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Summer Field Program - August 11-16, 2008

Trip Summary

The 2008 edition of the Energy and Mineral Field Institute began on Monday, August 11, with a breakfast meeting at the Golden Hotel in Golden.  The EMFI participants were issued their hard hat kits, communicators, field guides, and other paraphernalia, and the EMFI Director, Gary Baughman, provided instructions in their use.  All of the participants were introduced, along with the EMFI Staff: Tom Sladek, Dixie Termin, Jim Proud, and our resident geology expert, John Rold.

After breakfast, we boarded our bus, and stalwart driver Nick Jones drove us to the Henderson Mine, which is located beyond the town of Empire about 50 miles west of Denver and is operated by Climax Molybdenum Company, a unit of Freeport– McMoRan Copper & Gold, Inc.  Henderson is the world’s largest mine in which molybdenum is recovered as the primary product.  Molybdenum (“moly”) is a very important metal.  It is used in catalysts, engine coolants, lubricants, chemicals, and pigments. Its principal use is as an alloying material in iron and steel making, where it increases strength, corrosion resistance, and toughness.  We were briefed on the history of the mine and the mining methods employed and issued safety equipment.  We rode an elevator to the production level and visited several of the mining operations. Among the many highlights was the gyratory crusher -- a massive machine that demolishes boulders so the ore can be transported to the surface.
Henderson Mine

After our tour, we enjoyed a box lunch in the mine’s conference room and boarded our bus.  We drove through the Eisenhower Tunnel under the Continental Divide to the town of Silverthorne, and then north and east to the Henderson Mill.  The mill receives ore from Henderson Mine by way of a 15-mile-long conveyor belt and recovers the molybdenum by crushing and flotation.  We did not have time to tour the mill, but we paused in the parking lot to view the conveyor and the enormous tailings pond that contains the processing residues.  We then continued on past the ski areas of Summit and Eagle counties and through Glenwood Canyon to Glenwood Springs for an overnight stay at the Hot Springs Lodge.

Drilling Rig

Our Tuesday breakfast included a presentation by Duane Zavadil of Bill Barrett Corporation on how that company approaches the recovery of natural gas from tight gas sands.  Duane accompanied us to the site of one of Barrett’s drill rigs (left) in the Piceance Basin near the town of Silt. 

Duane’s colleague, Monte Shed, described the several stages in the drilling operation and provided an up-close view (right) of the drilling platform.  Monte’s presentation was assisted by a herd of goats who had taken shelter from the sun under the rig’s pipe rack. 

Another drilling rig

Monte and Duane followed us to the Battlement Mesa Activity Center for a lunchtime panel discussion of the local issues surrounding energy development in western Colorado.  Keith Lambert, Mayor of the nearby town of Rifle and a survivor of the previous energy boom, described the impacts of energy development on communities in the energy corridor and discussed how those communities are responding to present and projected growth.  Steve Bennett of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management described how the Bureau’s Glenwood Springs Energy Office has been organized to expedite the permitting of energy projects in the West.  Glenn Vawter of the National Oil Shale Association discussed the history of oil shale development around the world and described the projects currently underway in Colorado and Utah.  Duane Zavadil talked about how the energy industry’s interest in the gas resources of the Piceance Basin’s Roan Plateau could be affected by emerging state-level regulations.   

After lunch we drove back to Glenwood Springs and rode a tram to the top of Iron Mountain to visit Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.  Our visit included an excellent dinner, workouts on a climbing wall, and walking tours of the Glenwood Caverns, where we saw rock formations known as soda straws, stalactites, stalagmites, and cave bacon.

On Wednesday we drove south from Glenwood Springs along the Roaring Fork and Crystal rivers to Somerset, where we divided into groups to tour three underground coal mines: Arch Coal’s West Elk Mine, Oxbow Mining’s Elk Creek Mine, and the Bowie No. 2 Mine of Bowie Resources Ltd.  The Elk Creek and Bowie tours began with training in the use of respirators and other safety gear and the processes for emergency evacuation.  Each participant was then equipped with hard hat, light, respirator, coveralls, gloves, and formidable rubber boots.  Each group visited the working face (where coal is removed from its seam) and inspected sections of the 800-foot-long longwall roof support system, the shearer equipment (which breaks the coal and moves it back from the working face), a continuous miner, and equipment for installing support bolts in the roof of a newly opened area. 

