coal

Coal – A Possible New Source of Rare Earth Elements

The US Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has identified high concentrations of rare earth elements (REE) in coal samples collected from several American coal basins and is doing research to see if these minerals are economically recoverable.

According to the Energy Business Review, samples

were collected from the Illinois, Northern Appalachian, Central Appalachian, Rocky Mountain Coal Basins, and the Pennsylvania Anthracite regions. The samples were found to have high REE concentrations greater than 300 parts per million (ppm).

NETL said: “Concentrations of rare earths at 300ppm are integral to the commercial viability of extracting REE from coal and coal by-products, making NETL’s finding particularly significant in the effort to develop economical domestic supplies of these elements.”

NETL has partnered with West Virginia University (WVU), the University of Kentucky (UK), Tetra Tech, and the XLight for the research project.

The current difficulties and high expenses associated with REE extraction has left the U.S. dependent on foreign REE imports. Currently, China supplies about 90 percent of REE used in industry.

Rare earth elements are vital to modern society. Some of the uses include computer memory, DVDs, rechargeable batteries, cell phones, catalytic converters, magnets, fluorescent lighting, night-vision goggles, precision-guided weapons, communications equipment, GPS equipment, batteries, and other defense electronics.

There are 17 naturally occurring rare earth elements: yttrium, scandium, lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, and lutetium.

Despite the name “rare earths” the more common REE are each similar in crustal abundance to commonplace metals such as chromium, nickel, copper, zinc, molybdenum, tin, tungsten, and lead, but REE rarely occur in economic concentrations, and that’s the problem.

The U.S. used to be self-sufficient in REE due to one deposit, Mountain Pass in the Mojave desert, California, just west of Las Vegas, Nevada. That mine, a carbonatiteintrusion with extraordinary contents of light REE (8 to 12% rare earth oxides) was discovered in 1949 and began production in 1952. Mining ceased in 2002 due to low prices and some environmental regulatory trouble triggered by a tailings spill. However, the mine was reactivated in 2012 but went bankrupt in 2016. Another company (a Chinese consortium) purchased the property in July, 2017, and is working to restart operations.

Some other U.S. rare earth resources are shown on the map below.

See a power-point essay on REE that explains geology, deposit types, and many more details.

One of the authors of that power-point says:

“For example, a typical coal contains 62 parts per million (ppm) of total rare earth elements on a whole sample basis. With more than 275 billion tons of coal reserves in the United States, approximately 17 million tons of rare earth elements are present within the coal—that’s a 1,000-year supply at the current rate of consumption.” —Dr. Evan Granite, NETL

The report also says that abandoned tailings piles from coal and iron mines may be important resources of REE.

Dr. Granite says that the United States consumes around 16- to17 thousand tons of REE each year, and this demand could be completely satisfied by extracting rare earths from domestic coal and coal by-products.

See also:

Rare Earths Resources in the US

How we use rare earth elements

Rare Earth Elements Deposits in New Mexico

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EPA’s Clean Power Plan would disproportionally hurt the poor

According to a study commissioned by the National Black Chamber of Commerce, the EPA’s “Clean Power Plan” would have “serious economic, employment, and energy market impacts at the national level and for all states, and that the impacts on low income groups, Blacks, and Hispanics would be especially severe.”

The report is entitled “Potential Impact of Proposed EPA Regulations On Low Income Groups and Minorities.” You can read the full report here (127 pages).

The report abstract reads as follows:

“EPA is proposing new regulations, including guidelines to reduce CO2 emissions from existing fossil-fueled power plants. These regulations would have serious economic, employment, and energy impacts at the national level and for all states, and the impacts on low-income groups, Blacks, and Hispanics would be especially severe. The EPA rules would: 1) Significantly reduce U.S. GDP every year over the next two decades – over $2.3 trillion; 2) Destroy millions of jobs; 3) More than double the cost of power and natural gas to over $1 trillion; 4) Require the average family to pay over $1,225 more for power and gas in 2030 than in 2012.”

“The EPA regulations will increase Hispanic poverty by more than 26% and Black poverty by more than 23%. The energy burdens for Blacks and Hispanics will increase and large numbers of both groups will be forced into energy poverty and Black and Hispanic household incomes will decline by increasing amounts each year. There would be increasing job losses: By 2035, cumulative job losses for Blacks will total about 7 million and for Hispanics will total 12 million. Most job losses would occur in the states in which Blacks and Hispanics are most heavily concentrated.”

