Coring in Lyby Mosse

Scandivanadium will finally start drilling. Their first location is south of Lyby, a small hamlet in the central part of Skåne, which belongs to Hörby commune. Five cores will be drilled by the company DrillCon from Nora as part of Scandivanadium’s ‘maiden drill campaign’. (Sorry, Scandivanadium – but what does a ‘maiden’ have to do with a drilling campaign?).

Scandivanadium’s goal is, as my readers may know by now, the Dictyonema Shale (or Formation or Seam), which is of lower Ordovician age and forms part of the Alum Shale. Scandivanadium would like to target the Dictyonema Shale because of its known high content of Vanadium, a metal used for so-called Vanadium-Redox-Flow-Batteries (or VRFBs). These type of batteries allow storage of for example wind and sun energy for up to one year. By mining Vanadium in Skåne, which is Scandivanadium’s ultimate goal, the company will – as they write in the numerous postings – contribute to a sustainable future with green/fossil-free energy.

However, it is probably a long way until mining for Vanadium will start in Skåne, if it ever will start. Mining the Alum Shale is not a straight forward undertaking, because the rocks are known to contain a range of hazardous metals, which easily leak into the environment when the shale is exposed to weathering. Several studies that have been made around former Alum Shale mines in southern Sweden, have clearly demonstrated this and show leakage of for example uranium.

The choice of starting drilling in Lyby was made easy for Scandivanadium since the land owner and the communal board of Hörby consented. So now drilling of the five deep drill cores with a length of up to 125 m /each will start in August and the campaign will last for approximately three weeks. It will be really interesting to see what the core material looks like and what will happen with these hundreds of meters of cored rock. How will Scandivanadium dispose of the drilled rock? Will they take it away and store it safely? Will the drill cores be made available for science? Will the drill location be left behind in a mess? What type of ‘metallurgic’ analyses will they perform? Will the holes be filled in and sealed?

I had a look at the geological map for the planned exploration area and for fun I placed the five drill locations on the geological map. As can be seen from the figure below and from the legend, the drill cores are placed in areas where rocks younger than the Dictyonema Shale are close to the surface. These rocks are covered by sediments deposited by the last ice sheet, but how thick these are, I can only guess.

According to information from well drillings, the Alum Shale (and Dictyonema Shale) can here be found at a depth of about 35 m. Even if we would assume that the rocks are covered by 50 m of glacial sediments, a core depth of 125 m seems a bit overshooting (see below).

The distance between the individual drilling locations is less than 2 km.

The publication by Erlström et al. (2001) presents data for a 55 m long drill core from Lyby Mosse. Erlström et al. (2001) note that glacial sediments here had a thickness of 12.5 m, that these sediments are underlain by 17 m of Didymograptus Shale and 6 m of Komstad Limestone and that the Alum Shale formation starts at around 36 m depth. The core covered the lower Ordovician Alum Shale and the Upper Cambrian Alum Shale. However the authors did not specifically separate the Dictyonema Shale from the Alum Shale, therefore its thickness is a bit unclear. In any case it tells me that 125 m for each drill hole, as Scandivanadium write, is too much.

Drill cores are not dangerous (deep wells are for example drilled all the time) and if done correctly they will and should not harm the environment and the groundwater. These drill cores are however only the first step, since many more cores are needed to in the end determine the extension of the Vanadium-bearing seam. My guess is that the area south of Lyby, where the Alum Shale occurs is far too small to be of real future economic interest as a mine.

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History is talking

Mining of Alum Shale is not a new idea at all. Alum Shale has been mined for centuries in Sweden and today we are left with huge heavy metal (and Uranium) leaking piles of mining waste.

Initially the Alum Shale was mined for Alum. Alum has been used since ancient times for a variety of applications: for example for dyeing and tanning, for cosmetics and food preparation, for stemming bleeding when shaving, water treatment, and so on.

