Monday, November 28, 2011

Kinder Morgan to buy Arizona carbon dioxide - helium field

A subsidiary of Kinder Morgan is buying the St. Johns Dome carbon dioxide and helium field in eastern Arizona and other properties from Enhanced Oil Resources Inc. (EOR), for $30 million, according to recent news reports.

EOR subsidiary Ridgeway Arizona Oil Corp. has been developing the field for a number of years, intending to use the CO2 for enhanced oil recovery projects in New Mexico and Texas. However, a worldwide shortage of helium has pushed the price high enough that it's become a valuable commodity as well.

In addition, Utah-based GreenFire Energy has a partnership with EOR for development of a CO2-based demonstration geothermal power plant near St. Johns Dome, using the CO2 from the field instead of steam to generate electricity. There's no immediate word on how the Kinder Morgan deal may affect this project. US DOE granted GreenFire $2 million towards testing the technology.

EOR CEO Barry Lasker is quoted as saying the financing of the St. Johns Dome project was "too onerous on a company of our size" so the expectations are that Kinder Morgan can bring the resources to bear to complete it.

The purchase is scheduled to close on Dec. 1.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Return of the Dust Bowl to the American West

The cover story in the November issue of AGI's EARTH magazine offers a grim prediction of the "Return of the Dust Bowl in the American West" that includes Arizona.

The article says researchers from a variety of disciplines concur that "Over the next two or three decades, the American West...will transition to a climate that may make the 1930s Dust Bowl seem mild and brief."

This summers multiple haboobs in southern Arizona are given as examples of what the future may increasingly hold for us.

The cause is a combination of natural and human causes. "Persistent drought, increasingly violent and variable weather, urban and suburban development, off-road recreational vehicles, and even the installation of large-scale solar energy arrays threaten to shroud the West in dust."

One of the biggest factors, and biggest unknowns, is the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) that moves on a cycle of 20-50 years. A favorable PDO is described as the source of the anonymously wet 20th century, on which we based a lot of our water planning.

In addition to drought-related effects, longer dry seasons lead to more wildfires. And the increase in dust brings more respiratory ails such as carrying more Valley Fever spores.

It's possible there will be a change in trajectory of one or more of the causal factors, but the article cautions that none of that seems to be happening.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

End of Russian uranium exports impacts global supplies

If you want a better understanding of the forces at work that are helping drive the mining industry's interest in the rich uranium deposits of northern Arizona, read a recent investment analysis posted on [Right, uranium ore. Credit, USGS]

"...nuclear warheads that were once on Russian ICBMs aimed at American cities are now providing 50% of the electricity produced by America's nuclear power plants." And the supplies of this uranium are running out. Here are some excerpts:

When the USSR collapsed Russia inherited over a thousand tons of weapons-grade uranium and a massive nuclear refining and fabricating infrastructure - 40% of world total.

During the twenty year Megatons to Megawatts Program Russia will have converted 500 tonnes of highly enriched uranium (HEU - uranium 235 enriched to 90 percent) from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons into low enriched uranium (LEU - less than 5 percent uranium 235) for nuclear fuel and sell it to the US.

The Megatons to Megawatts Program, according to the US Enrichment Corp (USEC, the government created entity to buy and transport the uranium) was supplying roughly 50% of the US's LEU demand. Mining accounted for 8% with the rest coming from other sources (rapidly depleting utility and government stockpiles).

The world's uranium miners currently produce 40 million pounds less than the world's nuclear power plants need - this figure doesn't include the [42+] power plants under construction or the hundreds in planning stages.

RBC Capital Markets believes there is not enough uranium production from current or planned mines to; satisfy current reactor needs, meet new reactor start up initial core requirements (3x normal load for startup), and to build inventories for new reactors. RBC estimates there will be a global uranium shortfall of over 70 million pounds by 2020 and says that the uranium market will require substantial new sources of uranium to fuel the projected growth in the global nuclear reactor fleet.

Use of coal ash in construction

The ash left over from burning coal in power plants to generate electricity is used in the construction industry, especially in making concrete for transportation infrastructure.

A new study sponsored by the foundation of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, concludes that "infrastructure costs would rise by $5.2 billion annually if coal ash were unavailable for construction purposes," according to an item in the newsletter from the Interstate Mining Compact Commission. "More than 75% of concrete used to build and maintain U.S. transportation infrastructure relies on coal ash as a component in its cement blend, according to the foundation." Some ash is also used in roofing and wallboard, but a lot stays in ponds or dry landfills.

The study was prompted by anticipated EPA rules for regulating coal ash under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The study "claims road and bridge construction costs would soar if the EPA regulates coal ash as hazardous waste." The collapse of a coal ash pond in Tennessee in 2008, triggered a re-examination of similar ponds nationwide.

