I had not been really updated on what is happening in Jämtland and the Storsjö area, where two companies have been exploring the Alum shale for uranium and vanadium. So now I took a closer look at what the two companies are currently up to.
The first one, EU Energy Corp seems to have disappeared, changed name or been bought up – I can’t find any information, except for at Bloomberg. The entry there sounds as if the company still exists. But when I checked the website, I got the following message:
Last year, Aura Energy also lodged compensation from the Swedish government, because “Uranium in Sweden was banned effective August 1, 2018 and Aura Energy is seeking compensation for the financial loss resulting from this decision“. According to some media, the company has asked for a compensation amounting to 17 billion Swedish kronor. In the file below, you can read more about Aura Energy‘s compensation claim.
What is pretty interesting in this respect, is that Aura Energy was absolutely aware of the fact that a ban on uranium was in the making. In a referral dated to 22nd December 2017, the company commented on the consequences a ban on uranium will have when it comes to mining in general and for their Häggån project specifically. Many of their comments were in the end also incorporated in the final legal text. So seeking compensation for loosing money because Sweden banned uranium mining is probably a shot in the dark. Below is the referral document in Swedish.
Today I read in the news that discussions had been going on between Aura Energy and the Swedish government. The amount of money claimed by Aura Energy is now not cited as 17 billion SEK, but as 1,8 billion SEK.
The lawyers, who advise the Swedish government, concluded that Sweden had not violated any treaties or laws by banning uranium exploration and mining. Accordingly, there are no conditions for any kind of settlement. Moreover, Aura Energy has no legal right to claim compensation because the treaty to which the company had referred to had been signed but not ratified by Australia.
So far so good.
Another interesting issue is currently whether mining of Alum shale should be banned completely because the shale contains many toxic elements, including high amounts of uranium. This issue had been included in the government’s January agreement. Just a few weeks ago, the Swedish government has appointed a person, who shall analyze unconditionally how the regulatory framework for the extraction of metals and minerals from the Alum shale can be sharpened. It will be very interesting to follow this investigation!
Most people have some knowledge in biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics, but very few are actually familiar with geology. Of course everyone knows about dinosaurs, most people also know about volcanoes and earthquakes and how devastating a tsunami can be. But do they actually relate these phenomena to geology?
Geology has many names: geoscience, geological science, earth science, some even include the subject under geography. The different names and definitions of the subject have led to numerous and lengthy discussions over the years: What is the difference between geology and geosciences? What is the difference between earth sciences and geology? And what is the difference between geology and geography? Are they all the same or are these disciplines different in one way or another?
Wikipedia actually provides good definitions and includes geology as a subject within the much broader discipline of earth sciences and both are explained as follows:
Earth sciences, which is a much broader field encompasses ... the study of geology, the lithosphere, and the large-scale structure of the Earth’s interior, as well as the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. Typically, Earth scientists use tools from geology, chronology, physics, chemistry, geography, biology, and mathematics to build a quantitative understanding of how the Earth works and evolves. Earth science affects our everyday lives. For example, meteorologists study the weather and watch for dangerous storms. Hydrologists study water and warn of floods. Seismologists study earthquakes and try to understand where they will strike. Geologists study rocks and help to locate useful minerals. Earth scientists often work in the field—perhaps climbing mountains, exploring the seabed, crawling through caves, or wading in swamps. They measure and collect samples (such as rocks or river water), then they record their findings on charts and maps.
Now – why am I at all writing about all of this? Because I think more people should be made aware of what geology and earth sciences actually are and how they influence so much of our daily life. Geology is not just dinosaurs and earthquakes – it is much more than this. Using geological knowledge about Earth’s history and Earth’s rocks, we are able to extract all the raw materials needed in our daily life. And we really extract and use a huge amount of minerals and metals for construction, cars, electronic devices, household items, weapons, …. the list could of course be made so much longer!
The table below illustrates how many tons of metals and minerals were globally produced in the year 2012, how much of it is recycled and when peak production may occur (according to a model).
Do we ever reflect upon where all the raw materials actually come from? From where in the world? From which type of rock? Do we ever reflect upon that extraction of these raw materials means mining, often large scale mining that has devastating effects on people’s health, on groundwater, biodiversity, food production, …, …. ?