The first place, where alum was mined in Sweden was in Andrarum in Österlen. The mine opened in 1637 and was more or less continuously active until 1906. Visitors can today look at what is left from this huge mine, but they will probably not notice how weathering of the broken shale leads to release of heavy metals and uranium and how these are transported by the small stream Verkeån into the Baltic Sea.

Andrarums alunbruk 1.jpg
Mining waste from the old mine at Andrarum
Downloaded from Av Jorchr – Eget arbete, CC BY 3.0, Länk

The mine at Andrarum was also active between 1942 and 1945. During these years mining focused on Vanadium.

The next Alum Shale mine opened in Degerhamn on Öland in 1723 and was active until 1890. Today a huge deposit (2.6 million cubic meters on an area of 63 hectare) with burnt Alum Shale (red ash) remains and leaks directly into the Baltic Sea. A news article from 2005 states: “The red ash contains numerous pollutants and most dangerous for humans is arsenic. The red ash at Degerhamn forms a risk for humans and nature and the county government therefore commissioned an investigation. Numerous samples have been analysed for poisonous substances and to understand how much may leak out and how dangerous the red ash is for inhabitants and tourists. The red ash contains high amounts of uranium, cadmium, barium, vanadium and molybdenum, but it is arsenic that is most dangerous. Small children, who happen to put soil or red ash in their mouths risk poisoning and even skin contact with red ash can be dangerous. Should someone grow something on the land, then the vegetables can be dangerous to eat.” (my free translation). This newspaper article sounds really alarming. But probably people have forgotten most of this by now. After all it has been published 14 years ago ….

A few decades after the mine at Degerhamn opened, mining of Alum Shale started in Latorp in Närke (1765-1869) and even today the huge red ash deposits are still present.

Alum Shale mine in Latorp.

Later on, the Alum Shale became very interesting as a gas and oil reservoir and mines opened, among others in Fornåsa in Östergötland, Kinnekulle in Västergötland (1909-1915) and Kvarntorp in Närke (1942-1966).

The mine at Kinnekulle in Västergötland, produced up to 500 ton of oil per year by heating up Alum Shale. Today, the area is part of a Geopark and discussions were still ongoing last year whether the mine could be opened as a tourist attraction.

Oil and Uranium were extracted from the Alum Shale in Kvarntorp. About 100 000 cubic meter of oil were obtained annually and the remaining shale waste, which contains some oil is still burning and now forms a huge smoking hill. Temperatures in the hill attain up to 700 degrees C. The whole mine waste deposit is 110 m high and contains 40 million cubic meters of shale on an area of 50 hectare.

Bert Allard from Örebro University has calculated the value of some of the metals that are contained in this huge waste deposit. He assumes that the Kvarntorp hill is made up of about 25-50 million ton shale and that the shale contains >10 000 ton Vanadium (= 60-280 SEK/ton shale), >4000 ton rare earth metals (=50-150 SEK/ton shale), >4000 ton molybdenum (= 25-65 SEK/ton shale), >4000 ton uranium (=15-90 SEK/ton shale), >0.5 ton platina and palladium (=7-10 SEK/ton shale), >4000 ton Nickel (4-40 SEK/ton shale), >0.2 ton gold, >5000 ton copper, >2500 ton chromium, >7500 ton zinc. Taken together, this means that the waste has a value of between 160 and 635 SEK/ton shale or in other words: this smoking hill hosts between 5 and 18 billion Swedish kronor!

Maybe it would be a so much better idea to first exploit the mining waste that is already there and which is continuously leaking heavy metals to the groundwater, instead of loudly advertising that new mines will save our climate and our planet! I would rather say that we could save both the climate and the planet and the inhabitants by first taking care of the polluting waste!

I forgot to mention another short-lived mine, the one in Ranstad in Västergötland, where uranium was extracted from the Alum Shale between 1965 and 1969 and where we now can look at 1.5 million ton of waste deposits on an area of 25 hectare.

