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Lignite Mining in Saline: The Phoenix of Bauxite Riches or the Rape of Resources?

I want to hear more about the idea of lignite mining. I mean now that I've heard anything at all and the "town meeting" planned to explain it to residents has passed over a week ago.

The Courier published an article today/Sunday at the bottom of the front page about State Rep. Garry Smith, a Democrat from Camden, along with folks from SAU and the Ark. Geological Survey having come to Benton for a town meeting on January 6th to "inform residents about the potential of lignite mining."

I looked on The Courier's website for a link to the full story there but maybe it'll appear Monday or Tuesday and here it is now. What I did find online was an article from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette from Dec 30th, telling about the meetings and even giving a time, date and place, but raise your hand if you saw that article. It said about the meetings, "Financial, geological, and environmental information related to the production of crude oil from lignite will be provided to those who attend."

The Courier article says there were over 40 people at the meeting. I suppose that could feel crowded if you're in the Chamber conference room where the meeting was held. <snark>Had they really thought they were getting the word out, I guess they would have secured a larger venue, in hopes of accommodating a larger amount of residents to tell of the benefits.</snark> 40 people is .0025% of Saline County's population, and some people were there as a requirement of their job. Heck, there had to be 40 people present to jump in icy waters Saturday morning for the Polar Bear Plunge!  

But look, who am I to judge what exactly these visitors to Benton had up their sleeves? I said at the start of this literary masterpiece that I want to know more about lignite, and the fact is, I don't know much. It could be that we don't have a worry in the world about environmental impact or becoming a ghost town after mining's done, or whether dirty trucks will infiltrate our suburbs or whether we should send our sons to do this work because we don't of know the health risks.

I know there are some well-read and sharp-minded members here at The Courier article mentioned a town in North Dakota that was making banking up to their rib cages through mining lignite, something that Benton has a lot of, and it's high quality too. What dirty coal has to do with clean energy is beyond me. Help me out here and go past what I found tonight. Let's have a real town meeting on this issue once we find some facts. Is it easy money or pie in the sky?

Google "lignite" and you might find, like I did, the top three results are these:


  1. Lignite - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Lignite, often referred to as brown coal, or Rosebud coal by Northern Pacific Railroad, is a soft brown fuel with characteristics that put it somewhere ... 

  2. Fossil Fuels: Lignite Lignite is a low rank, brownish-black coal that produces less than 8300 British thermal units (Btu) per pound on a moist, mineral-matter-free basis (1). ... 

  3. Lignite Energy Council » Home The primary objective of the Lignite Energy Council is to maintain a viable lignite coal industry and enhance development of the region's lignite coal ... 

More related links:




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From TodaysTHV

"The State's Bureau of Legislative Research reports potential mines in Dallas and Clark counties could mean 200 jobs at each site and payroll starting around $17 an hour for operators. They based those stats on this lignite mine in Akerman, Miss."

Recollections from two presentations to the Benton City Council in 2006ish:

  • There is a 60 to 80 year reserve of lignite coal off Hwy 35 between Benton and Tull.
  • The lignite could easily be hauled to a plant that could be built near Chenault Reservoir and the Saline River (need a major water resource to run the plant).
  • A 90mw lignite fired electric generation plant will cost $250,000,000.
  • The plant would produce "cheap" (dont forget the $250MIL) power for Saline county.
  • Other municipals in the power business would be a potential customer of our excess power.



There is so much more lignite available on a larger scale in NW Arkansas.  Why are they considering mining it here? Is this an Alcoa thing to try to make some money from what is left in Bauxite?  I wish I had known about the meeting.  I would have loved to have asked a few questions.

Did they talk about how hard it is to transport this type of coal because it tends catch on fire.  I don't believe Ar. has any plants that use this type of coal.  I think that it might go to Miss. which has a plant that uses it. Sara
I share others opinion of skepticism on an economic use of lignite, for either the extraction of oil or as a fuel for electrical generation. I’ll believe it when I see a pilot project that demonstrates the possibility.

But this thread has some information that is not correct. I grew up in Bauxite and as a kid spent many days in the mining area. As a teen I helped a survey crew run cross sections on many strip mines. My knowledge is based not on mere observations, but on data obtained by standard survey methods.