Let’s have a look at what a smart phone – a device which very many people use daily – contains in terms of metals. All these elements have once been part of a rock and have been extracted in mines somewhere in the world.
Where does all the raw material actually come from? Where is it mined and under which circumstances and which consequences does mining have in these countries? The map below shows in which countries all these raw materials are mined. It is obvious that Europe does not have any significant mines that produce raw materials for smart phones.
Most of the mining is done in China, followed by Russia and Peru. But also Canada, USA, Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Argentina, Congo, Rwanda and South Africa, India, Burma, Indonesia, Australia and the Republic of Korea have important mines where smart phone minerals are extracted. Most of these mines (if not all) operate under non-sustainable conditions. Waste from these mines will form very severe environmental problems for water and soils for a long time.
What is also often forgotten is that mining creates dust particles, which contain toxic elements. The smallest dust particles can travel over long distances, far away from a mine. When very tiny particles are inhaled, then they get stuck in our lungs and accumulate there for ever, causing severe lung problems. Of course this problem does not only relate to mining, it is of concern when it comes to all types of tiny particles.
“Environmental” problems can sound pretty abstract. Indeed I have many times heard the following comments: “A bit of pollution does not harm the environment that much“, “nature can heal itself“, “we have always had some pollution“, “the whole talk about environmental pollution is exaggerated“, “there are safe ways of mining“, “storage of mining waste is safe”. What is forgotten, however, is that we all depend on clean water, clean air and a healthy soil for agriculture. Once these basic needs are no longer available, life will become pretty different.
With more smart phones in use and with a change of phone every two years, and no recycling, more minerals have to be extracted and more mines have to be opened. More mining waste is created, …. I guess you can imagine the consequences.
Maybe one could think twice before buying a new smart phone, a new car or a new and bigger TV? All of these need metals, metals, metals, and these need to be mined somewhere. It is easy to imagine that a larger phone, a larger TV, and a larger car means that more metals are needed as compared to a smaller phone, a smaller car, a smaller TV.
Maybe we do not need more than one smart phone or more than one car or more than one TV? However, if we think that we need all of this and much more, then we will also need more mines, we will also need to open mines in our backyard and we will need to make sacrifices.
I am not saying that we should stop using all these raw materials. But I think that we must become much more conscious about their origin and must better understand the enormous environmental impact mining has, worldwide and in Sweden.
Raw materials are not something one digs up, processes, uses and then throws away. Raw material is not a resource that can be extracted endlessly, as can be seen in the Table above. Yet we need it and we cannot live without it.
But in order to understand the complexity of it all, we also need to have a basic knowledge of geology and of the geological terminology. Raw materials are nothing else but geological material.
Who knows, where in Sweden the next exploration permits are granted? Without geological knowledge we are not able to correctly understand the documents issued by the exploration company or to present relevant arguments against or in favor. Without geological knowledge we are not able to access and understand the information provided by the Geological Survey of Sweden, nor are we able to interpret the various geological maps. Without geological knowledge we are also not able to assess the ecological consequences a future mine and its mining waste might have.
Because of the large impact geology and earth sciences have on our life, much more people should actually learn about geology and study geology. Take an evening course or a distance course at any of our universities to start with!
Clean and healthy water is probably one of the most important things for our survival. We are really fortunate here in Sweden that we can drink tap water, that we can cook with clean water, water our plants with clean water and shower in clean water. This is not the case in many other places. I remember a travel to Guanajuato in Mexico, which still is an important silver and gold mining area.
One of the old silver mines is actually a tourist attraction. What I remember most is that tap water could not be used to brush teeth, that the water coming out of the shower was extremely polluted and that the only water than could be used was bottled. At that time I had no idea how much pollution acid mine drainage can cause.
Later visits to Asia, where tap water also often is a no go, reinforced how precious clean drinking water is. We really should value what we have!
Therefore now a little note on the groundwater in the area, where ScandiVanadium wants to drill and eventually open a mine in the Alum shale to extract vanadium. The rationale for the company is that a greener future needs green technologies and one of these green technologies would be so-called Vanadium redox-flow batteries, which allow storing sun or wind energy for later use. Of course it is never mentioned in these future mining plans that mining consumes huge amounts of water, emits huge amounts of carbon dioxide and leaves huge amounts of toxic waste behind.
