AZGS participated in one of seven regional partnerships among geological organizations across the country to gather subsurface geologic information into digital database to identify the testbed targets for CO2 sequestration projects. While Arizona was not chosen for one of the pilot projects, I expect that in the near future, we will be looking closely at the geology in the areas around our existing coal-fired power plants for plausible disposal sites of their CO2 emissions.

Geological sequestration is widely talked about as the likely best method to deal with CO2 disposal so expect to see geologists playing a larger role in what has become the hot topic (pun intended) in the Capitol.

The American Geological Institute's Government Affairs Program sent out a nice collection of links to the recent climate change report and federal legislative actions:

IPCC’s summary for policymakers entitled "Climate Change 2007: The
Physical Science Basis" is available on their web site at:

An archived webcast of the House Science and Technology Committee
hearing on “The State of Climate Science 2007” is available from the
committee web page:

The Republican Policy Committee global warming primer is available at

The full text and summaries of each bill is available from Thomas: thomas.loc.gov

The Bingaman-Specter Discussion Draft on Global Warming Legislation is
available from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee web
site at: http://energy.senate.gov/public/

The Dingell-Boucher Letter is available from the House Energy and
Commerce web site at http://energycommerce.house.gov/

Also see AGI Government Affairs web page on Climate Change for more
summaries of hearings and other actions.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Future Droughts Will Put Pressure on Ground Water

The National Resource Report on “Colorado River Basin Water Management” issued last week got national attention.

The study used tree ring data to reconstruct river flows and drought records back hundreds of years and “transformed the paradigm on the history of river flows.”

The report concluded that “the preponderance of scientific evidence suggests that warmer future temperatures will reduce future Colorado River streamflow and water supplies. The paleoclimate record shows periods when Colorado River flows were lower than the gauged record assumed in the 1922 Colorado River Compact allocations.”

It also stated that, “tree rings and other data suggest future droughts will recur and may exceed the severity of historical droughts.”

So, we have over-estimated the amount of Colorado River water we should expect long term, and under-estimated the severity of droughts. This is going to put more pressure on the state’s ground water supplies which are already being rapidly mined. It also will lead to more subsidence and earth fissures.

The full report can be viewed, downloaded, or purchased at http://books.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11857