The report provides analysis of impact nationally and by state.

In concluding remarks (page 103) the report warns:

“The EPA regulations will significantly increase the energy burdens for Blacks and Hispanics and increase the numbers of Blacks and Hispanics suffering from “energy poverty.” The regulations will greatly increase energy prices and set off repercussions throughout the economy, but nowhere do high prices bring consequences as swiftly and harshly as in low-income and minority households. For the tens of millions of low income households, the higher energy prices will intensify the difficulty of meeting the costs of basic human needs, while increasing energy burdens that are already excessive. At the same time, the EPA regulations will threaten low-income access to vital energy and utility services, thereby endangering health and safety while creating additional barriers to meaningful low-income participation in the economy. While home energy costs average about four percent per year in middle class households, they can reach a staggering 70 percent of monthly income for low-income families.”

The government’s campaign to reduce carbon dioxide emissions has no basis in science or economics; it is essentially a method for obtaining power and making citizens more dependent on government. As Dr. Indur Goklany writes, “…it is a strange moral calculus that endorses policies that would reduce existing gains in human well-being, increase the cost of humanity’s basic necessities, increase poverty, and reduce the terrestrial biosphere’s future productivity and ability to support biomass, all in order to solve future problems that may not even exist or, if they do, are probably more easily solved by future generations who should be richer both economically and technologically. Moreover, because food, fibre, fuel and energy – basic necessities – consume a disproportionately large share of the income of the poorest, they would also pay the highest price for these policies.” Goklany is the author of a paper “The Pontifical Academies’ Broken Moral Compass.” Read full paper here.

See also:

EPA versus Arizona on regional haze issue

EPA war on coal threatens Tucson water supply

EPA fuel standards costly and ineffective

EPA targets wrong cause of haze in Grand Canyon

Electricity supply endangered by EPA regulations

Impact of new EPA ozone rule

EPA experiments on humans debunk their ozone and particulate matter health claims

EPA conducted illegal and potentially lethal experiments on children

The EPA is destroying America

Replace EPA

Obama Crony Capitalism and Green Tech Failures

As part of President Obama’s “war on coal” and fossil fuels in general, his administration has provided more than $100 billion to so called “green tech” or “clean tech” companies, most of which have gone bankrupt or somehow “disappeared” the money.

CBS 60 Minutes aired a show on January 5, 2014 exploring part of this issue (see video and transcript here).  “Hoping to create innovation and jobs, he [Obama] committed north of a $100 billion in loans, grants and tax breaks to Cleantech.  But instead of breakthroughs, the sector suffered a string of expensive tax-funded flops. Suddenly Cleantech was a dirty word.” Up to now, CBS 60 Minutes has been in the climate alarmist camp.  But with this report they are regarded by alarmist media as having “turned” and that media are attacking CBS (see here).

China is snapping up some of these failed companies.  CBS notes that the Chinese auto parts company Wanxiang has bought up 27 plants in 13 states with some 6,000 American workers.  Most of these failed companies made batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles. A company spokesman says that every third car made in the U.S. now has Wanxiang parts.”  Made in America takes on a new meaning under Obama.

On January 6, 2014, Fox News’ Kelly File program took up the story and added some things that CBS left out (see video here).  According to Fox News, of the approximately $100 billion that the Obama gave to green tech companies, 80 percent went to donors to Obama’s campaign and to other Democrats.  For every dollar those fund-raisers gave, they made back $25,000.  Such a deal.

Back in October, 2012, the Heritage Foundation provided a list of 34 companies that received government subsidies or loan guarantees, but had gone bankrupt or are laying off workers and heading for bankruptcy (see article here).  Heritage opines, “The government’s picking winners and losers in the energy market has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, and the rate of failure, cronyism, and corruption at the companies receiving the subsidies is substantial.”

The money wasted on “green energy” could have been better spent on other things such as finding a cure for cancer.  Or the government could have saved us all money by not spending it at all.  The real question is “where did all that money go?” Is it parked in some off-shore bank accounts?

See also (links  update):

Your tax dollars at work and play

The hypocrisy of Obama’s energy boasts

Obama’s Climate Action Plan is Clueless and Dangerous

Hansen – burning coal prevented global warming

Dr. James Hansen, chief global warming alarmist and head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies has a new paper in Environmental Research Letters wherein he says that burning coal has caused the hiatus in global temperature rise for the past 15 to 20 years (see here also).