Where does the groundwater in the area around Onslunda, Spjutstorp and Fågeltofta, where the company plans for exploration drilling, come from?
Ground water aquifers can be found in the bedrock, but also fluvioglacial sediments (= isälvssediment) are good groundwater aquifers. Around Onslunda, Spjutstorp and Fågeltofta, the dominant glacial sediments are till (= morän; blue color) and fluvioglacial sediments (= isälvssediment; green color), as can be seen on the maps below. A marked esker (= ås) runs in an east-west direction south of Onslunda and Kullentorp and a smaller esker (= ås) can be spotted southwest of Fågeltofta (blue dotted line). Eskers (åsar) consist of coarse sediment, such as sand, gravel and rounded stones. Some eskers (åsar) can extend over long distances and were deposited by rivers draining the huge inland ice that melted 18 000-16 000 years ago. Other eskers (åsar) are much smaller, such as those close to Onslunda and Fågeltofta, which are probably related to melting of dead ice. Today these eskers (åsar) can function as an important groundwater aquifer. Would this be the case for the esker (åsar) deposits around Onslunda and Fågeltofta?
To check this up, I consulted the well archive (=Brunnsarkivet), which is available at the Geological Survey of Sweden, and several groundwater maps. I found information for more than 65 wells drilled around Onslunda and Spjutstorp and for 16 wells drilled in the area around Fågeltofta. The total depth for the different wells ranges between 11 and 150 m and it seems that most, if not all, of the wells reach the underlying bedrock.
Groundwater was however also found in much shallower depth, between 0 and 6 m, but this shallow aquifer does not seem to be used for wells. The reason is probably that groundwater availability is limited, or that the water does not qualify as drinking water. Indeed, by looking at the map below, it becomes obvious that the fluvioglacial sediments have a fairly low groundwater capacity. They deliver less than 1 l of groundwater per second and rarely exceed 5 l/second, except for in the very southern part of the map, where measurements indicate 5-25 l/second.
Looking at the Hydrogeological map for Skåne (Gustafsson, O. 1999; Sveriges geologiska undersökning, Ah 15. ISBN 91-7158-625-3) shown below, a similar picture appears. The brown colored areas on the map are a poor groundwater resource (<1l/s), whereas the light purple and blue areas are moderate (1-5 l/s) to good (5-25 l/s) groundwater resources, respectively. These areas correspond to where fluvioglacial sediments are found.
In contrast, aquifers in fractured bedrock (crystalline bedrock, sandstone, Alum shale, and so on) have fairly good (light green color on the map) (600-2000 l/s) and good (darker green color on the map) (2000-6000 l/s) exploitation potentials.
Wells drilled in bedrock thus seem to be the only alternative to obtain sufficient drinking water. However, there is a lot of Alum shale in the bedrock. Indeed, during drilling of deep wells in the Onslunda-Spjutstorp and Fågeltofta area, the well driller reported badly smelling water, which hints at sulfur-rich Alum shale. I cannot imagine that any of the wells that are in use derive their water from the shale, since it is not a good aquifer given its high content of uranium and other toxic elements.
Where do all the deep wells then get their water from? The really deep wells probably reach as far as into the Cambrian sandstone. Other, less deep wells might – depending on the bedrock – tap into aquifers in the Ordovician-Silurian shale.
The maps definitely tell us that the areas around Onslunda, Spjutstorp and Fågeltofta are really sensitive when it comes to groundwater. First of all, wells have to be deep enough to reach good aquifers; secondly, drilling deep wells costs a lot of money; and thirdly should these deep wells be polluted by mining and/or acid mining waste, then farming will no longer be possible.
Any type of surface pollution will also easily spread to other areas via the fluvioglacial aquifers (brown color in the map below), which are connected and form a broad band stretching all the way to the Baltic Sea.
Let’s continue a bit more along the geology trail! After all geology is fun and interesting and many more should get insight into the subject – that’s at least what I think :-))
Linking geology to real life is a good way of showing how important geological knowledge actually is. Here comes a bit more of this – this time with a focus on another of ScandiVanadium‘s planned exploration targets. For those of you not familiar with ScandiVanadium: this is the company who has re-discovered that parts of the Alum shale in Skåne contain very high amounts of the element vanadium. Vanadium has recently gained more importance and interest because it can be used in so-called vanadium redox batteries (VRB) or vanadium redox flow batteries (VRFB), which allow storing sun and wind energy for later use.
