Skyline engineer, county committee discuss 'ancient' water in coal mine
An ancient water source discovered in the Pleasant Valley area could offer interesting possibilities when dealing with related issues in the county.
For example, the source could possibly resolve the 60-year-old dispute regarding water between Carbon and Sanpete counties.
Last year, production at Skyline mine had to be shut down for nearly a month when the company encountered a great deal of water that had to be handled before coal removal operations could continue.
The company had to install pumps and found that it was removing almost 8,000 gallons per minute from the mine, which was then and is now flowing into Scofield Reservoir.
"There is a lot of water there and it was a big problem," explained mine geologist Mark Bunnell during the first meeting of the county water development board last Thursday.
"By using carbon dating techniques, we have determined this water to be 6,000 to 12,000 years old. It is ancient water and there is a lot of it," added Bunnell.
Bunnell described how the company had been digging about 800 feet below Electric Lake when the water started to flow into the mine, causing the shutdown.
The committee members asked if the water was coming from the lake.
"We aren't definitive about that yet. But the amount of radioactivity in the water is negligible," responded Bunnell. "That would mean it is probably pretty old water."
Certain elements of radioactivity that are primarily produced by atomic bomb blasts generally show up in stable amounts in what is considered "modern" water - water from the surface of the planet.
Since atomic explosions have been going on for less than 60 years, water found without the elements have been sealed off from the surface, probably for a long time.
The mine is working with Utah Power & Light to determine whether the water in question is leaking from the reservoir. A dye test may be used to determine that, added Bunnell.
The water is also appearing in another sector where mining has been started - a section that heads into Sanpete County.
"Right now, we are going to have to move that operation because there is so much water," indicated Bunnell. "That means we are going to move into the old Winter Quarters mining area north of where we are now. That was reported very dry when the mines there were shut down."
One of the interesting things about the water is that it seems to be crossing over into all three counties in the area, Sanpete, Emery and Carbon.
Due to the interest in the possible water source, commissioners from all three counties will be meeting at the site to discuss the issue and what could be done to possibly utilize the water.
If the source could be developed and there is enough, it could eliminate Sanpete from pursuing the Gooseberry-Narrows project that has put it at odds with Carbon County for more than a half a century.
According to Bunnell, the geology in the area around Pleasant Valley located within Carbon County's boundaries may contain additional water sources like the Skyline mining operation encountered.
"I'm not a hydrologist, but based on the geology of the area, there very well could be more water in similar formations all around Pleasant Valley," commented the mining engineer.
But water users in Carbon County shouldn't get their hopes up too high yet, according to Bunnell and the board.
First, the water is very expensive to remove from the mine.
Pumping the liquid from the depth's of the underground shafts where the water occurs is extremely costly, pointed out Bunnell.
The engineer cited the expense the mine had incurred when the company had to drill a well in James Canyon to remove water.
In addition, the ancient water in question - like all non-replenishable resources - has a limit.
"It has a limit," indicated Mark Page, state water engineer after the meeting. "If it were tapped, it would run out someday. There is only so much of it."
All parties involved in the matter agreed that additional study will be needed to determine the magnitude and extent of the ground water basin in the Pleasant Valley area.