Thursday thoughts

This morning I read an interesting article in the news. The article dealt with the environmental impact on ecosystems, animals and humans caused by the production of drugs in low-wage countries. Drugs, such as those commonly used against fungal infections or to regulate blood pressure are produced in for example India. No strict environmental regulations exist and chemical residues, antibiotics and harmful substances end up in the sewage and in water bodies.

Similar situations exist when it comes to the manufacturing of clothes or the production of many other items that are made in low-wage countries with no or little environmental regulations, but are consumed in richer countries. A study from 2018, which investigated the environmental impact of Swedish consumption, showed for example that the use and release of hazardous chemicals occur to around 80% abroad and that only around 20% of the emissions occur within Sweden.

Similarly, many metals used in electronics are mined in low-wage countries, where mining leads to large scale pollution, or in countries with an unstable political situation. The growing demand for, for example critical metals, will mean more mines, more environmental pollution and more unsafe working environments in these countries. The mining industry’s arguments are therefore that mining needs to be partly relocated to countries, which have strict environmental regulations and can guarantee a safe work environment. And the recently more often heard argument is that also Sweden has to take a share in this. We consume, but we don’t produce.

The exactly same argument – we consume, but don’t produce – can be employed for many other consumer goods. The reasons why all these items are manufactured in low-wage countries are that it is cheap to produce there, salaries are low, work environments lousy and environmental regulations are basically non-existent. Which in turn means that the products can be sold at a fairly cheap price, yet the industry still earns a lot of money. After all consumers want to buy cheap products.

Before all the outsourcing, many goods were produced in Sweden. But with higher wages and stricter environmental laws, companies moved elsewhere. The pollution and the environmental impacts of these former factories are however still a ticking bomb in many parts of the country.

So, how shall we do? Relocate all kinds of mining, production and manufacturing to Sweden? This would certainly give an enormous boost and would reduce unemployment to below zero! Given salaries, taxes, safety regulations and environmental regulations in Sweden, the produced goods will however become very expensive and only very few will be able to afford them.

Shall we have environmentally-friendly labels on all the goods? Certify all the metals that are used in consumer products so that we know where they come from and how they were mined? We will probably end up with everything being certified in one way or other, without being able to control how valid these certificates are.

Sustainability, Agenda 2030, green technology, carbon footprints, technical solutions, sustainable growth, adaption to climate change are some of the words we hear and read about almost on a daily basis. For some these words are nothing but buzz words. Others really make efforts to contribute to a change. Yet, household consumption has increased with 2.8% during September-November 2019 as compared to September-November 2018, suggesting that we consume more than before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s up in January?

January is also one of these months with short and dark days and there is no snow to light up. Therefore it is nice to have several interesting things going.

The first thing to happen in the new year was that our debate article was published in the newspaper Sydsvenskan, In this article we explained that what the media had published regarding Scandivanadium’s drilling results in Lybymosse, does not at all correspond to what Scandivanadium’s latest report said. The debate article was partly a Swedish version of an earlier text that I had published on my blog.

Other things to lighten up this dark January is a new research project and a one-day seminar, which I am co-organizing.

The new research project, which is in collaboration with researchers from Örebro University, Linné University and Stockholm University, is aimed at a better understanding of the mechanisms and processes that govern the distribution and mobility of uranium in soils, sediments and water. To do this we will sample rocks, sediments and water in areas affected by former mining (Kvarntorp, Andrarum, Stripa) and in areas with acid soils. We know that uranium in these sites constantly leaks into soils and water bodies, therefore they are ideal sampling localities.

Once the samples have been prepared in our laboratories, we will analyze them in detail at the MAX IV Laboratory in Lund in April. This is an exciting project and we hope that it will help to better understand how uranium is stored and transported in water and sediment systems. If successful, we will be able to make more robust predictions regarding the release and remobilization of uranium.

Fingers crossed that the mild weather prevails so that we can start sampling by the end of January!

Earlier in fall I walked around Andrarum to find the best spots for sampling. I guess we will foremost select some of the following places for sampling, where we can assume that the sediments are enriched in uranium. But we’ll see, there are maybe also other places that can be sampled.

 

The other January project has been in the planning stage for almost a year. It is a one-day seminar, here at Stockholm University, that will be organized jointly by the Royal Swedish Academy of Science and the section for Earth and Environmental Sciences. The title of the seminar is Critical Metals and Raw Materials – benefits or problems for society? (Innovationskritiska metaller och kritiska råvaror: nytta eller problem för samhället?).