Fågeltofta’s geology is very similar to that around Onslunda and Spjutstorp. The same rocks appear here and also the same type of glacial sediments, which means sediments deposited in connection with the melting of the last ice sheet. Let’s start again with the glacial sediments, which are at or close to the surface. The map below shows how these sediments are distributed on the surface in the area.
The blue colored area marks different types of glacial till (= morän in Swedish) and the green colored areas show fluvioglacial sand, gravel and stones. Till (= morän in Swedish) is the geological name for sediment material that had been released by the ice sheet when it started to melt some 18 000 to 16 000 years ago. There has been much confusing regarding the word morän, because it denotes both a land form (for example ändmorän, lateralmorän) and a sediment (morän) in Swedish. To avoid these confusions, which are important from a scientific perspective, scientists call a morän with the more appropriate terms glacial diamicton or a till. The green colored areas denote the occurrence of sediment deposited by rivers draining the ice sheet. In Swedish these sediments are – in general terms – called isälvssediment, and in English they are summarized under the term fluvio-glacial.
Much of the area around Fågeltofta is covered by glacial till (= morän), but there is also a larger complex with fluvioglacial sediments (= isälvssediment) extending from north of Fågeltofta further south. I guess that these sediments originate from when the ice sheet had melted and only big chunks of dead ice remained. Water circulating between the blocks of dead ice then accumulated all the sand, gravel and rounded stones.
Now let’s take a step further and look at the bedrock map for Fågeltofta, which shows how rocks of different ages are distributed below the glacial sediments. The geological map for Fågeltofta is actually very similar to that for Spjutstorp and Onslunda, the same rocks and very similar features.
I really like geological maps, because so much information can be gained from these. Now I will try and explain as much of the information as I can.
First of all, the different colors on the map above show the horizontal distribution of rocks of different ages. From left to right, we see the extension of quarzites and sandstones of lower Cambrian age (brown color with white spots); the next younger rocks are the Alum shales of middle Cambrian and lower Ordovician age (dark olive color); the lighter olive color marks the limestones, mudstones and shales of middle and upper Ordovician age and the blue color represents the youngest rocks here, the Silurian shales (blue color).
Secondly, the map also shows us that rocks younger than the Silurian shales are missing and must have been eroded. We can moreover see that where Ordovician and Cambrian rocks are close to the surface, all younger rock types must have been eroded. These had of course been present at some point, but erosion during hundreds of millions of years has led to their removal.
Thirdly, the map shows us that rocks older than the Silurian shales are very likely preserved below the blue colored area. This means that below the Silurian rocks we could find first limestones, mudstones and shales of upper and middle Ordovician age; below these latter we will find Alum shales of lower Ordovician and middle Cambrian age and below these quarzites and sandstones of lower Cambrian age. The reason why ScandiVanadium wants to core in the light olive colored area (upper and middle Ordovician) is that they suspect to find intact lower Ordovician age Alum shales below. Indeed the map tells us that lower Ordovician age Alum shales (Oal) can be found at a depth of about 18 m below glacial sediments.
This type of information has been obtained from well drillings (Brunnsarkivet) (marked as B in a circle on the map above). Well drillers provide important information for geological maps since they note the depth to bedrock and also the type of bedrock encountered at different depths. Thus when looking at the map above, we can for example see the signs B, Cha 4 and U 20 close to Fulltofta. This means that in the drilled well (B), quarzites and sandstones of lower Cambrian age (Cha) are at 4 m below the moraine and that the Precambrian bedrock (urberget) (U) is at 20 m depth. Similarly we can see that in a well (B) close to Bondrum, limestones, mudstones and shales of upper and middle Ordovician age (O) are at 3 m below the moraine, that the lower Ordovician age Alum shales (Oal) lies at 18 m depth and the quarzites and sandstones of lower Cambrian age (Cha) at 126 m depth.
What more does the geological map tell us? The dashed lines between rocks of different ages and the marked black line between the Silurian and Ordovician rocks show that significant tectonic movements have taken place. How these have influenced the rocks cannot be seen from the map, but I suspect that such tectonic movements could make the geological succession of the rocks a bit more complicated since larger rock packages could have been eroded. But let’s see what ScandiVanadium‘s drill cores will show.
