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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Gold King Mine, Colorado: Unplugged

     On August 5, 2015, at 10:30 a.m. the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) breached a plug or dam on toxic mine waters near the Gold King Mine 






sending over 3 million gallons (originally reported by the EPA as 1 million gallons) of arsenic and metal-rich water into Cement Creek which flows into Las Animas River ("River of Souls") in southwest Colorado.







        Stephanie Paige Ogburn's 8/6/15 article (written just a day after the spill) is one of the more balanced compilations available as it pulls together geological background, mining history, and historical background about the relationship between the EPA and the Silverton community.

       "For years, the EPA has wanted to name areas around Silverton as a Superfund site. This brings funding for cleanups. The town, in turn, has resisted fearing the label would be toxic to tourism (pun intended.)"

      The EPA was well aware that high levels of toxic materials were in long-abandoned mine debris ponds. It is most unfortunate that the spill made its way into the Animas River (here near Silverton), has now entered New Mexico and Utah, enroute to Lake Powell: 










       In addition, the naturally-occurring ferricrete ("iron concrete") deposits in the area add to high levels of metals, sulphates and other toxins. The name Cement Creek was given for a reason. There haven't been many fish in this creek for decades, perhaps over a century. The disturbance of the mine's debris waters could have happened without the EPA's heavy machinery accident. This image shows the Red and Bonita Mine south along Cement Creek which also has very high levels of toxic materials:




     The EPA did not report the incident to the community for 25 hours (bad PR and outside EPA's own 24-hour reporting window). In addition, the original 1 million gallon reported EPA number could have easily been more accurately seen at the USGS stream flow and gage height site. I pulled these two graphs yesterday showing the 8/5/15 spike of 3 million gallons (with some multiplication of cubic feet per second (cfs) times the number of seconds in the second graph):








     All of these data are available online to the public.   

    The EPA today reported toxic material including lead levels that are 12,000 times the acceptable EPA levels. Arsenic, mercury and cadmium are also extremely high. Of particular concern is the cadmium level as cadmium is readily absorbed into plant material, posing a fairly distinct short-term risk to both the plants and any animals, including humans, who consume them. (Although, I wonder about these humans below and their decision to stay in their kayaks being directly exposed to the orange sludge): 



          I would enjoy hearing your thoughts about the Gold King spill,surrounding Silverton area mines, and Superfund sites. I am particularly interested in finding out who makes the ultimate Superfund site (National Priorities List or NPL) decision. The Animas River Stakeholders Group, which includes Silverton residents, business representatives, AND the EPA, appears to have the ability to say "yeah" or "nay" to the decision about the Silverton area.

Unplugged here,
Steph

      A marvelous part of my mishpokey, Zoë (in the orange shirt [what else this week?]) is headed today to the Amhara region (colored fuchsia on the map below) of Ethiopia for her Peace Corps service. Other groups will go to Tigray, SNNP, and Oromia.



       This "USA map according to Geologists" is both amusing and fairly accurate except for 1) "nothing to see here" (I am considering the Ashfall Fossil Monument in eastern Nebraska for next week's topic) and 2) "Too hot to do field work in summer" in southern AZ as that's where we did summer field work (yes, it was pretty hot!)












110 comments:

  1. So, the Animas flows into the San Juan, which flows into the Colorado, which is Spanish for "dyed" or "colored". Yet more irony.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, and "colored red," no less. . .

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    2. I have seen San "Jaun" on more than one map of Colorado river basins. . .Almost French Jaune for yellow?

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  2. Some time those crashed syles in this week's post will be repaired. Now is not that time.

    So much for Colorado, Silverton, the EPA to sort out here. . .

    And downstream. . .

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  3. The abandoned mines are an ongoing issue around Silverton. Last Wednesday's spill just painted it danger cone zone orange.

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  4. I don't get excited about patients' mispronunciations, usually. Medical language can be arcane, and there's no point in correcting tinEYEtis to TINnitus, and I think more men say "prostrate" than "prostate". But I had to keep from smiling just now, talking to a guy who was in for a physical exam about his level of exercise, when he described his IT job as "pretty sedimentary".