The day will be divided into different themes, each filled with interesting lectures and debates: Where in Sweden can these critical raw materials be found? Which types of conflicts and interests exist? How suitable are the current laws? What kind of responsibility does Sweden have?

We will gather a good mix of people from research, the industry, the government, and NGOs and I am really happy that so many have agreed to participate. I am sure this will be a really exciting day.

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What is green about a metal?

Yesterday morning a debate article appeared in my Facebook feed, which had the headline “More mines need to be opened in Sweden for the sake of climate” (my translation from the Swedish text). In short, the writer means that Sweden has the geological potential for mining many of the metals and minerals needed for a fossil-free energy production and storage and that recycling of raw materials will not be able to meet the growing demand. Accordingly new mines will need to be opened and for doing this, the process chain from application to approval needs to be shortened. And consequently, we will have to accept environmental impacts.

Using the threat of climate change and the (obviously necessary) transition to a fossil-free technology as an argument for opening new mines and for extracting raw materials is in my view naive and presents only parts of a large conflict of interest. The issue is immensely complex and the way it is handled will have long-lasting societal, political, economic and environmental impacts.

Calling critical metals and minerals for ‘green metals’ is for example already a bad start. The term ‘green’ and the color green signals to me (and probably to most other people) something that is close to nature and environmentally friendly. Something that is positive. To me as a geologist, a green metal is a metal that is colored green because of the chemical substances it is composed of. Most metals are however not green. But, many green minerals exist, such as for example Malachite shown below.

Metals and minerals exist in nature and have been mined and used for hundreds of years. But only some of these are what is now called ‘green’ metals, metals that are employed in the many electronic gadgets or batteries, to name just a few applications. Lithium and vanadium are some of these, as are the rare earth elements. Mining for these elements occurs in different places and in different types of source rocks.

When I googled the term ‘green metals’, a flood of pictures turned up advertising for companies that either recycle metals or exploit metals in mines. Only a few of the sites mention metals that actually have a green color. It seems to me that what is now being sold under the term ‘green metals’ is just an effort by the mining industry to jump on the current bandwagon and to profit from climate change and the transition to new technologies.

What is completely forgotten in this recurrent discourse, and many lacking geological knowledge are making their voices heard in these public debates, is that metals have been formed through various geological processes and are nothing else but an assortment of different chemical substances.

Mining metals means the release of these various chemical elements into nature. Storage of mining waste and processing of mined rocks will therefore inevitably lead to large-scale environmental damage, not to mention the impact on ground water resources. This has been shown over and over again. It is today often forgotten that heaps and mining waste from old mines in many parts of Sweden constantly leak toxic elements into the ground water.

What is also hardly ever mentioned in the current debate of combating climate change, is that mining industries are among the largest emitters of carbon dioxide and contribute directly to climate change. More mines will mean more emissions. It is also rarely mentioned that extraction and processing of metals and minerals contributes to air pollution and health impacts. All this is detailed in the report Global Resources Outlook 2019.

What is also hardly ever mentioned when writers advocate opening new mines is that metals and minerals, which are geological resources, are abundant in parts of the Globe,  but are nevertheless not endlessly available. Geological resources do not form within weeks or years, but on long geological time scales. And with geological time scales I mean hundred of thousands and millions of years.

What is also never really said is that the economy of mining depends on the price of the metals in question. If prices go up, then mining is economically viable and mining companies can earn a lot of money. When prices go down, a mining company may go bankrupt and may abandon the mine and leaves the country.

Really sustainable mining, which by the way does not exist anywhere, would mean redefining the whole mining process and adopting really strict environmental laws without any loopholes. This in turn will entail enormous costs for a mining company and accordingly very high raw material prices. And who is willing to pay such high prices?

So why not focus first of all on new technologies that will allow recycling existing mining and electronic waste and on laws that force companies to design manufacturing so that metals and electronic waste can easily be recycled?

 

 

 

 

 

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Charming the media?

The most recent ASX announcement of ScandiVanadium of December 18 has made headlines in several regional newspapers and in Swedish TV. What is the whole thing about and why does it create such an interest?

The only thing that ScandiVanadium now did was to provide an update of their results from the drill core investigation at Lybymosse. This update is basically the same as what has been stated in the ASX Announcement of November 29. The only difference is that the media has suddenly picked up the ‘new’ information, probably as a result of ScandiVanadium’s intensified charm offensive towards media and local population.