I visited Västergötland for the second time in 1990 (first time was 1976) and participated in an excursion along the Middle Swedish endmoraine zone. What I most vividly remember from this excursion is the visit to an abandoned mine close to Ranstad. One of the excursion guides carried a Geiger counter with him and told us that we should absolutely not stay for too long at this specific place! Maybe the precautions were made having the recent Chernobyl catastrophe in mind? Maybe the guide was too careful? I don’t have an answer.

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Beautiful Österlen, beautiful Alum Shale

During the last months I have posted various blogs relating to the Alum Shale and Scandivanadium’s planned exploration of Vanadium in Österlen. Scandivanadium’s plans for Österlen have made headlines in various media and have also been mentioned recently in the popular science magazine Forskning och Framsteg.

The June issue of the magazine published an interesting article about the ‘dirty side of electric cars’ (my free translation) and the increasing need for innovative metals. Overall, I thought the article presented the different views on this conflict-laden issue very well. But – as it is often the case, the mind gets locked on a specific issue and my mind suddenly only focused on what Christina Wanhainen, Professor in Ore Geology at Luleå University obviously said in relation to Scandivanadium’s plans for Österlen. She partly understands that there are some places in Sweden where there is an opposition to new mines and is cited as follows:

“Imagine that you are sitting at your summer cottage with a lovely view over Österlen and suddenly two guys turn up and tell you that they will take your land and open a mine and build a waste dam.” (My free translation from Swedish).

My eye caught this little part and I started to wonder how staff at Luleå University look at Österlen, its inhabitants and its geology. Sure, there are many summer cottages in Österlen, but there are also many people who live here year-round and who have built up their livelihood here. When it comes to Skåne’s or Österlen’s geology, then this is something very different compared to the bedrock in many other parts of Sweden: the rocks are mainly sedimentary rocks, and not granitic or gneissic varieties. And some of these sedimentary rocks have very special properties. The Alum Shale for example, which is the desired object for Scandivanadium, contains – apart from Vanadium – high amounts of Uranium and other heavy metals.

People here are not opposed to mines in general, there are a few mines already in Skåne, but they are opposed to mining of the Alum Shale. Because history has shown that once the Alum Shale weathers, heavy metals and especially Uranium are released into the groundwater and the surrounding soils. Who would like his/her land to be so polluted that farming is no longer possible?

The summer guests in Österlen have so far not shown very much opposition to Scandivanadium’s plans. The people who have shown that they are against it are farmers, who will loose their land; people who live here year-round and actually several politicians, who seem to understand what is at stake.

Few geologists in Sweden today have extensive knowledge regarding sedimentary rocks and their properties. And those who know and who have done and are doing research on the Alum Shale, have so far not been heard in the media. Instead people with little geological knowledge in respect to sedimentary rocks are cited in the media and Scandivanadium thus has ample opportunities and an excellent platform to lobby for its case. Who can argue against them, when they present their arguments of sustainable mining and a good cause?

Read my other blogs relating to the Alum Shale, if you are interested. More will follow!

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A look at Scandivanadium’s work plan

A few days ago I looked into Scandivanadium’s most recent work plan for their exploration target Killeröd, where the company is planning to make 8-10 drill holes.

In the work plan the company repeats the same old story; i.e. that the Dictyonema Formation, where high Vanadium contents have been reported, has very low Uranium contents. A look at the figure below tells however a slightly different story. This figure, which is from the publication by Buchardt et al. (1997) depicts the organic carbon content (TOC), the sulphur content (S), and the vanadium (V) and uranium (U) content in the different rock types of the Gislövshammar-2 drill core.

The uppermost part of the black Alum shale corresponds to the Dictyonema Formation (D1 to D3). The Vanadium content is high in level D2, where it reaches above 4000 ppm (or g/tonne). But the Uranium content is also high, around 50 ppm. It is definitely higher than in the overlying Toyen Shale, but lower when compared to the underlying Alum Shale, where the Uranium content is variable and reaches above 150 ppm.

