Thursday, January 01, 2009

Environmental group raises concerns about potash exploration in and near Petrified Forest park

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) issued a press release yesterday about the potential for potash drilling near Petrified Forest National Park, and included an internal Interior Dept. memo discussing the AZGS report [right, potash thickness map from AZGS OFR-08-07. The green lines show the national park boundary] released this past fall on the size of the resource.

PEER said the Interior briefing for Assistant Secretary Lyle Laverty dated October 5, 2008 outlines pending plans for subsurface extraction on the park:
  • “A new study by the Arizona Geological Survey (AZGS) identifies the size and distribution of a world-class potash deposit in the Holbrook Basin of east-central Arizona, including the southern portion of Petrified Forest National Park and much of the lands Congress authorized for park expansion in 2004. Public release of the study awaits impending approval from the governor’s office. Potash is an essential ingredient in fertilizers. This deposit underlies 600 square miles east of Holbrook, AZ, and was first identified in the 1950s, but not developed because it was not viewed as economically competitive. In the last three years, there has been a ten-fold increase in potash prices with additional rises in the last few months pushing the price up another 50-100%. Calculated tonnage for the entire deposit is 682 million to 2.27 billion metric tons. Approximately 20% of the deposit lies below Petrified Forest National Park and is closed to mining. An additional 30% underlies lands covered by the Petrified Forest Expansion Act of 2004. This discovery will obviously have an impact on land values within the Expansion Act boundaries…”
A PEER board member proposed using economic stimulus funds to buy out landowners in the park expansion area to prevent them the potash from being developed on those lands.

Shortly after the AZGS report came out, exploration companies leased all the remaining state trust lands over the deposit. The mineral rights for most (and perhaps nearly all) private lands in the play area are reportedly also tied up for exploration.

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