What ScandiVanadium writes in the most recent ASX Announcement is that the target area (Lyby close to Hörby) contains 116.9 million tonnes @ 0.39% V2O5 (vanadium pentoxide). At first sight the 116.9 million tonnes sound much, but on what are these estimates actually based upon?

First of all, the percentages of V2O5 (vanadium pentoxide) found in the Lybymosse Alum shale are far below those that had been earlier suggested by the company, which was on average 0.5-0.8% V2O5 (vanadium pentoxide). Moreover, only four out of six Lybymosse drill cores show that vandium-bearing layers have been reached. In these four drill cores (HDD001, HDD001B, HDD002, HDD003B, HDD005), the vanadium-rich layers are at depths of 36-52 m (HDD001, HDD1B), 50-66 m (HDD002), 80-94 m (HDD3b) and 74-90 m (HDD005). In HDD004, the vanadium-rich layers are probably in much further depth and in HDD003 the layers have been eroded and are no longer present.

Indicated and inferred Vanadium resources according th ScandiVanadiums latest ASX Announcement of December 18, 2019.

Indicated and inferred vanadium resources according to ScandiVanadium’s latest ASX Announcement of December 18, 2019. Indicated resources are based on actual measurements on rock samples from the drill cores, while inferred resources are based on extrapolating the results using 3D modelling.

The indicated resources, which are shown in yellow color in the figure above, amount to 61.8 million tonnes @ 0.39% V2O5 (vanadium pentoxide), while the indicated (yellow) plus inferred (red) resources together make up the total of 116.9 million tonnes @ 0.39% V2O5 (vanadium pentoxide). Note – it is indicated and inferred resources that make up the number of 116.9 million tonnes and it was these values that have made headlines and not the actual numbers obtained from drill core analyses.

Estimations of an inferred resource relate however to basically nothing, and are only based on 3D modeling. There are no drill cores and analyses to support these values. And using the results of HDD004 as an indication, it is clear that the vanadium-bearing layers are at depths of below 100 m and were not even reached in the drill core. This can also be seen in another of ScandiVanadium‘s figures shown below.

ScandiVanadium further write that 75% of the indicated mineral resource occurs within 100 m of surface. We can translate this statement simply to that vanadium-rich layers were found in cores HDD001/HDD1B, HDD002, HDD003B and HDD005 within what the company terms ‘top seam’ and bottom seam’.

Figure 2 in Scandivanadiums December 18 ASX Announcement

This transect shows that the so-called ‘top seam’ and ‘bottom seam’ was reached in the two drill cores HDD001B and HDD003B, but is probably far below 100 m depth in core HDD004.

But what exactly is meant with the terms ‘top seam’ and ‘bottom seam’? This means that vanadium-rich layers were found in two distinct horizons that are separated by rock layers with an average vanadium pentoxide grade of 0.24%. Looking in more detail at what is written in the ASX Announcement, it becomes clear that calculation of the average grades were made in different ways. One Table details the average grades for each seam and each drill core, another Table provides calculations for the average indicated and average inferred vanadium pentoxide grade in all top and bottom seams, respectively.

Averaged indicated V2O5 (vanadium pentoxide) grades as measured in the top seams of all cores range between 0.39% and 0.42% and in the bottom seams between 0.37% and 0.39% (Table 1). From these values ScandiVanadium calculated a total indicated value of 0.39% V2O5 for the top and bottom seams.

Now the same values were used to obtain inferred values, i.e. 0.39% V2O5 for the top and bottom seams. Indicated and inferred values together are thus the same: 0.39% V2O5 (Table 2). But what is different, is the amount in tonnes: indicated amounts are 61.8 million tonnes @ 0.39% V2O5 and inferred amounts are 116.9 million tonnes @ 0.39% V2O5.

In section 2 of the ASX Announcement, where more details are given, I found slightly different values however. Here it is stated that the top seam in all five drill holes has an average grade of 0.41% V2O5 (vanadium pentoxide) and the bottom seam of 0.38% V2O5 (vanadium pentoxide). Further reading shows that additional factors contribute to the various calculations.

What is not mentioned in the current media hype is that the vanadium-rich layers also contain a feature, which is typical for the Alum shale and called ‘nodules’ by ScandiVanadium. These nodules are nothing else but ‘Orsten‘ or in Swedish ‘stinkkalk’, which are fossil-rich concretions poor in vanadium. The values measured by ScandiVanadium for these Orsten concretions are below 0.1% V2O5 (vanadium pentoxide).