Two Arizona power plants, Cholla and Apache Station, have a total of nine coal ash ponds, that would be affected by the rules. [Right, Google Earth view of coal ash ponds at Cholla power plant]

Rappeling into "The Cracks" near Holbrook

There was a comment added today to one of my blog posts from 2010, about "The Cracks" near Holbrook in eastern Arizona. The cracks are extension fractures over the Holbrook anticline.

Well, alerted by the post, J. Barr recently rappelled into some of them, going as much as 140 feet deep. He posted photos at the website Team Crowbar. [Right, credit Team Crowbar]

These are the first photos I've seen from inside the cracks and they are fantastic.

Kids, don't try this yourself. Note that these guys are well prepared and trained for this. This is not a place where you want to get stuck.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Another reason to be thankful

On this Thanksgiving weekend, here is something else to be thankful for - life on Earth was not wiped out by a comet or asteroid impact, despite three close approaches in recent months.

On June 27, asteroid 2011 MD zoomed by at the "butt-clenchingly close distance of only 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles)" without incident.

A couple weeks ago, on November 8, a 400-meter wide asteroid named 2005 YU55, came within 201,000 miles of Earth. [Right, Asteroid 2005 YU55. Credit, Arecibo Observatory/Michael Nolan]

But the one that generated the most consternation in the blogosphere was Comet Elenin that broke up on Sept. 10, on its way towards its closest encounter with Earth expected on Oct. 16.

Various doomsayers claimed Elenin would trigger 'catastrophic earthquakes' or that it was actually the mysterious Planet X, or Planet Zeta, or Nibiru which would cause the magnetic poles to flip, triggering the crust to shift 90 degrees, and devastating life on Earth. Whew! Guess we dodged the bullet on that one.

The Nibiru predictors have been justifying their predictions in part on the development of ground cracks reported around the world, including reports of earth fissures in Arizona. Supposedly the gravitational pull of Elenin (aka Nibiru) was triggering the crustal stresses that produce the cracks. However, a NASA scientist calculated that his Toyota Prius produced greater stresses on our planet than did the remote comet.

Since we are apparently still here and alive, the predictions are that the real comet/asteroid/planet collision will occur sometime in 2012. So, we can all be thankful yet again that we can celebrate through New Years apparently without fear of the end of the world!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

EPA and Asarco debate charges of air quality violations at Hayden smelter

The Arizona Business Journal has posted both the EPA letter to Asarco charging them with 6 years of violations of the Clean Air Act at the Hayden copper smelter [right], and Asarco's responses challenging the allegations. The EPA says the smelter is a "major source" of hazardous air pollutants (HAP) including Arsenic, Lead, Antimony, Beryllium, Cadmium, Chromium, Cobalt, Manganese, Nickel, and Selenium.

Asarco counters that they are no more than a 'minor source' and in compliance with Arizona Dept. of Environmental Quality standards.-

M2.3 quake near Kaibab

A magnitude 2.3 earthquake struck about 8 miles WSW of Kaibab, in northwest Arizona last night at 10:20 PM. It's an area of modest low-level seismic activity. [Right, location of quake (star) and seismicity 1990-present. Credit, USGS]

This area is at the southern end of the Intermountain Seismic Belt.

"Dirt tax" proposed on hardrock mining

The Obama Administration is proposing significant changes to hard rock mining laws but one called the Abandoned Mine Lands Hardrock Reclamation Fund, is generating angst in the mining community. Paraphrasing the legislative proposal, all operators of hard rock mining operations shall pay to the Secretary of the Interior, a reclamation fee based on the tons of material displaced by the operation at the rate of 7.8 cents per ton of material displaced for fiscal years 2012 through 2015. Beginning in 2016 and in each subsequent fiscal year, the Secretary may adjust the fee rate. The fees would go into the reclamation fund.

Opponents of the fee are calling it a "dirt tax" because it applies primarily to the dirt and rocks overlying an ore deposit, sometimes called overburden. In some cases, the amount of overburden can be a larger volume than the underlying ore-bearing rocks. Also, the overburden must be removed first to reach the ore, meaning additional upfront costs before any revenue is generated. [Right, Lavender Pit, Bisbee AZ]

The National Mining Association says the Administrations own estimate is that this will cost the mining industry an additional $1.8 billion.

This is separate from proposals to charge reclamation fees or royalties on the ore itself. Arizona produces a little over 10% of the non-fuel minerals of the nation, so I would imagine a comparable amount of the fees would come from Arizona mining companies.