I realize that the figure might be a bit difficult to grasp, but my whole point is, that the Uranium content in the Vanadium-rich middle part of the Dictyonema Formation is only lower compared to the Alum Shale below, but not when compared to the Toyen Shale above. As such Scandivanadium’s statement of low Uranium contents is not correct.

Figure 17 from Buchardt, B., Nielsen, A.T. & Schovsbo, N.H. 1997: Alun Skiferen
i Skandinavien. Geologisk Tidsskrift 3, 1–30. The figure shows the stratigraphy of the Gislövshammar-2 drill core, with the Alum Shale and overlying Toyen Shale, and the organic carbon, sulphur, Vanadium and Uranium contents of the rocks.

Scandivanadium also write in their work plan that they are planning for drill holes with a maximum depth of 125 m. I do not really understand why such a depth is needed to reach the Vanadium-rich part of the Dictyonema Formation. In the file summarizing data on all the wells in for example the area of Onslunda (SGU:s brunnsarkiv), the sediment fill is given with a maximum thickness of 21 m, but is generally much less. The Dictyonema Formation can, according to the geological map AF 215 (see below), be found at around 12-30 m depth and has a thickness of less than 23 m. This leads me to conclude that a drill core with a maximum depth of 70 m would be sufficient to obtain samples from the Dictyonema Formation for analysis. But maybe Scandivanadium wants to go deeper and also investigate the remaining part of the Alum Shale?

This figure shows parts of SGU’s geological map AF215 and the surface distribution of the different bedrock types south of Onslunda. The figure also shows the dolerite dykes and the position of Scandivanadium’s planned drill cores. Oal is short for Dictyonema shale and Oal 30 means that the Dictyonema shale can be found in 30 m depth. B indicates places were wells have been drilled. It is from these wells that we can know at which depth the Dictyonema shale occurs. The 125 m long drill cores will penetrate the sediments left behind by the last ice sheet (maximum 21 meters thick), the Ordovician layers (maximum 12-30 meters thick), the lower Ordovician Dictyonema shale (maximum thickness likely 23 meters) and the Cambrian Alum shale.

Still another thought comes into my mind. If the seven drill holes south of Onslunda are meant as a pre-investigation to check how high the Vanadium content actually is and how it might vary between the different coring points, then many more drill holes will be needed at a later stage to exactly pin-point where it is actually worth digging up the Dictyonema Shale.

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Sustainable mining – fiction or reality?

A few days ago I attended a breakfast seminar during which the results of a joint project between Svemin and the Stockholm Environment Institute, SEI, were presented. The project, which was entitled “The Swedish mining sector in sustainable futures” examined the interactions between the mining sector and wider society and how these could play out in a sustainable transformation.

During the seminar, the executive director of SEI, Måns Nilsson, shortly explained the outcome of the project, which resulted in 31 specifically important action points and six overarching topics and that could form a road map for the Swedish mining industry: 1: Develop a collaborative approach to sustainable raw materials supply. 2. Define “sustainable mining” in dialogue with the global community. 3. Develop the permitting processes, taking a wide range of sustainability considerations into account. 4. Make the mining sector an increasingly circular raw material hub for society. 5. Build credibility and create business value through transparency and traceability. 6. Strengthen engagement locally and nationally.

While listening to the presentations, I initially got the impression, that the word ‘sustainability’ now really means something for the mining sector and its future, and that the Swedish mining industry is serious about sustainable mining. But focus was unfortunately not so much on a discussion around the six topics, which Annika Nilsson (SEI, KTH) addressed in her interesting presentation. Instead, Boliden’s communication director, rather than discussing sustainable mining, claimed that opening new mines is difficult today and that no new mines have opened in Sweden. This statement – instead of the SEI report – managed to get the ears of the media: Difficult to open mines, despite a need .. and was also subsequently picked up by the Swedish radio, more or less along the same line and with the message that innovative metals are needed for a fossil-free future.