I have not mentioned the purple colored lines on the geological map. These indicate the approximate location of dolerite/diabase dikes, which formed during Permian–Carboniferous time when magma from Earth’s interior intruded into older rocks. It is possible to get a more precise picture by looking at a geophysical map. This map, shown below, shows in red the extension of dolerite/diabase dikes.
Given that ScandiVanadium‘s drill cores are located close to these dolerite/diabase dikes, I would suggest that the company performs detailed geophysical investigations prior to coring. Otherwise the coring campaign could turn out as difficult as it seems to have been in Lybymosse. After all they are out there to find Alum shale and not any dolerite/diabase.
Recently, Bergsstaten – the Mining Inspectorate of Sweden – approved ScandiVanadium‘s latest work plan (May 8th, 2019) for coring close to Spjutstorp (license Killeröd 1) and Fågeltofta (license Fågeltofta 1) in Österlen. In its decision, the Mining Inspectorate writes that the planned drilling needs to be performed between February 25 and October 25 this year. Obviously it is possible to appeal this decision. But I am not really sure about how Bergsstaten‘s decision should be interpreted: does it mean that ScandiVanadium can start their coring right now or only after Mark- och Miljödomstolen in Växjö has dealt with the appeals? I guess that those who are impacted by ScandiVanadium‘s work plan will actually also appeal the decision.
For Spjutstorp/Killeröd 1, Bergsstaten has approved seven drill holes, in contrast to the 8-10 drill holes that were mentioned in ScandiVanadium‘s work plan, but had not been shown on the maps accompanying the work plan. For Fågeltofta 1, three drill core locations have been approved. As in their earlier work plans for Lybymosse, ScandiVanadium states that about 2-3 days will be needed to drill each hole. That this is an oversimplification has been shown by their drilling campaign in Lybymosse, which started in August last year and ended sometime in October. Drilling each hole in Lybymosse took much longer than the 2-3 days anticipated by the company. Why was this the case? Probably because ScandiVanadium did not do their home work well and had not read the existing geological literature.
Bergsstaten writes that the exploration work must be performed in accordance with what ScandiVanadium Ltd has stated in its work plan dated May 8th, 2019. In the work plan, ScandiVanadium writes that 1-2 months are needed for exploration in each area and that 2-3 days are needed to core one drill hole. But what happens if the work takes more than 2 months and drilling more than 3 days, as has been the case in Lybymosse? Will this still be in accordance with the working plan?
Although the whole issue may thus be pending until a decision has been reached by Mark- och Miljödomstolen in Växjö, I thought it would be timely to revisit the geology of the planned exploration areas. I will start with the geology around Spjutstorp and Onslunda and will write about Fågeltofta’s geology in a follow up text.
Let’s start with the surface geology, i.e. with the sediments above the bedrock. Most of the sediments in the area are glacial sediments, which means that they were deposited in connection with the last ice sheet. These are different types of till (= morän in Swedish) and glacifluvial sediments (= isälvssediment in Swedish). These sediments were deposited some 18 000-16 000 years ago, when the last ice sheet started to melt in the area.
Unfortunately, the map above does not show the thickness of these sediments, but we can use the extensive documentation provided by well drillers (Brunnsarkivet). Many wells have been drilled in the area and their location is actually shown on the bedrock map below (marked by a B with a circle). The documentation tells us that the glacial sediments have a thickness of between 4 and 21 m and that below 4 to 21 m, we will find bedrock.
Of course, for mapping the geology in the area, the well documentation is of great help, because the well drillers also indicate which type of bedrock they have found at which depth, how deep they have drilled and where they have found groundwater and how much.
The different colors on the geological map above show the different rock types and the ages of the respective rocks. Basically, from left to right, the rocks become successively older. The youngest rocks shown on the map are Silurian shales (blue color), the next older rocks are limestones, mudstones and shales of Ordovician age (light olive color) and next next older rocks are the Alum shales of lower Ordovician and middle Cambrian age (olive color). The oldest rocks are the quarzites and sandstones of lower Cambrian age (brown color with white spots).
The purple colored lines represent the approximate location of dolerite (diabase) dikes, which are much younger than the rocks. These dikes represent magma, which intruded into the older rocks some time during the Permian–Carboniferous, when Skåne experienced strong tectonic movements. The map also shows a marked deformation zone at the contact between the Silurian shales and the Ordovician rocks (black stippled line), which also originates from tectonic movements.