However, to estimate the overall V2O5 (vanadium pentoxide) resources in the top and bottom seams, the low values measured in the nodules were excluded. To account for the occurrences of Orsten, ScandiVanadium instead assumed a geological loss of 7% for the indicated mineral resource tonnage and a geological loss of 10% for the inferred mineral resource tonnage.

An inclusion of the Orsten’s low vanadium values in the calculations arrived at an average grade of 0.37% V2O5 (vanadium pentoxide) for the top seam. Excluding the Orsten’s low vanadium values, however, gave an average grade of 0.40% V2O5 (vanadium pentoxide). Despite these various and slightly diverging calculations and estimations it is evident that V2O5 (vanadium pentoxide) grades are much lower in Lybymosse than earlier anticipated by the company. Values of the anticipated 0.5-0.8% V2O5 (vanadium pentoxide) are nowhere seen in the Lybymosse drill cores.

I also found interesting what the company’s CEO told the media: parts of the vanadium resource is too close to buildings to being able to be mined (my free translation). But when I read the ASX Announcement of December 18, I find the following text: It is assumed that the vanadium resource at Hörby will be likely mined using conventional open cast extraction methods, but that underground methods may be applicable for the deeper part of the resource. The resources have been extended to a maximum of 1,500 m from the last known point of observation and the maximum depth at this point is 260 m which is considered appropriate for potential extraction. I leave it up to my readers to draw their own conclusions!

So all in all the latest ASX Announcement and the resulting media coverage are a nice way of presenting results in a better way than what they actually are.

 

 

 

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Much less than expected?

ScandiVanadium‘s recently issued ASX Announcements, one dating November 14, 2019 and another dating November 29, 2019, are interesting reading. These announcements detail some of the analytical results of drill holes HDD001, HDD001B, HDD002, HDD003B, and HDD005 from Lybymosse.

During the drilling campaign, ScandiVanadium used a hand-held X-ray fluorescence (XRF) instrument to directly measure the vanadium content of the drilled rocks. Such instruments are frequently used in the field to obtain a first idea of the type and amount of certain (measurable) elements present in a sediment or rock. As such these field analyses allow delimiting zones of interest, and as was the case in Lybymosse, helped identifying the intervals where samples for further analyses needed to be taken.

Once these zones had been determined by initial XRF analysis, ScandiVanadium took continuous rock samples from the drill cores along the designated intervals and sent the samples to the ALS Laboratory in Piteå for Inductively Coupled Plasma (ICP) analysis. These latter analyses, which are now ready and presented in the two ASX Announcements, allow a better characterization of the various elements in the rock samples, and provide more exact values for, for example, how much vanadium is present in the Lybymosse Alum shale.

Stratigraphy of drill cores HDD001 and HDD001B (purple, blue, grey) and Vanadium pentoxide (V2O5) contents (%) (red, yellow, green) along the two profiles. Downloaded from: https://www.asx.com.au/asxpdf/20191114/pdf/44bkphvzxx8cnz.pd

To illustrate the different rock units encountered in Lyby, ScandiVanadium presents a very simplified stratigraphy (vertical columns in the figures above and below). The Stratigraphy shown by ScandiVanadium makes reference to an old and outdated geological terminology, such as “Didymograptus” and “Dictyonema Formation”. I have discussed earlier that the term ‘Dictyonema shale’ is no longer used in more recent work. The same holds true for Didymograptus, as stated by Eriksson (2012): “The formation name Almelund Shale was recently adopted by Bergström et al. (2002) instead of the outdated topostratigraphical designations Upper Didymograptus Shale and Lower Dicellograptus Shale” (Eriksson 2012, p. 18). Accordingly, in Eriksson’s (2012) Figure 5, which is shown below, these old names are abandoned and referred to as ‘traditional names’. Terms such as ‘Dictyonema Shale’, are thus pretty much off and do not exist anymore in the current literature. Moreover, using the term ‘Dictyonema Formation’ as is done by ScandiVanadium is not compatible with current geological terminology, as can be seen in Eriksson’s (2012) figure below.

I am aware that these differences may sound like hair-splitting to non-specialists. But they are nevertheless important in the current context. By calling the Alum shale for ‘Dictyonema shale’ or ‘Dictyonema Formation’, as done by ScandiVanadium, one can get the impression that we are dealing with a rock type that has nothing to do with an Alum shale; just using the term ‘Dictyonema shale’ implies that this rock type is completely different from the Alum shale, and as such does not have the same properties as an Alum shale. But this is not correct.

