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Circular 43—Carbon dioxide in New Mexico (1959)

By E. C. Anderson, 1959, 13 pp., 1 fig., 5 plates. Supersedes Circulars 6, 9.

Since the 1942 publication of the study entitled Carbon Dioxide in New Mexico, by S. B. Talmage and A. Andres, sufficient changes have taken place in the CO2 industry to justify a revised edition of that circular. Carbon dioxide, under normal conditions of temperature and pressure, is a heavy, inert, non-flammable, colorless gas. It is found in the atmosphere in a quantity approximating one-thirtieth of 1% at sea level. It is popularly called carbonic acid gas. It occurs in many coal mines and is known to the miner as "black damp." It is not actually poisonous in the true physical sense of the word, but, being heavier than air, it tends to accumulate in low places. A man breathing CO2 in sufficient concentration will lose consciousness and die quickly from lack of oxygen.

The critical temperature of CO2 is 31.1ºC (88ºF), at which temperature the gas can be liquefied under pressure of 73 atmospheres (1,000 ± pounds per in2;) at altitudes of 3,000 to 4,000 ft. Less than half that pressure will liquefy the gas at the temperature of freezing water. Carbon dioxide freezes to a white solid at -56ºC (-69ºF) under pressure of 5.1 atmospheres, but cold liquid CO2 under pressure, if released rapidly through a nozzle, will precipitate directly as a solid resembling snow. This "snow" can be compressed into solid blocks and becomes the "dry ice" of commerce.

Although carbon dioxide is a normal part of our atmosphere and it is possible to recover the gas from the air, the economic feasibility of such an operation would be questionable. It is abundant in many volcanic gases and appears to be a normal product accompanying the dying out of volcanic activity, as is evident in the Yellowstone Park region, at Soda Springs, Idaho, and at other localities. Large underground accumulations of the gas have been found in some regions that show much evidence of recent volcanism, and these occurrences have become the chief sources of the raw material for the dry ice, liquid gas, and bottled CO2 gas of commerce.
In some areas of NM, especially in the northeast quarter of the state, carbon dioxide has been found in abundance and under quite high pressure in structural traps that hold large amounts of granite wash and/or highly porous sandstone at depths that range from 800 to 2,700 ft. One of the earlier discoveries of this gas in commercial volume in NM was in the Estancia Valley of Torrance County, where a shallow, low-pressure field was found prior to 1930. This field was commercially developed in 1934. Much larger fields, however, were subsequently discovered in the upper reaches of the Ute Creek Valley in Harding County, near Des Moines in Union County, near Wagon Mound in Mora County, and near Maxwell in Colfax County.

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supersedes Circular 6 and Circular 9