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Mines & Minerals — Research

Since our establishment in 1927, the Bureau has worked in mining districts throughout New Mexico. These are some of our active projects.


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AML Project: Inventory and Characterization of Inactive/abandoned mine (AML) features in New Mexico

The NMBGMR has been examining the environmental effects of mine waste rock piles throughout New Mexico since the early 1990s. There are tens of thousands of inactive or abandoned mine features in 273 mining districts in New Mexico (including coal, uranium, metals, and industrial minerals districts), however many of them have not been inventoried or prioritized for reclamation. The New Mexico Abandoned Mine Lands Bureau of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department estimates that there are more than 15,000 abandoned mine features in the state. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management recently estimated that more than 10,000 mine features are on BLM lands in New Mexico and only 705 sites have been reclaimed. The New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources has collected published and unpublished data on the districts, mines, deposits, occurrences, and mills since it was created in 1927 and is slowly converting historical data into a relational database, the New Mexico Mines Database. More than 8,000 mines are recorded in the New Mexico Mines Database and more than 7,000 are inactive or abandoned. These mines often include two or more actual mine features.

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photograph by Viginia McLemore
Apache Mesa Rare Earth Elements Deposits

The Point Lookout Sandstone on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation in Rio Arriba County contains geological layers called “beach placer deposits”. Beach-placer sandstone deposits are accumulations of dense minerals that form on beaches, or in shallow ocean water. They form by mechanical settling of heavy minerals by the action of waves, currents, and winds. These deposits contain Rare Earth Elements (REE) which are important commodities required to manufacture green technologies, like wind turbines and hybrid/electric cars and are essential in most of our electronic devices, like cell phones and laptop computers.

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Enhanced Potash Recovery Techniques

In cooperation with several partners in industry, a team at the bureau has developed and introduced new reagent suites and process modifications which have dramatically increased the efficiency of potash recovery from existing reserves. These new techniques have been adopted by plants within the state and will result in increased recoveries, reduced energy and reagent costs, and more effective utilization of the state’s potash resources. These resources, which are concentrated in the southeast corner of the state, are used primarily in the manufacture of agricultural fertilizer and as raw material in the chemical industry.

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Helium Research

Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe but is rare on Earth. Helium has unique physical and chemical properties that render it indispensable to our modern technological society – it is requisite for the operation of MRI instruments and in the manufacture of computer chips and fiber optic cables. However, helium gas deposits are rare, and helium is typically a trace component of natural gases being emitted at the Earth’s surface. As established supplies have become stressed, the price of helium gas has increases from $18 per thousand ft3 to more than $200 per thousand ft3. Helium has been mined in New Mexico, and the location of helium resources has been mapped by Ron Broadhead, our principal senior petroleum geologist at the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources.

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