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    1. Maybe he worked in IT as a petroleum geologist? ;-)

      I'd have a hard time keeping a straight face also.

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    2. My uncle at one point said he was no "pseudo-intellectual" (pronounced piss-suede-oh). He also said that hypertension is the chief cause of high blood pressure

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    3. David, now I will forever see "pseudo" as piss-suede-oh. Thank you.

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  5. I can't imagine that all the fault lies with the EPA. The toxic waste was put in the ultimately unsafe location by someone.

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    1. Sure, but they could have been more careful when digging around the dam that was holding the wastewater back. And more forthcoming once they popped the cork.

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    2. I agree on both points, jan.

      The first link in the above original post shows the history of the EPA in the area. The EPA determined in 2008 (!) that NPL status was warranted. But, somehow the community had the power to say no.

      I'd like to once write an article where the author writes " It's really just about the SCIENCE, politics had nothing to do with it."

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  6. The Wiki article on the Gold King Mine Waste Water Spill is changing hour by hour. {You may click on the edits at the top of the article.} It's interesting that the more balanced article I cited above is not (yet) cited. . .

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  7. A somewhat reassuring statistic: the spill hasn't yet (as of 2 pm MDT) reached Lake Powell, but when it does, the 3 million gallon spill will be diluted a billion times by the 4.2 trillion gallon reservoir.

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    1. It is reassuring, jan. My concern is all the mine wastes that have been entering CO river basins over the past 100+ years--the ones you can't see. . .

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    2. Sure, but toxic sediment and contaminated drinking water are two different issues.

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    3. Presumably, the water will be drinkable fairly soon, we hope. At some point down the road will come the question of how to remove the sediment without re-contaminating the water. Similar to what's been happening in the Hudson for many years.

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    4. Yes, I think so. Although if there had been a Record of Decision (ROD) decades ago, the mine clean up could have occurred more in situ with less health hazards and lower costs.

      There's also been a lot of tunnel and adit building, redirecting of water flow up there. Someone up there likely knew such a large amount of water was behind a poorly built holding structure. The Gold King mine owner is pointing fingers at the Red and Bonita Mine owner and vice versa. Somebody knows something. . .

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    5. Yes, I think so. Although if there had been a Record of Decision (ROD) decades ago, the mine clean up could have occurred more in situ with less health hazards and lower costs.

      There's also been a lot of tunnel and adit building, redirecting of water flow up there. Someone up there likely knew such a large amount of water was behind a poorly built holding structure. The Gold King mine owner is pointing fingers at the Red and Bonita Mine owner and vice versa. Somebody knows something. . .

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    6. In other water resource news, the Los Angeles Reservoir gets blackballed.

      Looks like fun. (Biggest ball pit I've ever seen.) And I can see how it would "deter birds and other wildlife", and slow evaporation and algae growth. But how does it protect the water from wind-blown dust? And why would you want to protect a reservoir from rain? (And how would this do that?)

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    7. I saw those shade balls. . .No idea as to your questions, jan but I just hope they don't have PCBs in them.

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  8. High Country News in Paonia runs some great articles. (I considered moving there to raise fruit trees) Here are their List of 9 things to know about the spill.

    Best comment (at the end of the article) about water from Lake Emma entering nearby Sunnyside Mine after a tunneling procedure went awry:

    "How would you word the Lake Emma thing? How about: the Sunnyside mine workings got too close to the bottom of Lake Emma?"

    That's all, folks. . .at least for tonight.

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  9. Sorry, I'm late to this animated party. I've been on the road.

    22,000 abandoned mines in Colorado! I would have "bet the under" on that stat.

    Nice investigative reporting, Steph, in your blog copy leading into your charts and graphs.

    I was at the doctor's office today, jan, at just about the time you were posting your 11:32 PM (PDT?) comment. As coincidence would have it, I told the certified nurse practicioner who was examining me that I had resolved to "turn around my sedentary (lifestyle)" (although I used some word I cannot recall instead of "lifestyle," [which is a word I loathe]).
    Next time, I'll say, "I have resolved to turn around my sedimentary (lifestyle)... I'm giving up coffee!"

