Gold, lithium, fracking topics du jour in Carson City meeting

Gold, Nevada’s main mineral, along with lithium and fracking were the topics du jour at Carson City’s Rotary luncheon gathering Tuesday.

Geothermal energy production was another topic as Richard Perry, administrator of the Nevada’s Division of Minerals delivered a talk on mineral, geothermal and oil production in the state. But gold was a top item as it was in Perry’s wheelhouse and represented 85 percent of mineral revenues in Nevada. Perry formerly was with Newmont Mining, a mega-miner of gold here and elsewhere.

“It is our largest single export,” Perry said of the yellow metal. He joshed another top export is made up of tourists leaving the state with depleted pocketbooks. He said on a more serious note the gold mining business may face challenges longer term: “It’s getting tougher to find reserves. It’s becoming a challenge.”

Perry, who said Nevada was the largest of the nation’s hard-rock mining states, explained copper mining ranked a distant second behind gold, but copper production was beginning to ramp up with two mines in the state. He also said gypsum is reviving. Both copper and gypsum are needed in the construction industries.

Lithium, he said, is found in Esmerelda County. Rockwood Lithium, Inc. there produces lithium and salt.

“This is the only lithium mine in North America,” said Perry, which may be part of the reason Tesla Motors is locating a huge battery factory in the state. He said other supplies come from places like China, so it makes sense to locate where you could deal with a supply interruption if one developes.

Fracking for petroleum from shale, he said, is under way by Noble Energy, a Houston-based firm, in the Elko region and the firm has drilled four wells.

“They’ve drilled four; they’ve fracked three,” he said, but the price of oil on the world market has plunged of late and so such economic development may slow. Fracking is a shorthand term for hydraulic fracturing, a process in which a firm drills down to the shale deposits and fracks to release the hydrocarbon content, often using horizontal drilling when a find works out.

Perry said industry folks and government will have to wait and “see if that increases oil production in the state before it goes to zero, which is where it’s headed” currently.

He also said his division had rewritten regulations to protect against groundwater problems from the fracking.

“We’ve required additional layers of casing and cement,” he said, adding when the industry does hydraulic fracturing correctly it doesn’t cause problems. He also gave a nod to what he views as responsible environmental organizations, singling out the Sierra Club. He said, however, irrational green advocates are against any use of hydrocarbons, which can’t work unless people are prepared for “living in caves for a while.”

Regarding geothermal energy, Perry said Ormat Technologies was the leader and Nevada produced 2.5 million megawatts of power in 2013, making the state No. 2 behind California. Nevada is an exporter of the resulting energy to populous places such as California to help it meet government green portfolio requirements.


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