Hansen attributes this to the fact that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stimulates plant growth, which, in turn, takes more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. “We suggest that the surge of fossil fuel use, mainly coal, since 2000 is a basic cause of the large increase of carbon uptake by the combined terrestrial and ocean carbon sinks. One mechanism by which fossil fuel emissions increase carbon uptake is by fertilizing the biosphere via provision of nutrients essential for tissue building, especially nitrogen, which plays a critical role in controlling net primary productivity and is limited in many ecosystems.” In Hansen’s figure 3, he notes that even though carbon dioxide emissions have been increasing, the airborne fraction of CO2 [the ratio of observed atmospheric CO2 increase to fossil fuel CO2 emissions] has decreased over the past 50 years, especially after the year 2000.

Hansen-emissions-vs-CO2-fraction

That means that natural processes are compensating for increased emissions. This mechanism is noted in a report by the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change in which they state: “The productivity of the planet’s terrestrial biosphere, on the whole, has been increasing with time, revealing a great greening of the Earth that extends throughout the entire globe. Satellite-based analyses of net terrestrial primary productivity reveal an increase of around 6-13% since the 1980s.”

Some scientists claim that part of the lack of temperature rise is due to the cooling aerosol effect of sulfur dioxide, also a byproduct of burning coal. Hansen rejects this and is supported by an earlier NASA paperwhich says that sulfur dioxide (SO2) aerosols in the atmosphere are due mainly to increasing volcanic activity, not from burning coal.

Hansen also notes that the effect [forcing] of man-made greenhouse gas emissions has fallen below IPCC projections, despite an increase in man-made CO2 emissions exceeding IPCC projections.

This paper is quite an admission from someone who once said, “The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired power plants are factories of death.”

Hansen’s reasoning seems somewhat circular to me. He’s saying that more carbon dioxide is creating less carbon dioxide. He is also ignoring the fact that as the globe warms (such as warming from the Little Ice Age of the 1850s), the oceans exsolve more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. He is assuming that carbon dioxide is the major driver of global temperature, a contention for which there is no physical evidence. More likely, the “hiatus in global temperature rise for the past 15 to 20 years” has been caused by something other than carbon dioxide, such as solar cycles which overwhelm the weak warming force of carbon dioxide acting as a greenhouse gas. It is true, however, that as atmospheric carbon dioxide increased, there has been a great greening of the earth as plants respond to the aerial fertilization.

In spite of all the scary scenarios put forth by IPCC climate models, we see that modeling results are an artifact of modeling inputs; that’s a polite way of saying “garbage in – garbage out.” And perhaps Hansen is now realizing the implications of something he wrote back in 1998: “”The forcings that drive long-term climate change are not known with an accuracy sufficient to define future climate change.”

UPDATE: The New York Times reports that James Hansen will quit his NASA  job this week to become a full-time climate activist.

See also:

Failure of the Anthropogenic Global Warming Hypothesis

Global warming theory fails again

EPA versus Arizona on regional haze issue

A previous post: EPA war on coal threatens Tucson water supply, examined the consequences of EPA regional haze regulations at the Navajo Generating Station, near Page, Arizona, on our water supply. That station supplies all the electricity needed to pump water from the Colorado River to Tucson via the Central Arizona Project (CAP). It now seems that the EPA is after other coal-fired plants in Arizona.

As a result of the previous post, I received an email from William Yeatman, Assistant Director, Center for Energy and Environment, at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Mr. Yeatman is an expert on the issue of haze and power plant emissions. (See two of his publications on the matter here and here.)

Mr. Yeatman wrote me:

“Regional Haze is an aesthetic regulation pursuant to the Clean Air Act. Its purpose is to improve visibility at federal National Parks and Wilderness Areas. It is the only aesthetic regulation in the Clean Air Act. This point bears repeating: Unlike every other regulation established by the Clean Air Act, Regional Haze has nothing to do with public health.

Another hallmark of the Regional Haze regulation is State primacy. Whereas EPA is the lead decision-maker when it comes to setting public health standards pursuant to the Clean Air Act, the Congress intended for the States to render determinations on Regional Haze.

After countless hours of deliberation by State officials and significant public participation, Arizona submitted a Regional Haze implementation plan to the EPA in February 2011. Despite the Congress’s intention that States take the lead on Regional Haze decision-making, EPA Region 9 in mid-July disapproved Arizona’s submission, and proposed a federal implementation plan in its stead.”