Stratigraphy of drill cores HDD002, HDD003B and HDD005 (purple, blue, grey) and Vanadium pentoxide (V2O5) contents (%) (red, yellow, green) along the three profiles. Downloaded from: https://www.asx.com.au/asxpdf/20191129/pdf/44c3bkrnsnm8g7.pdf

Following Eriksson’s (2012) work (see Figure below), ScandiVanadium‘s Lybymosse core stratigraphy could probably be translated into the following: Alum Shale Formation (purple color), Björkåsholmen Formation and Toyen Shale (likely missing in the Lyby cores), Komstad Limestone (blue color) and Almelund Shale (grey color). What we can conclude from looking at ScandiVanadium‘s simplified stratigraphies is that the Alum shale (purple color) is directly overlain by Komstad Limestone (blue color) and that rock layers belonging to the Björkåsholmen Formation and the Toyen Shale are missing.

Figure 5 from Eriksson (2012) showing parts of the Cambrian stratigraphy, the Ordovician stratigraphy and parts of the Silurian stratigraphy. Note that terms such as ‘Dictyonema Shale’ and ‘Didymograptus Shale’ are traditional names, which are no longer in use. Note also that the Alum Shale Formation belongs to the Cambrium and extends into the lower Ordovicium. This part of the Ordovicium is called Tremadocian.

But now back to what the new analyses show. Obviously, as can be seen in ScandiVanadium‘s figures below, the analyzed cores show a distinct interval with values of >40 % vanadium pentoxide (red colored horizontal bars) in the uppermost part of the Alum shale (purple color and termed Dictyonema Formation). Yellow and green horizontal bars indicate intervals, where vanadium pentoxide values are 0.30-0.40 % and <0.30%, respectively. The exact values for vanadium pentoxide for the different cores are detailed on pages 6-7 (November 14, 2019) and pages 6-8 (November 29, 2019) in ScandiVanadium‘s ASX Announcement.

A look at the analytical results for hole HDD001 shows that only one of the red bar values for vanadium pentoxide attains 0.62%. The remaining seven ‘red’ horizontal bars correspond to values of between 0.43 and 0.58% vanadium pentoxide. Values shown in yellow color range between 0.31 and 0.37% vanadium pentoxide. For hole HDD001B the situation is not much different. One single sample gave a vanadium pentoxide content of 0.60%, whereas all the other samples shown by red horizonal bars only gave between 0.40 and 0.56 % vanadium pentoxide.

Stratigraphy of drill cores HDD001 and HDD001B (purple, blue, grey) and Vanadium pentoxide (V2O5) contents (%) (red, yellow, green) along the two profiles. Downloaded from: https://www.asx.com.au/asxpdf/20191114/pdf/44bkphvzxx8cnz.pdf

What about hole HDD002 then? For this drill core, only two samples provided a vanadium pentoxide content of 0.70% and 0.65%, respectively, while the other values in the red interval are between 0.40 and 0.50%. In hole HDD003b the highest value is 0.57% vanadium pentoxide for one single sample and values range between 0.40 and 0.54% vanadium pentoxide for the remaining samples shown in red color. And finally, in hole HDD005 only one sample provided 0.59% vanadium pentoxide, all other ‘red bar’ samples have values of between 0.41 and 0.54% vanadium pentoxide.

Stratigraphy of drill cores HDD002, HDD003B and HDD005 (purple, blue, grey) and Vanadium pentoxide (V2O5) contents (%) (red, yellow, green) along the three profiles. Downloaded from: https://www.asx.com.au/asxpdf/20191129/pdf/44c3bkrnsnm8g7.pdf

How do these values compare to what ScandiVanadium states on their webpage? “The project shows potential to develop a large, long life vanadium operation; with an exploration target of 610Mt – 1,200Mt @ 0.5-0.8% V2O5 (Vanadium pentoxide) in a sediment hosted black-shale ore deposit which dips gently from surface“. The results obtained on the Lyby cores do not match this statement.

None of the analyzed samples provided values of 0.8% vanadium pentoxide. Only very few samples in the five analyzed cores gave values equal to or above 0.50% vanadium pentoxide. To be exact, values equal to or above 0.50% vanadium pentoxide have been measured on 4 samples in HDD001, on 4 samples in HDD001B, on 3 samples in HDD002, on 4 samples in HDD003B and on 4 samples in HDD005. In short, these values are far from what ScandiVanadium and probably also their shareholders had expected.