What one needs to imagine when looking at this map is, that older rocks are (almost always) found below younger rocks. Around Spjutstorp and below the blue colored Silurian shales, we will find limestones, mudstones and shales of Ordovician age and below these Alum shales of lower Ordovician and middle Cambrian age and below these quarzites and sandstones of lower Cambrian age. Further towards Onslunda limestones, mudstones and shales of Ordovician age are found, and below these are the Alum shales of lower Ordovician and middle Cambrian age and below these the quarzites and sandstones of lower Cambrian age, and so on. The map also shows us that much erosion has taken place. In an ideal case we would have the absolute youngest rocks all over the place and below these we would find a succession of continuously older rocks. But this is not the case. What we see on the map, is that only parts of the original succession of rocks are preserved. For example, everything that was deposited above the quarzites and sandstones of lower Cambrian age (brown with white dots) has been eroded. And everything that once had been deposited above the Alum shales of lower Ordovician and middle Cambrian age (olive color) has been eroded.
Focus of ScandiVanadium is on the lower Ordovician Alum shale (which the company stubbornly calls Dictyonema Formation) and which is known for its high content in vanadium. In order to obtain a full sequence of these shales and to understand the sequence of rocks, the company plans to drill through the limestones, mudstones and shales of Ordovician age, assuming that below these they will find the lower Ordovician Alum shale. Using the well drilling archive (Brunnsarkivet), we also know that these rocks (Oal) can be found at depths of between 12 and 30 m close to ScandiVanadium‘s anticipated coring points 4-8. But the company obviously also wants to core where the lower Ordovician and middle Cambrian Alum shale is closer to the surface (coring point 3).
All this seems pretty straight forward, but just looking at the bedrock types is not the whole story. It is also important to consider what happened to the rocks at a later stage.
What happened was that during Permian–Carboniferous time magma from Earth’s interior intruded through these older rocks. These dolerite/diabase dikes therefore cut through the sandstone, limestone and shales (purple lines on the geological map), preferably along weaker zones in the overlying rocks.
The boundaries between a dolerite/diabase dike and the surrounding bedrock are often fractured zones, where water can easily percolate and reach underlying rocks. The contact zones between dolerite/diabase dikes and other rock types are therefore often also important zones for groundwater transport. And as such can be easily contaminated.
The sketch below illustrates what a dike can look like. Younger magma from deep inside the earth intrudes into older rocks and seeps into the different layers. The resulting sills and dike are what can today be found at the surface and also in deeper layers.
There are actually several of these dolerite/diabase dikes close to Onslunda. They have been mapped using geophysical instruments. The map below shows that ScandiVanadium‘s coring locations 8, 3, 4, and 6 seem to be positioned in close proximity to these dikes. It is of course not possible to say exactly where the dikes occur and how wide and deep they are using this map only. Their exact position should be determined with geophysical instruments prior to drilling.
Drilling through a dolerite/diabase dike is not so simple. Avoiding dikes is a good idea, but it cannot be done before the vertical and horizontal extent of the dike has been mapped. I wonder if ScandiVanadium has any plans to map the dikes more exactly with geophysical instruments prior to drilling?
The announcement by ScandiVanadium – the company which is exploring the Scanian Alum shale for vanadium – that it secured 500 000 SEK for a joint project from VINNOVA has made headlines in the media and has outraged people on Facebook.
First what is VINNOVA? VINNOVA is a Swedish funding agency which – according to the information on their website – supports the build up of Sweden’s innovation capacity by funding research and innovation projects, but also by coordinating strategic initiatives and collaborating with actors across all sectors. One line of funding is within the strategic innovation programme for mining and metal recovery – STRIM, which opened a call for applications last year and announced its decisions a few weeks ago..
ScandiVanadium, together with partners, had applied for a 6 months pre-study project and was granted 500 000 kr, as announced by ScandiVanadium to its investors. The requirements for a pre-study are detailed on STRIM’s website. For a pre-study, applicants must, among other requirements, be able to demonstrate industrial relevance in the form of a letter of intent from at least one company. Also only a maximum of 75 per cent of the project’s eligible costs are being funded.