Specifically, in addition to harassing the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona, the EPA found fault with Arizona’s proposed regulations for control of nitrogen oxides (NOx) for the Apache Generating Station near Cochise, Arizona; for Cholla Power Plant near Joseph City, Arizona, and for the Coronado Generating Station near St. Johns, Arizona.

Yeatman writes:

“For all three power plants, Arizona chose NOx controls known as ‘Low Nitrogen Burners.’ EPA, however, wants to impose NOx controls known as ‘Selective Catalytic Reduction.’ The difference in price is significant—EPA’s plan is almost $48 million per year more expensive than the State’s plan [emphasis added]. Of course, these costs would be passed along to Arizona ratepayers in the form of higher utility bills.”

Yeatman modeled the expected results comparing the Arizona proposal versus the EPA proposal. The effect on regional haze is shown in the graphic below. Can you see any difference?

GC-haze-comparison

The extra $48 million per year that the EPA requirements would impose does not seem to provide any additional benefit, only addition pain to Arizona ratepayers.

Mr. Yeatman concludes: “Despite the Congress’s intent that the State’s have primacy on Regional Haze, the EPA already has imposed four Regional Haze federal implementation plans on New Mexico, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Nebraska. EPA’s preferred plans cost almost $400 million more than the States’ plans. Not one of EPA’s imposed Regional Haze plans resulted in a perceptible improvement in visibility.”

It seems that the EPA is a rogue agency that imposes regulations just because they can. Few of their regulations in this matter have any scientific basis and the EPA seems to ignore economics.

See also:

EPA war on coal threatens Tucson water supply

EPA fuel standards costly and ineffective

EPA, ethanol, and catch 22

EPA may change Dioxane standards in Tucson water

EPA Admits CO2 Regulation Ineffective

Electricity supply endangered by EPA regulations

Clean Coal: Boon or Boondoggle?

So now burning coal causes cooling?

Climate modelers are having a problem. The global temperature is not cooperating with the way the modelers say it should if their theories are correct. We learned of their consternation from the “Climategate” emails: Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research said, “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment, and it is a travesty that we can’t.”

Now the modelers claim that China has saved the day by burning coal. A paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (written, by the way, by two geographers and two economists) claim that increased coal burning in China has put enough sulfur dioxide (SO2) in the air to block the alleged warming effect of carbon dioxide.

The logical, but perhaps absurd, conclusion of this claim is that we should abandon wind turbines and solar arrays, to burn much more coal.

If we stipulate that air quality near Chinese coal-burning power plants is foul, the question remains: is this a local effect or is it world-wide, enough to affect global temperature? Well, apparently the effect is not world-wide. The EPA measures air quality and the graph below shows that in the U.S., sulfur dioxide content of the air has been steadily decreasing. (Source )

SO2 air quality

 This “China syndrome” seems to be another attempt to explain away the failings of climate modeling and the divergence between model predictions and real-world observations. Perhaps the IPCC had it right when they said in their Third Assessment Report: “In climate research and modeling, we should recognize that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the prediction of a specific future climate state is not possible.”

UPDATE: New NASA paper says volcanoes primarily responsible for increased SO2:

Recently, the trend, based on ground-based lidar measurements, has been tentatively attributed to an increase of SO(2) entering the stratosphere associated with coal burning in Southeast Asia. However, we demonstrate with these satellite measurements that the observed trend is mainly driven by a series of moderate but increasingly intense volcanic eruptions primarily at tropical latitudes.

See also:

A Basic Error in Climate Models

Climate Model Projections vs Real World Observations

How Mother Nature Fools Climate Scientists

Your Carbon Footprint doesn’t Matter

A Modest Proposal: Triple Your Carbon Footprint

Book Review: The Energy Gap by Doug Hoffman and Allen Simmons

The Energy Gap is a tour de force review of our energy resources, their potentials, pitfalls, environmental consequences, economics, and politics. The sub-title is “How to solve the world energy crisis, preserve the environment & save civilization.” Well not quite, but it is a start.

After three introductory chapters, the book devotes chapters, in turn, to coal, petroleum, natural gas, wind, solar, and green energy sources such as hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass, and tidal wave power. There are three chapters on nuclear energy including an explanation of the various types of nuclear reactors and the problems of waste disposal. Additional chapters are devoted to transportation, the energy grid, conservation & efficiency, and the politics of energy.