But maybe ScandiVanadium is nevertheless happy with the results and will further pursue the Lybymosse mine project?

I think it would be an interesting exercise to calculate how much Alum shale will have to be dug out and processed in order to obtain economically acceptable vanadium pentoxide quantities. My guess is that one will need huge amounts of Alum shale. And all of the processed shale containing other toxic elements will of course needed to be deposited and redeposited.

 

References cited:

Eriksson, M. (2012): Stratigraphy, facies and depositional history of the Colonus Shale Trough, Skåne, southern Sweden. Master’s thesis, no 310.

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Thoughts about the 'Dictyonema shale'

About two months ago, I commented on ScandiVanadium’s drilling in Lybymosse and suggested that the extended drilling program (including additional drill holes) might be due to the fact that the company had encountered difficulties and that they might not have hit their target, the uppermost part of the Alum shale, or what is generally referred to as ‘Dictyonema shale or Formation’.

I now need to revise my former assumption, since the analytical results of the drill cores show that the uppermost part of the Alum shale, the ‘Dictyonema shale’, is indeed present in some of ScandiVanadium’s new cores.

Recently the company published two ASX Announcements, one dating November 14, 2019 and another dating November 29, 2019. The first announcement details analytical results of drill holes HDD001 and HDD001B and the second announcement the analytical results of drill holes HDD002, HDD003B, and HDD005. The position of the different drill holes is quite a bit different from the picture I showed earlier and which was based on ScandiVanadium’s original working plan. Obviously, the company moved drill hole locations, also added an additional drill hole, HDD001B, and renamed the various drill cores differently than in the original working plan. This makes it a bit difficult to follow all the whereabouts of ScandiVanadium.

Map showing the position of ScandiVanadium’s drill cores in Lybymosse. HDD001B and HDD003B are cores that were added later during the drilling campaign. High Vanadium contents were only found in cores HDD001, HDD01B, HDD002, HDD003B and HDD005, but not in HDD003 and HDD004.

In any case and as shown on the figure above, seven drill cores now exist for Lybymosse, and analyses have been presented for five of these (more about these analyses in a follow up blog contribution). In the ASX Announcement of November 29, 2019, the company writes that five drill cores (HDD001, HDD001B, HDD002, HDD003B and HDD005) intersected (= reached) the ‘Dictyonema Formation’. This would mean that the ‘Dictyonema shale’ was not found in holes HDD003 and HDD004 further to the west and east. Reasons for this could be that this part of the Alum shale has been eroded and therefore is no longer present, or that it is found in considerable depth due to tectonic movements. But it also means that the target layer is not evenly distributed in the area and that more drill holes are needed to better confine the area where a mine could possibly be opened in the future.

Cores HDD001 and HDD001B are located close to core Lyby-1, which was reported by Erlström et al. (2001). I discussed this core already earlier since Erlström et al. (2001) write that the whole Alum Shale interval (35.5-55 m) present in their drill core can be correlated to the upper Cambrian. Note that what is generally considered the ‘Dictyonema shale’ (or Dictyonema Formation) belongs in time to the next younger geological time period, the Ordovicium, and more specifically to the lowermost part of the Ordovicium.

In their ASX Announcement, ScandiVanadium now write that the ‘Dictyonema Formation’ (or shale) starts at 35.5 m in the Lyby-1 core and at 35.7 m in cores HDD001 and HDD001B, thus at a similar depth. This made me pretty confused, especially since the article by Erlström et al. (2001) does not even mention the ‘Dictyonema shale’. And now ScandiVanadium write that everything recovered below 35.7 m relates to the ‘Dictyonema Formation’ (or shale).

So I asked one of my Alum shale colleagues for advise. The answer I got was that the ‘Dictyonema shale’ (uppermost part of the Alum shale formation) cannot be separated from the rest of the Alum shale using only lithological parameters. Without detailed analyses of the fossils (so-called graptolites) in the shale, the boundary between the ‘Dictyonema shale’ and the underlying shale cannot be determined. My colleague felt pretty confident that the ‘Dictyonema shale’ was reached in ScandiVanadium‘s Lyby cores, but that its thickness remains unclear in Lyby.