ScandiVanadium made a big issue of the fact that they were granted the pre-study by VINNOVA, and as is typical for the company, made an elephant out of a mouse. It sounds in the announcement as if the Swedish Government had selected the one and only ScandiVanadium for finally solving the following long-standing issue:
“The project builds on work undertaken by ScandiVanadium to develop a process flow sheet capable of financially viable and environmentally acceptable recovery of vanadium from the Dictyonema Formation. Test work will focus on the application of Pressure Oxidation Leaching to recover vanadium in a closed loop system, expanding on previous studies to determine the appropriate conditions of pressure, temperature, oxygen and pH.”
What ScandiVanadium wants to do is test how vanadium can be best extracted from vanadium-rich Alum shale by processing a certain number of rock samples. From where these samples are is unclear, but since the ASX Announcement again refers to the Hörby / Lybymosse drill cores (“ScandiVanadium is pleased to have secured funding to maximise the benefit of drilling conducted at Hörby“), I assume that samples from these drill cores will be processed. Samples from Hörby contain a certain amount of vanadium, but not the high values, which the company had hoped for. My guess is therefore, that samples from Flagabro, where the desired shale occurs along a creek, are used for these test runs instead.
It is not easy to scrutinize the project application, since Vinnova blackened much of the application due to confidentiality/secrecy. This is actually possible according to Swedish law (30 kap. 23 § första stycket punkt 1 OSL) in the following case: Confidentiality applies to information that concerns individual business and operating conditions, inventions or research results if it can be assumed that the individual suffers damage if the information is revealed (my translation of the Swedish text). According to Vinnova, the blackened information, such as research methods, the exact budget, test methods, technical descriptions, research focus and CV, if revealed would lead to damage.
So how much can be gained from the application, despite all the blackened parts? First of all that the project will focus on the Pressure Oxydation Leaching technique; that it will explore the appropriate conditions of pressure, temperature, oxygen and pH to test how much vanadium can be recovered from the Alum shale, and that it will characterize the clay minerals, which host vanadium. All in all, the overarching goal is to find an economic and environmental sustainable recovery of vanadium from Alum shale. The long-term goal of the project is to assist in the development of a local Swedish supply of vanadium, which could strengthen the Swedish mining sector and expand it southern Sweden.
The CV’s of the persons involved from ScandiVanadium, David Minchin and John Turney, and for two other persons are also blackened, while that for project partner Geologica Consult AB is visible. It is not clear to me why there is a need to blacken all these persons CV? What is so confidential about these?
So much secrecy when it comes to a Vinnova-financed project obviously leads to suspicion. Especially since Vinnova’s research budget is tax payers’ money. It is therefore no surprise that people get upset when they read that tax payers money goes into financing a project that aims at finding the best way to extract vanadium from Alum shale; that the project application is by a foreign company which has claimed 22 000 ha of land in southern Sweden for exploration and which has the clear aim to open up mines somewhere within the claimed land area.
In addition, and as stated in the proposal, the results of this pre-study could form the base for future full-scale innovation projects with the following potential impacts: Improved societal acceptance of mineral processing plant operation due to higher resource efficiency and less emissions and waste; increased awareness of civil society of how the mining industry can improve the quality of life in society; generation of new knowledge through research to be included in educational programs and trainings.
In the eyes of many – this pilot project, financed by tax payers’ money, is nothing else but paving the way for future mines in the Alum shale. It is still a very long way to go before an eventual mine in the Alum shale will open in Skåne and Österlen. But ScandiVanadium‘s Vinnova (tax payer)-financed pre-study and the confidentially-marked parts in the application, leave a bitter taste.
I doubt if ScandiVanadium‘s future project will increase the awareness of civil society of how the mining industry can improve the quality of life in society or will improve societal acceptance of mineral processing plant operation due to higher resource efficiency and less emissions and waste. On the contrary, the whole story shows ignorance towards those who work and live on the claimed land areas, leads to a deepening of the land – city contrast and to questions regarding democratic decision making.
ScandiVanadium concluded, based on their Lybymosse drill cores, that the “Dictyonema Formation” had been reached. First I thought that they are probably not correct. But when they reported their first results, I thought that they are indeed correct and that what they got actually does correspond to the lower Ordovician Alum shale (or what the company calls Dictyonema shale). I based this conclusion on the observation that in a normal stratigraphic succession older rocks are below younger rocks. But the thought that something is not as it should be, did not leave me. So I had another but different go at the available geological data sets.