For each form of energy the authors delve into the history of formation, discovery, development, use, and reserves. The book contains over 200 illustrations, and five appendices. It is written in layman’s terms.

The authors promote nuclear energy and suggest that it should gradually replace coal as the major fuel for electrical generation. Although the U.S. has the highest installed wind generating capacity of any nation, about 25,000 MW, the authors say that wind and solar are not likely to become a significant resource because of the very high cost relative to fossil fuels, and because both wind and solar are intermittent and cannot be counted on to provide a steady peak generation capacity. They do promote these alternative types of energy production in niche markets which might have special advantage.

The authors are somewhat naive about mineral economics and worry that we will run out of fossil fuels before we fully develop alternatives. But “the harsh reality is that, other than hydroelectric power, most renewable technologies are not able to compete economically with fossil fuels.”

They present an energy plan which includes:

Use of renewable energy only where it makes sense.

Shift automobile and light truck production to hybrids and electric. This would increase need for electricity by about 15%. (The only reason for this shift is the author’s unsupported belief that we should reduce carbon dioxide emissions. I think this is impractical and people will not buy electric cars until battery technology makes it possible to go 500 miles between charges.)

Accelerate construction of new nuclear generating stations and add reactors to existing plants.

Make buildings more energy efficient.

Expand exploration for oil and natural gas which “will be needed until new nuclear plants can come on-line and our vehicle fleet is switched to electricity.”

The authors specifically say we should avoid biofuels because they cause more environmental damage than fossil fuels. They warn against “clean coal” because the infrastructure costs are too high and the possible hazardous effects of storage are too uncertain. (See my article “Clean Coal”: Boon or Boondoggle for background.

They also warn against methane clathrates because they think frozen deposits of natural gas are too risky to exploit.

While I disagree with some of their proposals, I recommend the book just for its extensive review of energy resources. The book is very up to date on energy technology and even discusses the Gulf oil spill.

The book is available at Amazon.com. The authors also maintain a very interesting website: The Resilient Earth.

For another take on the energy problem see A Free Market Energy Vision from MasterResource.

Obama administration still clueless on energy

After a year on the job, the Obama administration has learned little about energy. They still claim that “green” jobs will be created in the electrical generation sector if only we switch to more wind and solar energy projects.

Their claim that 5 million new jobs will be created in the energy sector over the next ten years is just not credible. Consider that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the entire electrical generation industry, from mining, manufacturing equipment, power generation, and transmission, currently employs just under one million people. Where is Obama going to put 5 million more people? Will he have platoons of people peddling bicycles hooked to small generators? And in the State of the Union speech, he pushed for job-killing climate legislation in spite of recent events showing that the data have been fudged. During the speech, Obama was laughed at after referring to the “overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change.” First the audience laughed, then Pelosi and Biden, and finally Obama himself smirked at the insanity of his remark. Maybe his speech writers should read the news.

So called “green” energy is more expensive than fossil-fuel generated electricity, so energy costs would necessarily increase. Our economy is very sensitive to energy costs, so rising costs would more likely result in job losses rather than more employment.

According to a Cato Institute study (Policy Analysis 280), wind generation costs are 6-7¢ per KWh vs. 3¢ for natural gas, 2.2¢ for coal, and 1.7¢ for nuclear. Solar power costs 38¢ to 53¢ per KWh. The Cato report also said that the materials required for thermal-solar projects were 1,000 times greater than for a similarly sized fossil-fuel facility, and therefore would create substantial incremental energy consumption and industrial pollution. A major environmental cost of photovoltaic solar energy is toxic chemical pollution (arsenic, gallium, and cadmium) and energy consumption associated with the large-scale manufacture of photovoltaic panels. The installation phase has distinct environmental consequences, given the large land masses required for solar farms–some 5 to 10 acres per MW of installed capacity.”

 The Administration touts “fast-tracking” solar development in the west, but has limited permits to 670,000 acres of more than 30 million suitable acres available.

Wind-generated electricity, especially, is intermittent and unreliable, so that it requires conventional backup generating capacity. Energy companies will have a hard time monitoring and switching between generation sources to meet demand and prevent blackouts or brownouts.

The Interior Department policy does not help wind-power. The Cape Wind Project in Nantucket was to be the first off-shore venture, but Interior will allow the area to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, thus precluding development.