Arne Müller was quick to respond to this statement on Facebook and listed several mines that had actually obtained permission during the last years: Fäboliden (permission 2008; company went bankrupt before the mine really opened); Tapuli, Kaunisvaara (company went bankrupt; mine restarted 2018); Dannemora (opened 2012; company went bankrupt); Mertainen (permissions were obtained, but out of economic reasons, the mine never started); Gruvberget and Leväniemi (new permissions obtained to re-open two former mines). So much to the statement that no new mines have opened in Sweden, or that it is difficult to open new mines ….

What the media did not pick up, however, was the notion of recycling of metals and minerals and of a circular economy! It would have been really timely to discuss this in a wider perspective. I always hear ‘fossil-free’ and ‘green technology’, but what I never hear the mining sector talking about is that raw materials, e.g. metals and minerals are not endlessly abundant. They are not ‘fossils‘, but some of these raw materials, such as e.g. Vanadium, occur also in sedimentary rocks and are associated with fossil organic material. So what is fossil-free about this innovative metal?

I was also surprised to later find slightly different summaries of the outcome of the collaborative project on SEI’s home page and on Svemin’s homepage. SEI presents the outcome of the project in detail and ends the description with the following paragraph: “As part of a strategy to reduce the risk of land use conflict in the longer term, the SEI analysis also recommends that the Swedish mining sector continues to build on existing conceptual ideas of “zero-impact mining”, that envision a radical reduction in surface impacts of new mining projects.”

And Svemin states – that after having considered SEI’s analysis – focus will be on three strategic development areas: a system for tracing the origin of metals; solving land use conflicts; and focus on research and innovation so that the mining industry will work with the smartest solutions and most modern technology (my free English translation!). Svemin’s current director Per Ahl also states: The mining industry operates in a complicated area, where strategic efforts are important to create good conditions for competitiveness in a long-term perspective (my free English translation!).

I am left thinking: Where and when will sustainable mining really come into practice? And when will the mining industry think RECYCLING and CIRCULAR ECONOMY instead of digging up new resources?

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Study visit to Potsdam

Last week I spent a few days in Potsdam, on a study visit with members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences‘ class V, which is the class for Geosciences. Our first stop was at GFZ, where we got an overview on the center’s scientific activities, could look at annually laminated lake sediments, visit the satellite station and ended the day with a walking tour to visit the historical sites on Telegrafenberg. GFZ belongs to the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers and is Germany’s national center for solid Earth Sciences.

GFZ however takes a broad Earth Science view and includes studies linked to the dynamics of planet Earth: the hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere, and the chemical, physical, and biological processes that connect these different spheres. All, with the aim to provide sustainable solutions to society in respect to for example earthquakes; global climate change; supply of energy and mineral resources. Or, as GFZ states on its home page: “We investigate the structure and history of the Earth, its properties, and the dynamics of its interior and surface, and we use our fundamental understanding to develop solutions needed to maintain planet Earth as a safe and supportive habitat”. It is always a pleasure to visit GFZ! I am full of admiration for all the great research that is being done here.

Our next stop was at the Alfred Wegener Institut, which also belongs to the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers, where we were not only treated to cakes and coffee, but also to excellent talks presenting the latest research at the center. The Alfred Wegener Institut (AWI) in Potsdam has a focus on glacial and periglacial research, i.e. permafrost, atmospheric physics and polar terrestrial environmental systems. Many scientists work in the Arctic, especially on Svalbard and in Siberia, because polar regions are under threat as a consequence of climate warming. Since the temperature rise is largest in the high-latitudes, thawing of permafrost and melting of glaciers and ice sheets will intensify. These changes will have an immediate regional impact, but will also be transmitted to regions further south, thus influencing climate in other parts of the world.

On our second day in Potsdam, we returned to GFZ and visited their GEOFON station, where earthquake and tsunami hazards are monitored 24/7 and data sets are made accessible for transnational users. Our last stop was at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), which is housed in one of the old buildings on Telegrafenberg. PIK belongs to the Leibniz Association, and has four main research focii: Earth system analysis, climate resilience, transformation pathways, and complexity science. It was also a nice for our group to meet PIK’s new co-director, Johan Rockström, who is a former professor at the Resilience Center of Stockholm University and a member of the Royal Swedish Academy.