5) The lignite in Bauxite is "150 feet below the surface".  That's a lot of overburden to remove, which could hurt the econommics of mining.

Fact: Lignite in this area is often found at a depth of between 15 and 50 feet.

6)    Many of the old bauxite pits were several hundred feet deep.  If you drive around the bauxite area, there are a few World War II era mines that were exempt from reclamation and you can see the geological cross-sections.  The lignite deposits aren't very thick.  It would be hard to justify removing 150 feet of overburden to get to the thin lignite deposits in the Bauxite area.

I’ve never seen a bauxite strip mine greater than 130 feet deep and most of them were somewhat less.  Typically, the top layer consisted of sand, clay and gravel, ranging in depth from 15 to 50 feet. Next came a lignite layer ranging from 5 to 50 feet thick. Below that, kaolin clay was often found in a layer 5 to 20 feet thick. And last came the bauxite, usually 5 to 15 feet thick.

From what my father told me, lignite fires are not unheard of. He said there was one in situ fire near Bauxite that did, over time, burn itself out. Like underground coal fires, they are next to impossible to extinguish. But a lignite fire is not easy to start. I never saw, or heard of one, after 1955.

Here's the link from the Courier article...

They only received very late notice about the meeting.

Opinions, Opinions, who went to the meeting? what did you learn? is it beneficial? have they done their home work?

Why does Gov. Beebe not want to get involved?  If it will bring jobs? help the economy?

Arkansas the land of opportunity.  The only state in the union that could sustain its self if it had a fence built around

it and not need any other help from our neighbors.  Isn't that great!

I was present for about the last half of the meeting. The primary focus of this plan is for use in Synthetic Oil, not for power generation. The state rep (sorry can't remember his name) stated that Lion Oil in El Dorado  would accept the base product (refined oil from lignite) and refine it more to get to the synthetic oil level (whatever that means).


The supply of Lignite in the state would last for something like 540 years and that is at a rate of 40,000 barrels of oil being refined daily. Saline County would share in that as would most of the state.


Yes estimates can be inflated but let's say they are off by 80%, that still means that for the next 108 years Arkansas would prosper...I doubt any of us will be around to know how close their estimate really are.


I have heard this could really be the answer to our fuel problem and that some of the political people are not interested.

Do you think this would help the stae in jobs and also the fuel consumption.

Crude oil would have to be over 120.00 a barrel, for liginite to be economical, then you need to reclaim and store to green house gases that are produced from the refining process, and if you can't dont forget the proposed carbon TAX
NO and NO.  I am sure you can look it up down to the courthouse.

Munky said:

Re:  "off Hwy 35 between Benton and Tull"

Doesn't the Moore family own a lot of land in that area?

Is that why you keep pushing this idea?

I was also present at the meeting.


Since lignite does not transport well, and Arkansas does not have a lignite power plant, proponents want to turn it into synthetic fuel. Rep. Garry Smith (D-Camden), who appears to be the spokesperson for lignite proponents and was present at the meeting, claims that Lion Oil is ready to buy synthetic fuel derived from lignite. He wants the Arkansas legislature to allocate $3 million to further test lignite for commercial uses.


There are many problems to his argument for lignite:


1) When most automakers are turning to natural gas and electricity to power their next generation vehicles, how much of market demand will there be for synthetic fuel derived from lignite, which is the dirtiest and lowest grade of coal?


2) EPA is becoming more strict on emissions from mobile sources, e.g., cars. How much of market demand will there be for synthetic fuel derived from lignite?


3) According to the presenters, Arkansas lignite has the potential of generating $640 billion. If that's the case, why are they asking the legislatuer to allocate mere $3 million? Why aren't investors financing the cost of study? Why are they asking the government to subsidize the study?


4) If Lion Oil is interested in buying synthetic fuel derived from lignite, why aren't they interested in mining lignite themselves instead of buying from a third-party? Why aren't they allocating $3 million to study commercial potential for lignite? As Rep. Smith said, Lion Oil just finished constructing $250 million+ refining facility. $3 million is nothing for them.


There are many unanswered questions, and I advise caution. So far, this sounds to me like ethanol bubble that ended up busting.


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