he Department of Energy (DOE) has proposed to transport radioactive waste to the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain in Nye County using "mostly rail." The Department estimates that about 90 percent of shipments will be transported by rail, using a new corridor constructed through Nevada to the repository site. Ten percent of the waste will be shipped by truck, using the Interstate system.
One of the proposed rail corridors to transport the waste, the "Carlin corridor," originates in northern Eureka County and extends approximately 24 miles within the county near the towns of Beowawe and Crescent Valley. Interstate 80 runs east-west through the northern part of the county, roughly parallel to the Union Pacific mainline.
One of the potential impacts identified in the County's Impact Assessment Report was that activities of the Yucca Mountain repository project could impact mining, which is a major industry and economic driver in Eureka County. The County is preparing this mineral assessment report as an update to its Impact Assessment Report to gather baseline data and information related to the mineral activity and potential within Eureka County.
To prepare this report, research and review was conducted to gather information about the County's mineral resources. Geographical Information System (GIS) analysis was conducted on the data to allow overlay of mineral features on maps. The report first describes the geology of the County, then enumerates the County's mineral resources. Past and current mineral extraction activities are described. Mineral exploration activities and the number of active mining claims can help to forecast future mineral extraction, accordingly, these activities also are described in the report.
Mineral resources within Eureka County are classified into three major categories: locatable minerals (i.e., base metals, precious metals, and industrial minerals); leasable minerals (i.e., oil and gas, coal, phosphate and geothermal areas); and saleable minerals (e.g., common varieties of sand and gravel). There have also been significant paleontological discoveries in Eureka County: these are described in a separate section of the report.
Current Mineral Resources and Development
Locatable minerals are minerals for which the right to explore, develop and extract mineral resources is established by the staking of mining claims as authorized under the General Mining Law of 1872. Examples of locatable minerals historically or currently mined within Eureka County include metallic minerals (i.e.: gold, silver copper, mercury, zinc, molybdenum, uranium, tungsten, etc) and non-metallic minerals (i.e.: limestone, barite, gypsum, diatomaceous earth, fluorspar and opals).
Today, gold is by far the most important mineral mined in Eureka County, and the county holds some of the state's most productive gold mines. Silver, in Eureka County a byproduct of gold production, also is produced from the same mines. Gold and silver mining is the principal economic engine of Eureka County. Between the years 1997 and 2003, Eureka County mines annually produced between $1.08 billion and $865 million of gold and silver. Over 90 percent of jobs in Eureka County are in gold and silver mining. County taxes on net proceeds of minerals are annually between $4.4 and $1.2 million, and mining companies are the principal taxpayers in the county.
Leasable minerals are defined by the Mineral Leasing Act as leasable solid and leasable fluid minerals. Leasable solid minerals include coal, oil shale, native asphalt, phosphate, sodium, potash, potassium, and sulfur, while leasable fluid minerals include oil, gas and geothermal resources. The rights to explore for and produce these minerals on public land may only be acquired by competitive leasing.
Electrical power is produced in the Beowawe geothermal area at the Oxbow geothermal power plant, which came online in 1985. Although the plant itself is in adjacent Lander County, the geothermal resources used to power the plant come from both Eureka and Lander Counties. In 2005 electrical production from the Oxbow plant was 87,042 Megawatt hours.
There are three active oil fields in Eureka County. These active fields are the Blackburn Field, North Willow Creek Field, and Tomera Ranch Field, all of them located on the eastern side of Pine Valley.
The primary saleable mineral commodity sold in Nevada is sand and gravel (construction aggregates). Nevada's construction aggregate production in 2005 was estimated at 46 million tons at a value of $207 million. While virtually all of Eureka County's valleys hold substantial sand and gravel deposits, the relatively low value of the resource combined with high transportation costs make extraction economically feasible only near transportation corridors or near the location of end use. Eureka County's estimated production of only 100,000 tons of aggregate in 2005 shows that it is relatively far from areas with great demand for construction materials.
There are several valuable Paleontological resources present within Eureka County along the Roberts Mountain Thrust. This classical geologic area provides paleontological specimens ranging from large to small used for display and scientific purposes.
Future Minerals Development
Gold mining exploration and development continues strongly in Nevada. Because of Nevada's favorable geologic setting, its stringent but predictable regulatory climate and the political stability of the US, Nevada continues to receive a very large portion of worldwide exploration expenditures. Estimated Nevada gold reserves in the immediate vicinity of currently active mines at the end of 2003 were about 80.3 million troy ounces. Under current production rates this reserve would account for about 11 years of sustained gold production.
Mineral exploration, particularly for gold, is an ongoing enterprise in Nevada by both operators of existing mines and by outside exploration companies, and it is anticipated by industry experts that gold mining and exploration activity will gradually increase. Exploration has been extremely active recently (2007) as gold prices have sustained levels above $600/ounce.
In 2005, the last year for which detailed records are currently available, Eureka County had significant mineral exploration activity. It is important to note that the proposed Carlin rail corridor crosses several sections with currently active mining claims, and that the proposed rail corridor is in the general vicinity of two known precious metal mineral resources.
There is good potential for development of aggregate deposits in Eureka County, and increasing mining activity, commercial development, recreation activities, and private property development in northern Nevada will increase demand for construction aggregates. The overall level of demand for Eureka County aggregates will to a great extent depend on the location of the projects requiring the products. If local demand exists, small scale operations would not have to sustain large transportation costs, thereby creating an economically feasible and desirable situation for Eureka County's sand and gravel development. If there is no local demand, only the larger quarries, particularly those near major transportation corridors and urban centers will be economically beneficial.
Geothermal resource exploration and development operations are on the rise and are expected to increase in the future. Department of Energy and State of Nevada grants, tax incentives, and renewable portfolio standards are encouraging companies to develop geothermal and other renewable energy resources.In 2006, Beowawe Power, LLC signed a 29-year contract with Sierra Pacific Power Company. It is anticipated that this geothermal resource area will continue to be developed.
Increased usage of oil in the United States and worldwide, with the accompanying rising oil prices, will likely lead to continued exploration and future oil well development in Eureka County. Eureka County's Pine Valley is currently the second largest producer of oil in Nevada, and the Pine Valley area accordingly has the largest future potential for additional oil production in Eureka County.
The geological history of Eureka County has resulted in an area rich in mineral resources. Gold is currently by far the most important of the county's minerals, both for the value of the product and for the effect of gold mining on the economy and employment of Eureka County and Nevada overall.
Eureka County is one of Nevada's and indeed the world's principal gold producers, and exploration activity as well as estimated reserves indicate that gold mining will continue in the county for ten to twenty years, depending upon gold prices.
Geothermal resources, oil and gas also are present in the county, with producing oil wells and a geothermal power plant. With increased global energy demand, energy exploration and production in Eureka County should continue. Various other mineral resources in the county including molybdenum, gemstones, and aggregates also are present in economic quantities, have been produced in the county in the past, and will be produced in the future as markets create demand for the products.