    David, Piss Suede Oh!... Not a pretty picture!
    Swiss Play-D'oh!... Still not so pretty.

    LegoMayBePissSwayD'oh!SedimentaryButIsHyperSedentary

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    Replies
    1. Welcome back from the road, Lego. Hope it was a sedimental journey. . .

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  10. So, let me see.
    Silverton thought a Superfund designation would be bad for the tourist trade.
    EPA tried to do what it thought best with the available resources.
    EPA miscalculated.
    Now folks are lining riverbanks waiting to catch a selfie with an orange backfluid.

    I'm sorry; there's a lot to absorb here. And I tend to paint with a broad brush dipped in a questionable solution.

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    1. I know. It is a lot to absorb.

      In situ remediation is generally a whole lot easier, safer, and cheaper than the mess now spread over three states.

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    2. "In situ remediation" is Latin for "put it back in the ground where it came from", no?

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    3. Clean it first on site and THEN put it back in the ground.

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    4. What does it mean to clean mine tailings? What do you do with the wastewater from that operation? And if the stuff came out of the ground there in the first place, what's the harm in just putting it back in situ? Wouldn't the groundwater in mining areas be naturally high in metals, anyway?

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    5. Google or Duck Duck Go "Abandoned Mine Site Characterization and Cleanup Handbook" for the full EPA treatment of this topic.

      Working backward from your questions, jan, yes groundwater from mining areas is naturally high in metals. Fish never liked swimming in Cement Creek due to natural and mining causes.

      It's best to clean (i. e., neutralize) the acid byproducts with an alkaline substance like limestone (CaCO3) before it goes back in the ground.

      Once things are neutralized, the remaining material can be put back in the earth. It's still best not to run a lot of water over the site though due to the high metal content.

      For your first question, read the EPA doc and get back to me with questions. :-)

      Seriously, it's a huge topic. My gut feeling is the tunnel built in 1978 which accidentally drilled into Lake Emma is responsible for the huge influx of water into the Cement Creek system. It's the water flowing over the mines and mine tailings that's the problem. And that much water should not have been flowing anywhere near Cement Creek mines.

      I also sense mine owners have been mucking around with that Lake Emma water trying to divert it from one mine to another (so they are not responsible for clean-up). Given all of that, the EPA could have been more careful (building holding ponds ahead of sampling, etc) but the water could still have burst through the containment feature anyway. The Silverton locals seemed to know huge amounts of water were there. . .but not the EPA?

      They now have holding ponds at the Gold King Mine site to keep the sludge/sediments contained.


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    6. Las Animas River is open for recreation and our governor is drinking the water though he recommends others not drink it. Sometimes I just SMH at his water-drinking antics (He did it with fracking water, too).

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    7. Sorry, Shake My Head. . .

      If you didn't drink water straight from Las Animas before the spill (Giardia issues, etc.), why would you do it now?

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    8. He did drop in a chlorine or iodine tablet first. But I agree, it was a stupid move.

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    9. John is a great guy but sometimes he gets carried away with the showmanship. He always has. Why not climb in a kayak or canoe and show that?!

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  11. Replies
    1. A Blue Whale's heart beats once a minute. Wow.

      Lucky Chris Clark has been able to study both whale and elephant sounds!

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  12. Replies
    1. Are you going to stage a sit-down strike to stand up for your Left rights?

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    2. Yes, especially after seeing this:

      Ambisinister: awkward or clumsy with both hands (JK).

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  13. Mishpoche, mishpoca or mishpokey? A friend used this word today. I like it. Any preference?

    How are the mishpokey today? ;-)

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    Replies
    1. מִשׁפָּחָה if you want to be a stickler for accuracy.

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  14. The first seems closest. The last sounds like when your entire family puts their whole selves in.

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    1. Speaking of the hokey-pokey, have we discussed the relationship between that, and hocus-pocus, and the Eucharist ("hoc est corpus meum")?

