Mining is nearly everywhere in state

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The big value numbers come from coal, potash and copper

By Harold Morgan

The state’s roughly 240 “active registered” mines, 83 percent of them producing aggregate and stone, employed 5,156 people in 2009, paid them $287 million, and produced minerals worth about $1.8 billion – good for a ranking of 20th nationally without counting oil and gas.
The big value numbers come from coal ($736 million in 2009), potash ($491 million), and copper ($290 million and hiring again).
Except for potash and salt mines around Carlsbad, the mines are located in the southwest quadrant and in a broad and mostly rural northern arc that starts at Raton, swings south to include Belen and Albuquerque, edges north and west to Grants and then goes to the Arizona.
Finding information about mining in New Mexico in one place, coherently presented, isn’t easy. The good stuff here comes from a PowerPoint presentation (yes, a useful PowerPoint!) titled “Mining Issues Facing New Mexico” and summarizing the state’s wealth of mineral resources.
Virginia T. “Ginger” McLemore put the presentation together a few months ago for the Leadership New Mexico civic training group. McLemore is a kid from blue collar Baltimore who fell in love with earth science in the fifth grade and grew up to be senior economic geologist and minerals outreach liaison for the Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources in Socorro.
An economic geologist, McLemore explains, is one who considers a mineral deposit within the framework of whether enough ore exists to make a mine. Is the deposit economic? That’s the question.
Some might wonder about the idea of a minerals outreach liaison. For McLemore, the need is obvious.
“People need to know where their world comes from in order to have an understanding,” she said.
Mining issues start with the geology being in control. The big picture issue is that minerals “are needed to maintain our standard of living, even for green technologies, like solar, wind,” the presentation said.
But “legacy issues of past mining activities form negative public perceptions of mining.”  These perceptions of the past are partly balanced by mining being done differently today than 20 years ago.
With just two copper mines, Chino and Tyrone near Silver City was the nation’s number three producer in 2009.
The mines are beautiful, large-scale earth sculptures. The state has seven other potential copper deposits, including the Copper Flat property, mined briefly about 25 years ago.
Gold and silver production has been tracked since 1804. Three of the seven gold and silver deposits are in Santa Fe County.
Potash output from around Carlsbad made New Mexico the nation’s leader in 2009.
A principal use of potash is in fertilizers.
All sorts of industrial minerals come from New Mexico. We are first in zeolites, fifth in pumice, first in perlite, 13 in gypsum and 11 in salt.
A clever slide in the presentation shows a Prius and points to the minerals needed in the battery, glass, the LCD screen, the component sensors and the like.
Another slide points out that New Mexico has minerals needed in green technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines and batteries.
The 17 “rare earth” elements are found across the state. The elements are used in products such as batteries, superconductors and lasers. China produces 97 percent of the rare earth elements.
Uranium is New Mexico’s biggest present potential.
To find the PowerPoint, go to http://geoinfo.nmt.edu/staff/home.cfm and scroll until you find McLemore’s listing.
On her “current projects” list, hit “Mining in New Mexico.” There you will see “Presentation given at Leadership New Mexico.” Click on “presentation” and sit back.
The 49 MB file takes a while to download. The quality of the information is worthy of the size of the file.

Harold Morgan
NM News Services