Geology

New newsletter from the Arizona Geological Survey

The Arizona Geological Survey has just published Arizona Geology Newsletter v.43 #2 Winter 2021

Read the whole paper here.

Contents:

Recent Earthquake Activity & Seismic Hazards in SE Arizona
Monsoon Rains & Earth Fissures in Cochise County
Arizona Mining Production & Employment 2020 Infographic
New, Pending, and Revised Publications
Smiling faces of the AZGS Staff

2020info

Recent seismic excitement in the area of the 1887 Great Sonoran Earthquake

From the Arizona Geological Survey:

On July 31, 2021, a magnitude (M) 5.2 earthquake occurred in northeastern Sonora, in the area where the Great Sonoran earthquake occurred in 1887. This earthquake is the largest in that area for many decades, probably for more than 100 years. In addition, several M3-3.5 earthquakes occurred in the following weeks 100 km to the north in the bootheel of New Mexico. (read more)

See also: The Great Arizona-Sonora Earthquake of 1887

The past, present, and future state of Tucson’s creeks and rivers

From the Arizona Geological Survey:

‘The past, present, and future state of Tucson’s creeks and rivers’, a #StoryMap by the Watershed Management Group (a 501 (c) non-profit). The presentation includes some excellent historic images, diagrams, and interactive maps showing flow conditions, past and present, in Tucson drainages. Most illustrations have explanatory text. Just scroll down through the article.

Take a look.

Arizona Fossils

From the Arizona Geological Survey:

Susan Celestian of Phoenix’s Earth Science Museum cobbled together a nice pictorial on common fossils of Arizona to round out Earth Science Week 2020. You can view or download the 12-page report here.

What is a fossil? Fossils are the prehistoric physical remains (or traces) of organic life. By definition, prehistoric means older than 6000 years, although some people define the minimum age of 10,000 years, before a specimen is called a fossil.

It is hard to become a fossil. While billions of organisms have lived and died through geologic time, very few of them have been preserved in the fossil record.

By using fossils, we can develop a history of lifeforms & increase our understanding of biological evolution.
Fossils assist geologists in establishing a chronological order to geological events and strata. Fossils can be used to establish a relative age date1 for a rock unit. This is best employed by using index fossils (fossils with short and distinct spans of existence, and wide geographic distribution) and unique assemblages of fossils (rather than individual fossils).

This report contains a further explanation of fossils and shows many photographs.

One fossil not mentioned in the report is that of a dinosaur.

Dinosaurs roamed the land, including Arizona’s Sonorasaurus thompsoni, a new species of brachiosaurid dinosaur whose remains were first discovered in the Whetstone mountains by UofA graduate geology student Richard Thompson in 1994. Sonorasaurus is estimated to have been about 50 feet long and 27 feet tall, about one third of the size of other brachiosaurus. It may have been a juvenile or just a small dinosaur species. Sonorasaurus was an herbivore. Tooth gouges on its bones suggest it was killed and eaten by a larger dinosaur. A single blade-like tooth of a huge meat eater called Acrocanthosaurus was found near the bones and suggests that this was the predator that killed Sonorasaurus. You can see an exhibit dedicated to Sonorasaurus at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Review ‘Helvetia-Rosemont: Arizona’s Hardscrabble Mining Camp’

I was invited to write a review of a new paper by fellow geologist David Briggs.

This review appears in Arizona Geology e-Magazine.

David Briggs tells a compelling story of the Helvetia-Rosemont Mining District in the Santa Rita Mountains of southern Arizona from the 1690s to the present day. The paper describes the history of the Helvetia subdistrict on the west side of the mountains and the Rosemont subdistrict on the east side of the mountains. It is a well-told story of the people, conditions, conflicts, businesses, and development of transportation and mining technology in the area.

LINK: Helvetia-Rosemont: Arizona’s Hardscrabble Mining Camp

The story includes the ups and downs of mining ventures, fortunes made and lost, and politics of the region. Briggs gives us a glimpse of what life was like in the mining towns, describes some of the colorful characters, and what conditions miners endured within the mines.

The paper includes a brief explanation of porphyry copper deposits in general and the specific geology of the mines. He describes the smelter which processed ore from the district and ore imported from other areas. There is a section on the historic production of the area. There were three main periods of copper production, one from 1900 until 1910, a second during World War I and a third that began during the early 1940s and continued until 1960.

Briggs provides a history of regulation in the area beginning with establishment of the Santa Rita Forest Reserve in April 1902. Augusta Resources acquired the properties in 2005 and after extensive exploration sold them to Hudbay Minerals in 2014. Briggs describes their modern exploration and the still on-going regulatory controversies.