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    2. Fascinating. I had never heard that before. You put your whole self in. . .

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    3. How about a link to a larger version of your new thumbnail?

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    4. I added the image to the tail-end of this week's blog. Thank you for asking as I intended to post it.

      The "Orrin Pilkey" off the Carolina coasts is spot on! Kind of like the Hokey Pokey.

      I am thinking about exploring the "Nothing to see here" area next week with the Ashfall deposits and fossils left in situ in western Nebraska.

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    5. Better, but I still can't make out some of it. How about a link to the original?

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    6. It was a tweet sent to me by a friend.

      Try this: [Callan Bentley and
      Kent Ratajeski are the authors]:

      https://mobile.twitter.com/callanbentley/status/632315603655729153/photo/1

      Callan's twitter feed has some interesting stuff in it. . .

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    7. And the Ashfall Fossil Beds are in eastern NB. I was thinking of the Agate Fossil Beds in western NB (We drove by in May but too late in the day to stop).

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    8. I liked learning, via Callan's twitter feed, that there are colonies of bees on the roof of the NPR building in DC, named "Swarming Edition" and "All Stings Considered".

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    9. See, geologists can have a good sense of humour! ;-)

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  15. Just added an image of part of my mishpokey (I like that best). Zoë has been assigned to the Amhara region of Ethiopia for the next 2 years. (There's a map above as well).

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    1. Here's something for Zoë to chew on, maybe: the apparent appearance of Yiddish words in Ethiopian names. I know a woman, an Ethiopian Christian, whose given name is Ketsela, a Yiddish/German term of endearment meaning "kitten". I've seen several Ethiopian surnames ending in "Tsadik", a Yiddish/Hebrew term for a righteous or charitable person. Just a coincidence, or linguistic parallel evolution, or is there a Lost Tribe thing going on here? (Bearing in mind that Yiddish, a Hebrew/German creole, was spoken by Eastern European Jews; the Jews of North Africa, Arabia, and Persia were never Yiddish speakers.)

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    2. Whoa. PDF (Pretty Darn Fascinating). I'll ask her what she thinks.

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  16. Replies
    1. And with loads of libraries, Goodwill, ARC, Little Free Libraries, etc., he could not find a place for books?!

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  17. Geology Girl:
    What does this look like to you? (Without dropping acid on it, of course.)

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    1. What sort of seer sucker do you think I am, Paul? I will definitely say (no acid needed) that it's neither calcite nor dolomite.

      I would like to know how it works, though. "The ultimate Pet(roglyphic) Decoder Rock."

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    2. Seriously, my guess would be a rounded river rock, likely jasper, maybe chert. Looks like a fair amount of iron in the bands.

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    3. Put "seersucker up close" in your search engine of choice. Such looks like the "seer stone" you linked to in the image above is resting on seersucker. . .

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    4. Nah, I don't think that's seersucker at all. I'm leaning toward oxford cloth.
      But could those striations be BIFs? That might be interesting.

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    5. Yeah, identifying rocks or moles from photos-- dangerous territory, for sure.

      Need more info on what BIF is to comment further. . .

      Sheesh it is 100 degrees outside here!

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    6. Paul, we never called them BIFs either at Smith or U of AZ. Must be the newer LOL, BTW, LFOD ;-) generation that doesn't have time to write out BANDED IRON FORMATION making people like me find things on the internet that they really didn't need to know, you know?

      Maizie May and I melted on our walk this afternoon. Wish we could find a place to swim together!

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    7. Fair enough.
      But you do, know about banded iron formations and I'm seriously wondering if that "seer stone" could be exhibiting ... related properties.
      But it's not like I'm going to lose sleep over it.

      Hi, Maizie. Fully recovered from your walk? Attagirl!

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    8. Yes, Paul, I could see the sample as a bit of banded iron formation rock from the Precambrian. If you are going to be a seer stone, I guess >2400 million years would be an advantage. And, I could see tumbling around in a mountain stream for a long time being a good thing, too. Especially today!

