Sep 212011

By Teri Walker–

Citing their desire to be good neighbors to Petrified Forest National Park, American West Potash representatives toured potential mine sites with park officials last week.

American West President and CEO Pat Avery took Park Superintendent Brad Traver and members of his staff to various locations surrounding the park, discussing the possible merits of each for locating future mining surface facilities should the company go forward with potash mining in the region.

American West controls about 100,000 acres primarily on the eastern flank of the Petrified Forest, either owning land outright or controlling the mineral rights for each of its parcels. While Petrified Forest officials recently announced the acquisition of the 26,000-acre Hatch Ranch, fulfilling some of the congressionally approved expansion of the national park, American West has the mineral rights for the ranch. If the company undertakes mining operations in the Holbrook Basin, it would likely mine under the expansion area at some point in the future.

During last week’s tour, Avery and Traver discussed potential surface facility operations and their impacts on the park and visitor experience.

Avery pointed out that the ideal location for a mining facility is in close proximity to a railroad spur line. There is a railroad spur on the eastern edge of American West’s land holdings, which also happens to be the farthest distance from the park. The rail location is shielded by landforms that would render the facility invisible to park visitors.

Avery said the one element that could possibly be visible from the park is the steam from 60- to 80-foot smoke stacks; but, he said, that effect could be mitigated by using a set up called a diffusion condenser, which would eliminate steam by cooling, then recycling the water. He did not indicate what option the company is considering using.

Avery cannot speak definitively about any plans for American West’s mining operations because the company has not yet completed an industry-required geological resource report, called an NI 43-101, or a pre-feasibility study. The resource report should be completed later this month. After the report’s release, the company will declare whether it intends to proceed with mining in the Holbrook Basin.

American West has drilled 12 exploration wells, taking core samples of potash and measuring depth to the mineral beds, along with a number of other tests, as part of an effort to determine whether historic reports about the potash resource in the area are accurate.

If the company determines to move forward with the mining project, it will begin securing permits from the various regulatory agencies that must be consulted before mining operations can commence.

So far, Avery likes what he’s seeing in the exploration phase.

“We are excited about our geologic prove up results and think that this could be a world-class competitive potash facility,” said Avery.

“It would bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the state in royalties and taxes, hundreds of millions to the local counties and provide hundreds of construction, then permanent jobs,” he continued.

During last week’s tour, Avery hoped to demonstrate to park officials that underground potash mining is “unseen, quiet and safe.”

Avery said, “Visitors on the surface would have no idea mining was taking place,” adding that his company has significant flexibility in choosing where the surface plant would be located.

Traver said he was comfortable with the sites Avery pointed out, and with the assertion that the mining activities, as described, would not impact visitor experience.

Once American West announces the findings of its resource study and pre-feasibility report, the company can begin to work on specifics with the park and work together to site the physical plant in an optimal location.

Photo by Teri Walker

American West Potash President and CEO Pat Avery (right), along with Petrified Forest National Park Superintendent Brad Traver (center) and Ronald Justman (left) of American West Potash, overlook the Hatch Ranch, which was recently purchased by the park to preserve the natural and prehistoric resources on the land. American West holds the mineral rights to the ranch.