During the State of the Union speech, Obama gave lip service to off-shore petroleum exploration. During the Bush administration, Congress lifted a moratorium on off-shore exploration, but Obama’s Interior Department has imposed a de facto moratorium while they “study” a leasing program. In 2009, the administration leased less land for energy development than that of any other year on record, according to the American Energy Alliance. And government revenues from leasing in 2009 were just one-tenth that in 2008. Meanwhile China is buying up all the leases it can get, some close to American shores.

The Interior Department has withdrawn most of the offered leases for natural gas in Utah, delayed oil shale research and demonstration projects in Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, and blocked uranium mining in Arizona. Obama proposed development of nuclear energy. But, last year, in a sop to Senator Harry Reid, the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository was closed, so nuclear waste will continue to be stored in barrels near the generating plants rather than safely underground.

Biofuels such as ethanol require heavy government subsidies. According to the Journal of Environmental Monitoring, ethanol subsidies amount to the equivalent of $1.95 per gallon on top of the gasoline retail price. At present, no automobile manufacturer will extend an engine or parts warranty for vehicles that use more than 10 percent of ethanol content in fuel, except for vehicles specifically designed to run on E- 85 fuel. This means that the majority of cars on the road today in the United States are not under warranty for anything other than gasoline containing 10 percent ethanol or less. Currently, ethanol displaces about 2% of gasoline and saves relatively little in petroleum imports. Ethanol is not as energy efficient as gasoline. A 2006 study by Consumer Reports found that an E-85 vehicle delivered 27% less mileage than a similar gasoline-powered vehicle. A study from Stanford University found that ethanol-powered E-85 vehicles significantly increased ozone, a prime ingredient of smog.

While the Obama administration is all starry-eyed over “green” energy, it is unlikely that solar, wind, and biofuels taken together would ever account for more that 2- to 3% of total energy use. For the next few decades, at least, fossils fuels with continue to provide about 85% of energy.

What the government should do is remove restrictions to exploration and development of our domestic resources. For instance, in 2007, the Department of the Interior inventoried 99 million acres of federal land which it estimated to contain 21 billion barrels of oil and 187 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. DOI found that due to restrictive regulations “just 3 percent of onshore Federal oil and 13 percent of onshore Federal gas are accessible under standard lease terms.”

The Department of Energy estimates that the Green River formation in NW Colorado, SE Utah, and SW Wyoming contains 1.8 trillion barrels of oil in shale that could be economically produced. That is more than three times the total reserves of all Mid-East oil fields.

Off-shore resources are also restricted. The Minerals Management Service (of DOI) estimated that there are about 86 billion barrels of undiscovered, recoverable oil and about 420 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, recoverable natural gas in the Federal Outer Continental Shelf of the United States, but 85% of this resource is off limits due to federal and state restrictions.

The U.S. has vast coal supplies which could be turned into gasoline, diesel, and other fuels. Coal reserves in Illinois alone, for instance, have the energy equivalent of all the oil in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined. The process was invented by the Germans in 1920 and perfected more recently by Sasol in South Africa. According to Business Week, Sasol “churns out 160,000 barrels of gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel a day, enough to cover 28% of South Africa’s needs, without using a single drop of crude oil, imported or otherwise.” Cost is equivalent to about $30- to $35 per barrel of oil. This source alone could end our dependence on Mid-East oil.

Investors Business Daily (IBD) points out that China is attempting to lock up oil reserves throughout the world, including “in America’s backyard, Argentina, Venezuela, and Canada, and in a country America presumably dominates, Iraq.” At the same time, American oil companies are being discouraged by government, from exploring and exploiting domestic reserves. IBD opines that “What the world is witnessing is the largest peaceful transfer of power in history. Energy means power, and while the U.S. is consumed by environmental ideologies and climate rhetoric, it is committing economic hara-kiri in the process. China, riding on energy acquisitions with little competition, will propel itself into the economic stratosphere.” Obama’s stated goal of reducing our dependence on foreign oil seems to be based on a green fantasy, blinded by ideology.

Arizona Geological History Chapter 6, The Cretaceous Period

The Cretaceous Period (145- to 65 million years ago) was hot and steamy. There was no ice at the poles. Global temperature is estimated to have been about 18 F warmer than today. Atmospheric carbon dioxide began a 145-million-year decline from about 2,000 ppm to the 380 ppm of today, in part, due to carbon sequestration by formation of coal deposits. Flowering plants appeared.