Historic and contemporary photos and maps enhance the narrative. The story is well-documented by an extensive list of references.

As a whole, the story of the Helvetia-Rosemont area is very interesting and presents a picture of the colorful history of mining in Arizona.

Briggs ends his story with this: “A victim of competing visions of Arizona’s future, efforts to resume production in the Helvetia-Rosemont remain on hold as appeals work their way through the courts. Only time will tell, whether the Helvetia-Rosemont Mining District remains Arizona’s hardscrabble mining camp or assumes its hard-earned place as one of America’s largest  copper producers.”

Reviewer Jonathan DuHamel is a retired exploration geologist.

Citation: Briggs, D.F., 2020, Helvetia-Rosemont: Arizona’s Hardscrabble Mining Camp. Arizona Geological Survey Contributed Report CR-20-A, 65 p.  http://repository.azgs.az.gov/uri_gin/azgs/dlio/1950

Mines, Minerals, and “Green” Energy: A Reality Check

Mines, Minerals, and “Green” Energy: A Reality Check
by Mark P. Mills, Manhattan Institute
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
As policymakers have shifted focus from pandemic challenges to economic recovery, infrastructure plans are once more being actively discussed, including those relating to energy. Green energy advocates are doubling down on pressure to continue, or even increase, the use of wind, solar power, and electric cars. Left out of the discussion is any serious consideration of the broad environmental and supply-chain implications of renewable energy.

This paper turns to a different reality: all energy-producing machinery must be fabricated from materials extracted from the earth. No energy system, in short, is actually “renewable,” since all machines require the continual mining and processing of millions of tons of primary materials and the disposal of hardware that inevitably wears out. Compared with hydrocarbons, green machines entail, on average, a 10-fold increase in the quantities of materials extracted and processed to produce the same amount of energy.

Among the material realities of green energy:
Building wind turbines and solar panels to generate electricity, as well as batteries to fuel electric vehicles, requires, on average, more than 10 times the quantity of materials, compared with building machines using hydrocarbons to deliver the same amount of energy to society.

A single electric car contains more cobalt than 1,000 smartphone batteries; the blades on a single wind turbine have more plastic than 5 million smartphones; and a solar array that can power one data center uses more glass than 50 million phones.

Replacing hydrocarbons with green machines under current plans—never mind aspirations for far greater expansion—will vastly increase the mining of various critical minerals around the world. For example, a single electric car battery weighing 1,000 pounds requires extracting and processing some 500,000 pounds of materials. Averaged over a battery’s life, each mile of driving an electric car “consumes” five pounds of earth. Using an internal combustion engine consumes about 0.2 pounds of liquids per mile.

Oil, natural gas, and coal are needed to produce the concrete, steel, plastics, and purified minerals used to build green machines. The energy equivalent of 100 barrels of oil is used in the processes to fabricate a single battery that can store the equivalent of one barrel of oil.

By 2050, with current plans, the quantity of worn-out solar panels—much of it nonrecyclable—will constitute double the tonnage of all today’s global plastic waste, along with over 3 million tons per year of unrecyclable plastics from worn-out wind turbine blades. By 2030, more than 10 million tons per year of batteries will become garbage.
(Download full report)

USGS Mineral Commodities Summary 2020: Arizona’s piece of the pie

From the Arizona Geology blog of the Arizona Geological Survey (link to full post with graphics)

The U.S. Geological Survey’s 42nd annual ‘Mineral Commodity Summary’ catalogs global and U.S. mineral production for 2019. The estimated total value of nonfuel mineral production in the U.S. was $86.3 billion, a 3% increase from 2018. Production of  metals in 2019 was $28.1 billion, nearly identical to that of 2018.  At $58.2 billion, industrial mineral production accounted for 67% of nonfuel mineral production in the U.S.

Export of raw mineral materials was $3.7 billion, an increase of 27% from 2018. Collectively, domestic raw and recycled mineral material production was $770 billion; of this iron and steel scrap contributed $17.6 billion.

Imported minerals made up more than one-half of the U.S. consumption for 46 nonfuel mineral commodities; 17 mineral commodities (e.g., arsenic, graphite, manganese, and fluorspar) rely wholly on imports.  Canada and China dominate mineral imports to the U.S., followed by Australia, Russia, Germany, South Africa, and Mexico.

Each year we peruse the Mineral Commodity Summary for insight into how Arizona mineral production compares with that of other States. Arizona followed Nevada as the #2 state in U.S. nonfuel mineral production. Nevada mineral production was $8,190 million – 9.5% of U.S. total of nonfuel mineral production; Arizona weighted in with 8.08% of US production. Arizona non-fuel mineral production in 2019 reached $6,970 million.  Texas followed closely on the heels of Arizona ($6,470 million), with Minnesota and California rounding out the top five producing states.

