The Bureau of Economic Geology The University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences
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August 2013
Scott HamlinScott Hamlin was recently awarded two significant contracts to develop stratigraphic frameworks for major Texas aquifers in support of groundwater resource modeling. The contracts were awarded by Intera Geosciences and Engineering, Inc. Funding was provided by the Texas Water Development Board and a consortium of groundwater conservation districts in Texas. The subjects of the contracts are Cretaceous aquifers in North-Central Texas and High Plains aquifers in West Texas. Success in securing these awards was due in part to earlier research by Seay Nance, whose work in this area is well known. Both Scott and Seay employ modern stratigraphic methods and depositional system analysis, which are common in petroleum reservoir studies but have not been widely used in groundwater studies. Both contracts also benefit from the expertise of Bridget Scanlon, who will be responsible for examining groundwater recharge and evapotranspiration for both projects.

Madagasgar Workshop 2013: click to see larger image
An unusual experiment in collaborative reproducible research took place at the Bureau of Economic Geology on July 25–27 at the First Madagascar Working Workshop. Twenty-five participants from nine different organizations gathered to learn and explore Madagascar, an open-source software package for multidimensional data analysis and reproducible computational experiments. The software is designed to provide a convenient and powerful computational environment and technology transfer tool for researchers working with digital image and data processing in geophysics and related fields. Under the direction of Sergey Fomel and Karl Schleicher of BEG's Texas Consortium for Computational Seismology (TCCS), the participants divided into 10 teams of two to three people, pairing experienced Madagascar developers with novice users. Each team worked on a small project, updating either reproducible papers or entries in the migration gallery. At the conclusion of the meeting, the participants discussed their experience and plans for future workshops.


Brent ElliotUnder the Radar: Texas' Rich Mineral Deposits. Some gutsy intuition, and doors opened by new technology, recently launched a boom in Texas oil and gas exploration not seen in decades. Could another Texas boom be just around the corner, but this time in extracting valuable mineral resources from beneath the state's vast terrain?

Dr. Brent Elliott
, economic geologist and lead scientist for the Bureau's Texas Mineral Resources group, certainly thinks so. "There are lots of mineral prospects out there," he says. "Mineral deposits in the state need more attention. Similar productive ore deposits across the border in Mexico and New Mexico could potentially exist here in Texas. We're working on the means to narrow down the possibilities of where those valuable mineral deposits could be."

Texas has a long history of mining for minerals, everything from copper and silver in West Texas, to uranium in South Texas, to mercury near Big Bend. Most of those old mines, though, were discovered by prospectors led by legend and lore, not by science. New technology will be the key to uncovering new, economically viable mineral deposits in Texas.

Texas Minerals Resource Map
Working with BEG's Aaron Averett, Elliot has created an interactive map of Texas' mineral resources.

"So much has changed in science in the last 25 years," Elliott goes on. "We have a lot more detail now, and we can answer questions that we couldn't answer then. Many of these ore deposits and old mineshafts haven't been fully explored or researched."

The Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG) is uniquely positioned to conduct that kind of minerals research and exploration. One method involves using the Bureau's aerial lidar (light detection and ranging) surveying equipment to fly over rough terrain and identify faults and other possible mineral trapping features in the geology. Individual features are then overflown with the BEG's chiroptera, a device that uses hyperspectral imaging to detect the individual reflective signature of specific minerals. In this way, mineral resources can be pinpointed and identified for further assessment and possible mining opportunities. "Our mapping and research ability can really cut costs for the mining industry, and make exploration a lot more efficient" Elliott asserts.

The Bureau's chiroptera research is partially funded by the State of Texas Advanced Oil and Gas Recovery (STARR) Project. Another program funded by STARR hopes to ensure our national security. The U.S. faces a critical shortage of rare earth elements, including yttrium and the fifteen lanthanide elements. Most of these elements, vital to such industries as electronics and defense, must now be imported from countries like China. However, Texas might have significant deposits of minerals bearing these crucial rare earth elements, and Dr. Elliott is dedicated to finding them.

"I like working in mineral resources because they're so varied," he explains. "I've spent a whole lifetime looking for rocks and minerals, because you never get bored. It's exciting to make things happen, like we see with our ability to find these mineral deposits. I really like to see this kind of progress." – Mark Blount



A newly-published article by the Bureau's Ian Duncan and UT Law School professor David Adelman has been selected from a pool of hundreds of law journal articles on 2environmental topics for inclusion in the sixth annual Environmental Law and Policy Annual Review, a joint publication of the Environmental Law Institute's Environmental Law Reporter and Vanderbilt University Law School. Three articles are selected each year for inclusion in the Annual Review. The purpose of the publication is to make the year's best environmental law or policy ideas more accessible to policy-makers and practitioners by publishing abbreviated versions of the academic articles selected. The article, entitledThe Limits of Liability in Promoting Safe 3Geologic Sequestration of CO2 (a condensation of a more detailed paper published in the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Forum), challenges several misconceptions about the risks associated with geologic sequestration of CO2, and the significance of open-ended legal liability. It demonstrates that the current debate is overly focused on the risks associated with CO2 leakage, and insufficiently attentive to the primary source of risk—releases of brine into drinking water aquifers. As a general rule, releases of brine are much more likely and are projected to occur much earlier in the lifecycle of a sequestration site than releases of CO2. The article concludes that understanding the nature of these risks, particularly their modest impacts and relative simplicity, ought to diffuse the controversy over legal liability for carbon capture and sequestration. 1

 

 
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