Several themes came up recurrently during our visit in Potsdam: climate change and the challenges society is facing; the energy transformation and the need for new raw materials; and that we all aim at a sustainable future for our planet and for all the people living on it.

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Brachiopods are not bivalves

In one of my last blogs, I addressed the answers I got from the qualified geologist who is hired by Scandivanadium, i.e. whether bottom water conditions were oxygen poor or not during the formation of the Dictyonema Shale and whether a benthic (bottom-living) bivalve fauna could exist or not.

To find out more about these issues I contacted a palaeontologist, whose research is directed at the fauna in the Alum Shale, and also a geochemist, who has extensively published about the Alum Shale. And here are their answers:

Answer 1: “The Dictyonema Shale forms the uppermost part of the Alum Shale formation. It is very similar in appearance to the underlying Alum Shale, but it has a distinctly different fauna, which is overall dominated by planktonic graptolites. There are, however, a few horizons, where a benthic fauna appears. Bivalves are not present in the Dictyonema Shale, but in some horizons brachiopods with phosphate shells can be found. It is difficult to say how oxygenated the bottom waters were and how the conditions varied in this former ocean. What we know is that bottom waters were more oxygenated during the middle Cambrian, and that conditions gradually became anoxic. When the Dictyonema Shale was deposited, bottom water conditions were very likely anoxic to dysoxic. However, there is a large variability in the depositional environment as the Alum Shale in Skåne was deposited on the outer shelf, while the middle Swedish Alum Shale was deposited on the inner shelf.” (my free translation from Swedish)

These differences in depositional environment have led to the distinct geochemical differences that are observed in the Alum Shale in Närke and Västergötland as compared to the Skåne Alum Shale. For example, the uranium content is much higher in the Närke and Västergötland shales than in those in Skåne. But having said this, I need to add that the uranium content in the Alum Shale in Skåne is still distinctly higher than in the underlying sandstone and in the overlying shale and limestone.

Answer 2: “The Dictyonema Shale is part of the Alum Shale. However, there are differences in respect to geochemistry and fauna between the Cambrian Alum Shale and the lower Ordovician Dictyonema Shale“.

The Alum Shale represents about 30 million years of time and during these 30 million years the depositional environment has without doubt varied. At some point, bottom water conditions were euxinic, but in the middle part of the Dictyonema Shale, brachipods were living on the sea floor, suggesting higher oxygen availability. Probably oxygen levels gradually improved during Dictyonema Shale time“.

More and more, I am understanding how complicated it is to reconstruct the depositional environment and the paleogeography of these 500 million year old rocks, and the former life that existed in this Cambrian-Ordovician sea. These rocks that once had been deposited as clay and mud, gradually hardened due to overburden, were buried deep below other rocks, then lifted up and eroded and buried again and lifted up again. And some time during this long long journey, dolerite dykes intruded into the shales … but more about these another time. Being able to know so much about the former depositional environment of the Alum Shale and of the geochemistry of the former ocean is fantastic, isn’t it?

But now we know for sure that the Dictyonema Shale is an Alum Shale. Two experts have confirmed this! We also know that bivalves did not exist. Bivalves are mollusks with two symmetrical shells. The animals that did exist were brachiopods, which do not have symmetrical shells and which are not bivalves. But in any case, these animals were living on the sea floor, they were actually anchored to the sea floor. And for being able to exist there, they needed oxygen. Thus, where brachiopods are found in the Dictyonema Shale, there was oxygen in the bottom water 490 million years ago. But – brachiopods are only present in some levels, and where graptolites dominate, bottom water conditions were deprived of oxygen. Generalizing and looking at the Dictyonema Shale as being just the same thing is certainly not a good idea, because there is great spatial and temporal variability. And this variability is something even Scandivanadium needs to consider.

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