The ‘Dictyonema shale’ (purple color in the two figures below) generally reaches a thickness of around 10-15 m in Skåne. The purple columns in the two figures below however represent a core length of between 15 and 30 m. I therefore draw the conclusion that the purple columns in ScandiVanadium‘s Lyby cores not only represent the ‘Dictyonema shale’ (i.e. the lower Ordovicium) as stated in the figure legend, but also parts of the Cambrian Alum shale.

ScandiVanadium’s ASX Announcement dating November 14, 2019 showing analytical results for drill cores HDD001 and HDD001B. Note that the ‘Dictyonema Formation’ mentioned here corresponds to the upper part of the Alum shale. The ‘Dictyonema shale’ has a general thickness of about 10-15 m in Skåne. Core HDD001B thus reached below the ‘Dictyonema shale’.

So what actually is the ‘Dictyonema shale’ (or Dictyonema Formation as ScandiVanadium write)? Many talk about it now since ScandiVanadium appeared in Skåne and it has become a common term, especially in Österlen. Is the ‘Dictyonema shale’ a separate and special rock type? Is it an Alum shale or something completely different? Let’s look at the various definitions and terminologies.

According to my Alum shale colleague the ‘Dictyonema shale’ is an Alum shale and forms part of the Alum shale Formation. The only way to distinguish it from other Alum shale ‘sub-units’ is by analyzing its fossil content. But – are there other ways that distinguish this uppermost part of the Alum shale from its older part?

To check this up, I went back to the paper by Schovsbo (2001) and searched for the term Dictyonema in his article. I did not find a single mentioning of Dicyonema in the paper, except for in the reference list. The only thing that Schovsbo (2001) shows, using the Gislövshammar-2 drill core (see the black and white figure further below), is that the part of the Alum shale with high Vanadium content belongs to the lower Ordovicium. Nothing more. I then checked the detailed and very nice summary of eastern Skåne’s geology by Eriksson (2012). And there I found an answer! The term ‘Dictyonema shale’ (it certainly is not a Formation as ScandiVanadium always write) refers to what Eriksson (2012) calls ‘traditional names’, that is an old terminology that is no longer in use in the scientific literature.

ScandiVanadium also state that the rocks in the cores were classified in accordance with earlier geological work in the area and with advise from geologists Niels Schovsbo and Arne Nielsen from the University of Copenhagen. I just wonder why these two geologists, who obviously are Alum shale experts, did not explain to ScandiVanadium that it would be better to name things for what they are and to not use an old terminology.

ScandiVanadium’s ASX Announcement of November 29, 2019 showing analytical results for drill cores HD002, HDD003B and HDD005. Note that the Dictyonema Formation mentioned here corresponds to the upper part of the Alum shale. The ‘Dictyonema shale’ has a general thickness of about 10-15 m in Skåne. Core HDD002 thus reached below the ‘Dictyonema shale’.

Maybe it is time to label ScandiVanadium‘s ‘Dictyonema Formation’ for what it is: nothing else but Alum shale. By using the term ‘Dictyonema Formation’ ScandiVanadium gives the impression that this rock type or rock layer interval is different and separated from the Alum shale. But it is not.

As shown in Schovsbo’s (2001) figure below, the only differences that can be seen between the uppermost part of the Alum shale and the middle and lower parts are: a) that certain important fossils allow separating between the older, middle and upper part of the Alum shale (column A) and b) that organic carbon (TOC), Sulphur, Vanadium (V) and Nickel (Ni) (columns B-E) show distinct variations between lower and higher values, which partly overlap with the fossil zones, and partly do not overlap with these zones.

ProŽfiles through the Alum Shale Formation in the Gislövshammar-2 drill core of Scania, southern Sweden. Figure 2 in Schovsbo (2001).

The high Vanadium values thus occur in a certain interval within the uppermost part of the Alum shale. This interval belongs to the geological time period called Ordovicium and more specifically, to parts of the Ordovician Stage termed ‘Tremadocian‘. Thus, it is better to name the ‘Dictyonema Shale’ or ‘Dictyonema Formation’ in a correct way: the Tremadocian Alum shale. Such a term can’t really be more difficult to use than ‘Dictyonema Shale’ or ‘Dictyonema Formation’?!

References cited

Eriksson, M. (2012): Stratigraphy, facies and depositional history of the Colonus Shale Trough, Skåne, southern Sweden. Dissertations in Geology at Lund University,
Master’s thesis, no 310.