Maintenance activities prevented going underground at West Elk Mine, so that group was enlightened by mine manager Pete Wycoff, who described in detail the mine’s development history.   The group also toured the surface facilities at West Elk, which included a new system that uses methane drained from the mine to heat the ventilation air.

Then we boarded the bus and headed south through Montrose to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Morrow Point Dam and hydroelectric power plant, located on the Gunnison River near the small town of Cimarron.  Don Phillips and his associates from the Bureau’s Curecanti Field Division showed us the two massive turbines, generators, and the control room, and accompanied us into the dam structure itself.  Then we drove on to Ouray for dinner at the Outlaw Restaurant and our overnight stay at the Victorian Inn.

Group Photo

We began Thursday with an early breakfast at the hotel and then continued over Red Mountain Pass, through Purgatory and Silverton to the Center of Southwest Studies on the campus of Fort Lewis College in Durango for lunch and a discussion of energy development on Native American lands.  Indian reservations contain huge resources of energy of many types, including coal, oil, natural gas, wood and other biomass, wind, and solar energy.   Bob Zahradnik, operating director of the Southern Ute Growth Fund, explained how that tribal company grew into a major player in the coalbed methane industry, both in the Southwest and in other regions and countries.  The fund now manages a diverse portfolio, from strip malls and concrete suppliers to wind farms.  Steve Manydeeds, Chief of the Division of Energy and Mineral Development in the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Indian Affairs, discussed how his office helps tribes assess their energy opportunities by providing technical support and sponsoring feasibility studies.  Jim Burnell of the Colorado Geological Survey discussed the importance of traditional minerals (such as copper, silicon, precious metals, and rare earths) to the deployment of renewable energy technologies. 

We then drove west to Mesa Verde National Park for a tour of the Cliff Palace, our evening meal, and an overnight stay at Farview Lodge.

Cliff House at Mesa Verde

On Friday we drove west through Cortez and then north through Dove Creek and Slick Rock to the uranium mining country near Nucla and Naturita.  We enjoyed a picnic at the city park in Naturita and paused on the playground equipment for the traditional EMFI group photo.  We then moved on to the New Horizon surface coal mine in Nucla, where Lance Wade, Mindy Sickels, and Ross Gubka showed us how they mine coal for the nearby Nucla Power Station.  Our visit coincided with the blasting of overburden to expose the upper coal seam.  

The Nucla Power Station is a coal-fired steam-cycle power plant that is owned and operated by Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, Inc.  With a rated output of 100 MW, Nucla Station is relatively small; however it uses an unusual and potentially very important technology – circulating fluidized bed combustion.  Howard Kettle, Steve Sullivan, and Leanne Schowalter briefed us on this technology and provided a thorough tour of the station.

Overlook at San Miguel River Our final site visit was in the Paradox Valley, along the road between Naturita and the Utah border, where Energy Fuels Resources Corporation is developing a new uranium mine and mill.  Brent Kramer, exploration geologist for Energy Fuels, discussed how uranium accumulated in the valley and described the design and development schedule for the new facilities.   Then we drove north through the fabulous sandstone formations of the Uncompahgre Plateau to Gateway Canyons Resort, pausing for a photo opportunity at the unique Hanging Flume, which was constructed in 1887 to transport water along the wall of the  Dolores River canyon. 
On Saturday we met over breakfast to review the trip, discuss some of the issues we had uncovered, and brainstorm methods for sustaining and improving the EMFI program.  Several of the participants were deposited at the Grand Junction airport, and the rest of us set out for Golden in our trusty bus, arriving at twilight time. 
Group Bus

 

 

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