Paleomap 94

The North American continent was split by a sea connecting the Gulf of Mexico with the Arctic Ocean. Transgressions and regressions of this sea formed conditions ripe for coal formation similar to those in the Paleozoic Era In Southern Arizona, the lower Cretaceous Bisbee Group, consisting of the basal Glance conglomerate, the Morita formation sandstones and mudstones, the distinctive Mural Limestone (which forms the cliffs just east of Bisbee), and the sandstones and mudstones of the Cintura Formation record the changes in sea level. Upper Cretaceous rocks, the Fort Crittenden Formation lie unconformably (representing erosion or structural change) upon the Bisbee Group. The lower Fort Crittenden is dominated by marginal wetland to deep-water lake deposits, whereas the upper Fort Crittenden is characterized by wetland to deltaic deposits. These rocks contain organic geochemical evidence of wildfires which suggest that seasonal aridity and wildfires were common occurrences.

There are no early Cretaceous rocks recognized in northern Arizona. Thick sequences of upper Cretaceous rocks were deposited on what is now the Colorado Plateau. These represent near-shore marine, coastal, and river-deposited sands, mudstone, and coal. Coal is mined from the Dakota sandstone at Black Mesa in Navajo County, AZ. This is overlain by the Mancos Shale, and several other sedimentary formations.

The Laramide orogeny of late Cretaceous to early Tertiary time (80- to 40 million years ago) built the Rocky Mountains and closed the inland Cretaceous sea. Subduction of oceanic crust under continental rocks along the west coast caused compression and uplift of the continent.

This was the time of emplacement of most of the porphyry copper deposits in the western U.S. Volcanism was extensive, and included the volcano that produced the rocks of the Tucson Mountains.

sonorasaurusDinosaurs 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.

The end of the Cretaceous Period saw another major extinction of life. Dinosaurs, pterosaurs, many marine reptiles, some marine invertebrates, some groups of mammals, and a few plant groups became extinct. The reasons are still controversial. We know that an asteroid impacted near Yucatan, Mexico and formed the Chicxulub crater about 65 million years ago. The impact is said to have vaporized rock into clouds of dust, that cooled temperatures, and created clouds of sulfurous gas, which may have killed plants with acid rain. The impact is also said to have deposited a thin clay layer containing iridium and strained quartz. However, the extinction occurred during an 800,000-year eruption of basalts that form the Deccan Traps in India. Volcanic eruptions can also product dust and sulfur dioxide emissions (and layers of iridium which characterize the K/T boundary). More precise dating shows that the Chicxulub impact occurred 300,000 years before the mass extinction. Evidence suggests that the extinctions occurred over a period of several million years.

Cretaceous Trivia:

The white cliffs of Dover, England are Cretaceous age chalk deposits.

Paul Spur, a rail stop between Bisbee and Douglas exists because Mural limestone was mined for smelter flux.

Mural Hill Bisbee 1902

Hills carved from Cretaceous beds east of Bisbee. View is northward across Mule Gulch. The prominent white band is the upper member of the Mural limestone, forming the top of Mural Hill on the left and showing the dislocation due to the Mexican Canyon fault. Cochise County, Arizona. December 1, 1902. Plate 9-B in U.S. Geological Survey. Professional paper 21. 1904, figure 7 in U.S. Geological Survey Folio 112. 1904.

References:

Dickinson, W.R., et al., 1989, Cretaceous Strata of Southern Arizona, in Geologic Evolution of Arizona, Arizona Geological Society Digest 17.

Finkelstein, D.B, et al., 2005, Wildfires and seasonal aridity recorded in Late Cretaceous strata from south-eastern Arizona, USA, Sedimentology, Volume 52, Issue 3 , Pages587 – 599, International Association of Sedimentologists

Krantz, R.W., 1989, Laramide Structures of Arizona, in Geologic Evolution of Arizona, Arizona Geological Society Digest 17.

Nations, J.D., 1989, Cretaceous History of Northeastern and East-Central Arizona, in Geologic Evolution of Arizona, Arizona Geological Society Digest 17.

Arizona Geological History: Chapter 3: Devonian to Permian Time

Arizona warms from ice age, becomes tropical again, gets flooded by the ocean, suffers another ice age, warms up, makes coal, and suffers a major extinction of life.

In this chapter we will complete the Paleozoic Era with four periods: Devonian (416- to 359 million years ago), Mississippian (359-318 mya), Pennsylvanian (318- 299 mya), and the Permian (299-251 mya). In the European classification, the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian are, together, called the Carboniferous period because it was during this time that most coal deposits were formed.