Erlström, M., Ahlberg, P. & Löfgren, A. (2001): Lower Palaeozoic stratigraphy at Lyby and Tängelsås, central Scania, southern Sweden. GFF, Vol. 123, pp. 7–14. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233339018_Lower_Palaeozoic_stratigraphy_at_Lyby_and_Tangelsas_central_Scania_southern_Sweden

Schovsbo, N. H. (2001): Why barren intervals? A taphonomic case study of the
Scandinavian Alum Shale and its faunas. Lethaia, Vol. 34, pp. 271–285.

Posted in Alum Shale, Österlen, Jämtland, Shales, Thoughts and Tales | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alum shale and uranium

Since August 2018 it is no longer allowed to open a mine with the aim to extract uranium from Swedish bedrock. This law came into effect after years of discussions and changes have been made accordingly in the Minerals Acts and the Swedish Environmental Code.

Uranium is now removed from the list of concession minerals in the Minerals Acts (1 kap. 1 § 1 minerallagen). This means that it is no longer possible to apply for exploration licenses or exploitation concessions when it comes to uranium.

And, according to the Swedish Environmental Code (9 kap. 6 i § and 17 kap. 1 §) it is no longer possible to obtain permission to extract, process and enrich uranium from mines if the aim is to use the fissile properties of uranium. The prohibition applies both to mining operations with the extraction of uranium as a by-product as well as recycling of mining waste.

When I looked at the legal documents for this specific issue, I noticed that things are not as clear-cut as one might assume when reading the above text. As outlined here, the prohibition is not valid for mines that extract and process iron ores, basic metals, rare earth elements or other minerals for other purposes than the use of uranium as fissile material.

Does this mean that uranium can still be mined as long as it is not used for fissile purposes? Or, does it mean that uranium as a specific element can no longer be extracted and processed, but that rocks containing uranium (and many rocks do contain uranium) can still be mined and processed to for example extract iron ores, basic metals and minerals? Probably one can answer ‘yes’ to both of these questions.

Torbernite, an important secondary uranium mineral
Downloaded from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium_ore#/media/File:Torbernite_-_Cuneo,_Italia_01.jpg

What would it mean if we apply the prohibition of uranium and its exceptions to my favorite topic, the Alum shale, which is known for its high uranium content?

It would mean that all kinds of minerals and metals can be extracted from the uranium-rich Alum shale, except for uranium if it will be used for its fissile properties. But the problem is that uranium is present in the Alum shale. And that it is present in the rock fragments and the mining waste, which will be deposited in the tailings.

Uranium is very susceptible to weathering at low and high pH, which means that it is easily transported into the groundwater and streams. Mining waste from an Alum shale mine is thus not so much different from processed and mined shale in an uranium mine. And the potential environmental effects of uranium mining are well known. Some of it you can find here and here. Mining Alum shale will just entail similar environmental problems.

The obvious problems connected with mining of Alum shale have of course been recognized and have been known for many years. Point #33 in the so-called January Agreement between four of Sweden’s political parties therefore also addresses mining and exploitation of Alum shale.

How this issue is being addressed and what its outcome will be, is however still very uncertain. My guess is that if point #33 in the so-called January Agreement is being addressed it will probably end up in a regulation similar to the one for uranium: a regulation with two sides. A regulation to which all parties can agree on, a regulation that does not fence off the industry and that keeps the environmentalists happy at the same time. A very Swedish way of solving a problem.

Let’s just face the facts: the Alum shale contains many of the critical minerals and metals that are interesting and in demand right now. Mining the Alum shale could generate a lot of money.

For an economy that builds on ‘sustainable’ economic growth and for a government and an industry, which continuously talk about sustainable mining and ‘we also have to contribute our share‘ (and other moralizing statements), there is far too much money to be made and prestige to be lost. Thus I have a hard time believing that the outcome of the discussions around point #33 in the so-called January Agreement will be a complete prohibition of mining Alum shale.

The picture of sustainable mining that the mining industry tries to paint is nothing else but jumping on the sustainability bandwagon. Using the transition to a green technology as an argument for new raw materials and for extracting more minerals and metals from new mines is nothing else than rebranding mining by adding the word sustainable.

Maybe we should start scrutinizing how the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘sustainability’ are used and in which circumstances. It seems to me that these words are being grossly diluted and used everywhere just to give the impression of “we are caring about the environment and our children’s future”. I have a hard time believing this without seeing clear and sustainable proofs.

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