USGS Director: Importance of State Geological Surveys

The following written statement by USGS Director Marcia McNutt was released on November 22, 2011:

For more than 130 years, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has been working in partnership with State Geological Surveys to provide science information that is vitally important to the U.S. economy, the safety and health of American citizens, and the sustainability and security of their natural resources. The USGS fully recognizes and supports the need for State geological surveys to help meet the growing challenges society faces in its interface with the natural world on a planet undergoing modification from both natural and man-made causes.

The USGS cannot fully implement our mission without the State geological surveys. Over our long and productive history of partnership, we have established successful ways of working together to mutually support our citizenry and reinforce the best features of both Federal- and State-based government, without overlap or duplication. For example, the USGS, with input from States, provides national standards, benchmarks, and datums, such that individual State products can be linked at the State boundaries. However, without the contributions of the States,
national maps, data bases, models, and resource assessments would be sparsely populated. This symbiotic relationship allows the State surveys the latitude to determine which data sets are most important to their constituencies, while knowing that those data sets can be linked within a regional context, and that the scientific standards are authoritative.

Partnerships such as this are even more important as resources at the Federal and State level continue to decline. State geological surveys maintain a network of applied geoscience activities throughout the country independent of the distribution of the Federal workforce. By continuing to leverage our resources, information and knowledge, we will help the Nation and States address future economic, sociological, environmental and resource challenges now and for generations to come.

Marcia McNutt

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Park Service geology reports on Coronado and Ft. Bowie monuments

The National Park Service Geologic Resources Division released two new Geologic Resources Inventory (GRI) reports for two Arizona parks in the Intermountain Region: Coronado National Memorial (CORO) [right], and Fort Bowie national Historic Site (FOBO).

The reports are companion documents to previously released digital geologic map data for each park and aid in the map's use for resource management.

The GRI report is written for resource managers to assist in resource management and science-based decision making, but may also be useful for interpretation. The report discusses potential geologic issues facing resource managers at the park, distinctive geologic features and processes present within the park, and the geologic history leading to the park’s present landscape. A map unit properties table summarizes the main features, characteristics, and potential management issues for all of the rock units on the geologic map.

The reports are technically reviewed by geologic experts, professionally edited, and undergo a management review to ensure compliance with NPS policies. The reports are submitted as part of the Natural Resource Program Center's Natural Resource Report (NRR) series and are posted on-line on the GRI publications webpage. Both high- and low-resolution PDFs are available for download at this site as is a link to the digital geologic data.
AZGS geologists Mike Conway and Ann Youberg, and Tucson consulting geologist John Bezy were acknowledged for their advice and reviews on the reports.

New uses for old mines

There's a recent fun post at the Australian blog The Conversation that looks at old mines and surface facilities that were converted into other uses such as stores, hotels, wedding chapels, classrooms, biofuel plants, storage vaults, and so on. Examples are from all over the world. [Right, Cricova, Moldava limestone mine used as a wine cellar. ]

Here in the U.S., former underground salt mines in Kansas are used to store bank records, original copies of Hollywood movies, and specialty items requiring constant temperature and humidity. The old Homestake gold mine is slated to become an underground physics lab.

The blog post alerted me to the existence of the Post-Mining Alliance, "an independent, not-for-profit group, based at the UK’s Eden Project - itself a former clay mining pit transformed into an environmental tourism attraction and educational charity."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Decisions pending on Rosemont electric lines, wetlands...

The next two challenges to the Rosemont copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains are approval of the electric transmission line by the Arizona Corporation Commission, and getting Clean Water Act permits from the Army Corps of Engineers which covers "dredging and filling of regulated watercourses with material from the mine property."

The ACC has scheduled five days of hearings in Tucson, beginning Dec. 12 on the proposed 138 kV transmission line from the proposed Toro switchyard to the Rosemont substation. Additional days of hearings may be required. [Right, transmission line map. Credit, Rosemont Copper]

Geology cause of poor water quality in parts of Colorado

In a new report that has implications for many Western states, the Colorado Geological Survey found that the natural geology in the headwaters of numerous streams is the source of poor surface water quality downstream. [Right, this stream, in the East Mancos River headwaters in the La Plata Mountains of southwest Colorado, is naturally acidic with high concentrations of metals because of the surrounding geology. Credit, Colorado Geological Survey]

The report, titled “Natural Acid Rock Drainage Associated with Hydrothermally Altered Terrane in Colorado,” identifies a number of streams in eleven different headwater areas of Colorado where surface water is acidic and has high concentrations of metals upstream of any significant human impacts.

Rocks in these areas were altered by intensely hot water circulating in the earth’s crust, often associated with volcanic activity during Colorado’s geologic past. The “hydrothermal alteration” of the rocks changed their composition by dissolving some minerals and depositing others. In the affected areas, the hydrothermal-alteration process deposited metal-sulfide minerals, commonly pyrite (fool’s gold), in the rocks.