Paleomap 390After recovery from the Ordovician ice age (about 440 mya), Arizona was apparently a highland on the southwest edge of a continental mass, about 30 degrees south of the equator. I say apparently, because there is no record from the Silurian period (444- to 416 mya ), so Arizona may have been dry land that was subject to erosion.

Paleomap 306During the last four periods of the Paleozoic, Arizona was mainly under water. The rocks deposited during this time represent deposition on a continental shelf environment. There were several episodes of transgression (encroaching) and regression of the sea from the west. Only what is now the northeastern corner of the state remained above sea level for most of the time. The rise and fall of the sea was due to both tectonic shifting of land and changes in water volume from the glacial epochs.

Limestone was the principal rock deposited during this time along with relatively minor shale and sandstones. All the formations contain fossils. These limestones currently make up most of the mountain ranges south of Tucson.

Mississippian rocks rest unconformably (not at the same angle or with evidence of erosion) on Devonian and older rocks. This means that there was some tectonic adjustment and erosion between the two Periods. (And by the way, the geologic Periods are usually defined by their distinct fossil assemblages). The principal formation of the Devonian is called the Martin Formation with type area in Bisbee. The principal Mississippian limestone is called the Redwall Limestone near the Grand Canyon and the Escabrosa Limestone in southern Arizona. Kartchner caverns are in the Escabrosa Limestone, but the caves formed recently.

Paleomap 255Pennsylvanian and Permian rocks represent complex cycles of transgression/regression by the sea, caused by changes in water volume due to glacial epochs, and by tectonic uplift and sinking of the continent. This tectonic shifting was the result of the collision of Gondwana on the south with Pangea on the north. Carbonate rocks dominate in the northwest and southeast, while sandstones and conglomerates dominate in central and northeast Arizona.

Most coal deposits  in the world were developed during the Carboniferous period.  Coal is mostly carbon accumulations from fossil plant material deposited in swamps so devoid of oxygen that bacteria and other critters couldn’t survive to feed on their remains. This implies that climate was warm and wet, and that the cyclic transgressions/regressions of the sea were relatively quick enough to bury the swamps before the luxuriant plant life could be destroyed.

Arizona coal was formed during the Cretaceous Period. It is mined in Navajo county, and, according to the Arizona Department of Mines and Mineral Resources, ranks second only to copper in economic importance.

Worldwide coal formation stripped the atmosphere of carbon dioxide. Beginning in mid- Devonian time, about 380 mya, through early Mississippian time, atmospheric carbon dioxide dropped from around 4,000 ppm to near current levels of 400 ppm by 340 million years ago. Temperature, however, remained high (about 68 F world average vs 57 F today). But near the Pennsylvania-Permian boundary time, about 270 million years ago, the planet was plunged into another ice age. Note the 70-million-year gap between lowered carbon dioxide and decreased temperature. By the end of the Permian, temperatures rose again to an average of about 63 F, soon followed by a rise in carbon dioxide to just under 3,000 ppm. (Rising temperature causes more carbon dioxide to be exsolved from the oceans.) Volcanism contributed to the rising carbon dioxide.

The first known land vertebrates, amphibians, appeared in late Paleozoic time. Devonian rocks contain fossils of amphibians called stegocephalians (roofed head) because of flat, broad heads. Most were one- to two inches long, but later forms became as large as a crocodile and most were probably carnivorous judging by the teeth.

Reptile fossils appear in Pennsylvanian rocks. The first were small like amphibians, but later Permian reptiles got up to eight feet long. One group, the Therapsids, had teeth differentiated into incisors, canines, and molars similar to present-day mammals.

The Permian ended with a mass extinction in which about 90% of species disappeared, including marine fauna, plants, and terrestrial animals. The reason for this extinction is unknown although there are many speculative theories. This extinction happened over a period of several million years and is coincident with the coalescing of continents and extensive volcanism.

When Pangea and Gondwana collided is reduced marine habitats and brought deep, oxygen-poor ocean water to near surface environments. Major volcanism, in what is now Siberia, lasted for about one million years and annually spewed billions of tons of sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. These two events are probably contributory to the extinctions.

But, with the dawning of the new Mesozoic era, life rebounded and became more diverse and more robust.

OmphalotrochusPHOTO: Omphalotrochus (snail) from the Permian Colina formation, collected about 2 miles southeast of the Tombstone airport. Notice also the pits made by rain drops differentially eroding the limestone.