We know from the geological literature and from previous drill cores that the lower Ordovician part of the Alum shale (which is called Tremadocian) is marked by especially high vanadium values of between 2500 and almost 5000 parts per million (ppm). It had been speculated in the older literature that these high vanadium values could be used to correlate the “Dictyonema shale” over larger distances. So I thought why not compare the vanadium values in the Lyby drill cores with those of the Gislövshammar-2 drill core, for which different data sets are available (Schovsbo 2001). Fossils that were analyzed in the Gislövshammar-2 drill core, alongside with geochemical variables, clearly show that the very high vanadium values relate to a specific zone in the upper part of the Alum shale. This zone is attributed to the lower Ordovician and corresponds to what is named Dictyonema shale by ScandiVanadium.
So I asked myself: are the reported vanadium values for Lybymosse actually in the same range as those that have been published for the Gislövshammar-2 drill core? If so, then it would be easy to correlate between the two sites and once for all conclude that ScandiVanadium‘s Dictyonema shale is present in the Lyby drill cores.
To solve the problem I looked again at ScandiVanadium‘s Lyby mosse data set, which is detailed in their latest ASX Announcement and made my own figures using the reported values. I also used the published Gislövshammar-2 drill core data set (Schovsbo 2001) for comparisons.
What did I find?
Let’s first look again at what ScandiVanadium reported and what is shown in the figure below: three drill cores (HDD002, HDD003B, HDD005) in which the rocks from top to bottom are shown as: grey color – Didymograptus (which refers to a middle Ordovician shale), blue color – middle OrdovicianKomstad limestone and purple color – Dictyonema Formation (= lower Ordovician Alum shale). Reported percentages for vanadium pentoxide are shown by the green, yellow and red bars.
To make the comparisons, I converted the reported vanadium values (ppm) from the Gislövshammar-2 data set to vanadium pentoxide percentages and copied ScandiVanadium‘s reported vanadium pentoxide values into a spreadsheet. Then I was ready to make a few figures for comparing the data sets.
The part of the Gislövshammar drill core shown in the figure below comprises from top to bottom the Ordovician Alum shale (= Dictyonema) and the Cambrian Alum shale. The boundary between the two is at around 39.5 m depth. The Ordovician Alum shale has increasing vanadium pentoxide values and shows highest values of between 0.5 and 0.9% in the uppermost part. It is this part with significantly high vanadium values that has drawn the attention of ScandiVanadium. Values remain continuously high in the upper part of the Gislövshammar drill core and only decrease again in the very top.
But what do the Lyby cores show? Only two samples in HDD002, only three samples in HDD003B and only three samples in HDD005 reach above 0.5% vanadium pentoxide. Although samples were taken continuously along the Lyby drill cores, meaning that intervals with especially high vanadium pentoxide levels should have been able to detect, none of the samples reaches the values that are typical for the Dictyonema shale/lower Ordovician Alum shale (which are 0.5-0.9% vanadium pentoxide). As can be seen in the figure above, vanadium pentoxide percentages in the Lyby cores mainly range between 0.2 and 0.5%. Such values are very similar to those in the upper part of the Cambrian Alum shale and in the lowermost part of the Ordovician Alum shale in the Gislövshammar drill core.
Which part of the Alum shale is then actually present in the Lyby cores? Is it the lowermost part of the Ordovician Alum shale or is it the upper Cambrian Alum shale? These questions are difficult to answer given the available data sets. To answer these questions, we would need a detailed description of the rocks and an analysis of the tiny fossils in the Lyby cores to being able to exactly correlate to the Gislövshammar core.
But what is sure is that the Lyby cores did not reach the target – the interval with vanadium pentoxide percentages of 0.5-0.9%.
Also, independent from the question which part of the Alum shale is actually present in the Lyby drill cores, it is obvious that the intervals with slightly elevated vanadium pentoxide levels are at depths of 50 to 95 m, which is pretty deep for an open mine. It is also obvious that mining of an Alum shale with such low vanadium pentoxide values would mean that enormous amounts of shale will need to be processed and the remains deposited somewhere. All in all a very doubtful project.
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. Oslo. ISSN 0024-1164.