When these rocks are exposed at the surface, they interact with oxygen and the iron sulfide "rusts" to form iron oxide minerals, creating striking yellow, orange, and red colors – similar to the oxidation of metal in an old rusty car. “Acid rock drainage” occurs when the sulfur that is displaced by the oxygen combines with water to form weak sulfuric acid. The acidic water then dissolves minerals from the bedrock, often adding significant amounts of dissolved metals to these headwater streams. Natural acid rock drainage has been active in Colorado for thousands, possibly millions of years.
Hydrothermally altered rocks occur across many of the geologically active states in the Western U.S., including Arizona.

[Quotes taken from CGS announcement.]

First dinosaur trackway in Nevada found outside Las Vegas

An announcement from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is getting a lot of attention in the paleontology world. BLM paleontologists
"have confirmed fossilized tracks (footprints) made 180 to 190 million years ago in sandstone within Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. This is the first documented dinosaur tracksite in Nevada.

Dubbed the Red Rock Tracksite, dozens of tracks from the Early Jurassic period have currently been documented. [Right, 5" across footprint from the Red Rock site. Credit, BLM as reproduced in the Las Vegas Review-Journal]

At this point, two types of tracks and trackways are recognized from the site:

  • Grallator tracks are footprints made by small theropod dinosaurs (two-legged, three-toed, meat-eating dinosaurs)
  • Octopodichnus tracks are footprints made by arthropods (possibly similar to modern spiders and scorpions)"
The Smithsonian is blogging about it as well. Red Rocks is about a 20 minute drive northwest of the Vegas Strip.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Preview of petrified wood coming to the Tucson gem & mineral show

Ralph Thompson with Russell-Zuhl forwarded these photos of two fossil sequoia logs he recovered in Oregon this past summer. He just finished polishing a slice of each, one as a round and the other as a board cut and says the round is the largest ever polished and is 68" x 90." The board cut is 50" x 102" with "wonderful patterns" and is expected to be made into a desk or table. Expect to see them at the upcoming Tucson Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Showcase.


Arizona energy planning coming of age

Energy policy and planning is getting a lot more attention in Arizona. The 99th Arizona Town Hall was held at Grand Canyon two weeks ago and the recommendations from that 3-day workshop are now available. Among its introductory statments is the conclusion that "The state’s energy policy should seek to minimize the harmful side effects of power generation and delivery, while promoting the responsible use of Arizona’s natural resources." [Right, 'Cholla' working group at 99th Town Hall. That's me in the back center under the bright wall light. Credit, AZ Town Hall]

Meanwhile, the Arizona Energy Consortium is getting organized. The committee structure and chairs were released at a meeting in Phoenix on Friday. Committees will cover Membership & Events, Public Outreach,Project Development, Energy Infrastructure, Energy Efficiency, Workforce, Technology Innovation, and Energy Roadmap. The focus is principally on solar energy.

The AEC is formed under the auspices of the Arizona Technology Council, and has drawn participation from about 200 members from industry, government, and academia across Arizona.

Best lunar topo map from ASU

ASU's LROC (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) team released Version 1 of the Wide Angle Camera (WAC) topographic map of the Moon a couple days ago. The map covers "nearly the entire Moon, at a scale of 100 meters across the surface, and 20 meters or better vertically."

ASU also posted a dynamic, scalable version of the lunar map.

[Right,LROC WAC color shaded relief of the lunar farside. Credit NASA/GSFC/DLR/Arizona State University]

Friday, November 18, 2011

Geologic volcano maps as works of art

"...sometimes a scientific result or product is so visually appealing, anyone would want to hang it on their wall as art. Geological maps are often in this category. And some of the most beautiful geological maps are of volcanoes," says And they posted 11 geologic maps of volcanoes from Japan and the U.S. as proof of this. [right, Crater Lake, by the USGS]

Does everyone oppose BLM-OSM merger?

It seems that no one likes the plan by Sec. of Interior Ken Salazar to merge the Office of Surface Mining with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). A hearing last week in Congress brought forward concerns and opposition from "regulators, resource conservationists, the mining industry or even Congress" according to a story on State regulators also weighed in, objecting to not being included in the discussions about this and worrying about usurpation of state programs that had been laboriously negotiated under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977 . Both Democrats and Republicans ganged up on the proposal.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Watching sand dunes move on Mars

The UA HiRISE camera has captured numerous images showing sand dunes actively moving across the surface of Mars. The images below are from a new paper in Geology showing one of many shifting dunes that were identified. [Below, NASA caption: A dune in the northern polar region of Mars shows significant changes between two images taken on June 25, 2008 and May 21, 2010 by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Ariz./JHUAPL]. The high-resolution photos show details of ripples moving.