Principal nonfuel mineral products of Arizona include: cement (portland), copper, molybdenum concentrates, sand & gravel, crushed stone, dimension stone, bentonite, clay, gypsum, helium, industrial sand, perlite, pumice, salt, and zeolites. For more than 100 years Arizona has led the U.S. in copper production. In 2019 Arizona produced 68% of all copper in the U.S., worth roughly $5.3 billion. Molybdenum byproducts were recovered at four Arizona copper mines: Bagdad, Morenci, Pinto Valley and Sierrita.  (see more at AZGS)

NEW Directory of Active Mines in Arizona 2019

The Arizona Geological Survey has just published a new directory of active mines in Arizona. You can access the full report here: http://repository.azgs.az.gov/uri_gin/azgs/dlio/1916

In FY 2019, there were 380 active, full-time mines or development projects in the state of Arizona. Arizona typically ranks 2nd to Nevada in non-fuel mineral production annually in the U.S. mining industry. Mined mineral resources in Arizona (Fig. 1) range from metals, chiefly copper with minor production of gold, silver, iron ore, lead and zinc (Fig. 2), to a broad suite of industrial minerals dominated by aggregate (sand, gravel, and building stones) complemented by cement and lime, flagstone, gemstone, cinders, and gypsum, among other mineral resources.

The report contains a state map showing mine locations and plates of Arizona counties which show the distribution of active mines with respect to legislative districts and major road systems.

Grijalva’s Proposed Change to Mining Law Would Be Disastrous for America

Congressman Raul Grijalva is at it again with his proposed H.R. 2579 Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act of 2019 which would probably make future mining in America uneconomic. Among other things, the law would impose a 12.5% royalty on productions and eliminate valid mining claims after 20 years (read full text). The royalty is extremely punitive to an industry that already pays over 45 percent of its earnings to federal, state and local governments, in the form of taxes, fees, royalties and other assessments. Currently, the U.S. is 100% import-reliant for 18 minerals – 14 of which have been deemed “critical” by the departments of defense or interior.

The American Exploration & Mining Association (AEMA) notes that:

The sweeping changes in Rep. Grijalva’s legislation are unnecessary and a disaster in the making for the domestic mining industry and for America.

The fact is, hardrock mining is fundamentally different than oil, gas, and coal because it is much more difficult to find and develop hardrock mineral resources. This bill ignores these differences and seeks to force-fit royalty and leasing programs for coal, oil, and gas on hardrock mining. Without question, the Grijalva bill, if enacted, would substantially chill private-sector investment in exploring for and developing minerals on federal land and dramatically increase our already extensive reliance on foreign sources of minerals.

This bill poses a significant threat to our Nation’s economic security and to our defense, technology, manufacturing, infrastructure, and renewable energy sectors, all of which rely on minerals from mining. The country will suffer as high paying family-wage jobs are exported, and our rural communities will experience disproportionately severe economic hardships.

Geologist Ned Mamula (adjunct scholar in Geosciences at the Center for the Study of Science, Cato Institute) opines that:

Mining is a long-term investment process and, although two decades is a long time, some hardrock mines now take 10 years or more just to get approved. What company would be willing to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a new mine only to see its mining claims suddenly revoked?

Remarkably, the timing of this “reform” is just as bad as the substance. U.S. demand for minerals is climbing steadily: for hundreds of defense, aerospace, electronic, energy, medical, computing, transportation and other applications. Yet, our dependence on China for minerals is at an all-time high and growing, despite increasingly tense diplomatic relations. (Read full article)

Matthew Kandrach, President of Consumer Action for a Strong Economy notes:

The taboo against hard-rock mining in the United States is nonsensical and should be abandoned. Instead, America should embrace a far wiser policy of ensuring greater access to minerals on our public lands, since it’s in our national and economic interest. This would help reduce our heavy dependence on foreign nations for minerals that are needed in the production of advanced weapons systems and a multitude of consumer technologies.

The current problem stems from America adhering to a highly duplicative and inefficient system of regulatory permits and oversight that governs domestic mining. Over all, the mining industry is struggling with a regulatory system that forces them to wait seven to 10 years to obtain a mining permit, in contrast to Canada and Australia where the process takes two to three years.

The permit system was set up during a very different era when the U.S. dominated the production and use of minerals. But those days are long past. China is now the world’s leading producer and exporter of minerals and metals, supplying many that are critical to U.S. manufacturing, our technology and energy sectors, and national defense. Our ongoing dependence is not only a potential vulnerability during a time of increased global tensions, but greatly limits our nation’s ability to capitalize on our mineral wealth. (Read more)

See also:

A Short History of Mining Law