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  18. Replies
    1. Identifying rocks just from an image is a dangerous game. . .The Wiki article says "The ridge is primarily Shawangunk Conglomerate, a hard, silica-cemented conglomerate of white quartz pebbles and sandstone that directly overlies the Martinsburg Shale, a thick turbidite sequence of dark gray shale and greywacke sandstone." So, yes, all three are likely candidates depending on where you were in the sequence. Many climbing sites just call it bedrock or Silurian bedrock.



      Beautiful photo. Did you do some technical climbing?

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    2. Nope, just hiking. I once, many years ago, was chaperoned a rappelling class with a group of troubled youths. Nothing like going backwards off a cliff with a couple of juvenile delinquents holding your life in their hands.

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    3. If I post a pic of my mole, jan, could you tell me if it's melanoma or not?

      I'm kidding!

      Shawangunk Redemption -- GREAT movie!

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    4. Every mole is melanoma or not.

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    5. Come to think of it, so's every rock.

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    6. Ha! Too much logic thinking here, Paul. Melanoma or NOT, yes.

      jan, I am glad you survived having juvenile delinquents hold your life in their hands.

      And, I took another look at your photo of the Gunks and if I had to say the grey, lichen-covered and lightly iron-stained reddish rocks in the right side of your photo looks like sandstone with bits of cross bedding.

      But, what is that red-orange-mustard yellow garrish colored rock in the lower left? Almost looks like clinker (CLKR for Paul) which is associated with burnt coal seams. Either that or a hard rock mining operation in Colorado. . .;-) Any ideas?

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    7. Too much logic thinking !?(I've forgotten how to interrobang)

      Bite your tongue!

      [Figuratively]

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    8. So Crates meets Des Cartes in Paris. . .

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    9. Too much logic thinking !?(I've forgotten how to interrobang)

      Bite your tongue!

      [Figuratively]

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    10. If you see a new blogger profile "Logic Al," it could be me, it could be Paul, it could be melanoma, it could be greywacke, or not⁉

      Ỹổů’ṽẻ čøm̉ę ŧỡ ţĥë ŕıġħť p̀łắĉễ. Although the copy and paste list doesn't include the interrobang. . .

      ‰ …

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  19. One of the scariest things that I heard in coverage of this disaster is that there are 500,000 abandoned mines in the US. So many more potential disasters! It is also a reminder that naturally occurring materials can be dangerous.I don't know how many times in commenting on fracking waste disposal we would get chided for pointing out the dangers of naturally occurring elements and compounds. "Natural" does not equal benign.

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    1. There are lots of parallels between abandoned mines and fracking from the "naturalness" factor to our governor drinking water from each to the EPA having far too many mines/wells to survey or track. Glad you are up on so many fracking issues, Joanne. PEOTSers, please check out Joanne's blog for more on fracking in the eastern U.S. and around the world.

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    2. Thanks for the shoutout, Steph!

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  20. Replies
    1. Whole lotta energy there. Reminds me of my flight instructor telling me it's better to be on the ground, wishing you were flying, than flying, wishing you were on the ground.

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    2. Yeah, wind can be scary stuff. I do like watching verga though.

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  21. Replies
    1. I don't really see, er, smell, the appeal of the corpse flower. You could smell some things in the back of my fridge that would give you a similar effect.

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    2. My niece was at UC Berkeley's Botanical Garden shortly before their corpse flower bloomed a couple of weeks ago, but she didn't see (or smell) it, either. And she's doing botany research! Oh, well, no accounting for taste (etc.).

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    3. Well, we already knew that over here at PEOTS, eh?

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    4. The Denver corpse flower bloomed early today. Four hour waits to have a whiff. Not going.

      But, watching the live stream might be almost as good with Smell-o-Vision. Aren't we supposed to have that by now?

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  22. This article on the ORANGE SPOOGE of Las Animas rather peters out at the end but brings up some good points about other abandoned mines, oil and gas, and other industry in southwest Colorado. Besides, how could I resist an article with "orange spooge" in it!

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    1. We used to worry about oil (black gold, Texas tea) spilling into our waterways. I guess orange is the new black...

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    2. Even better than spooge. Touche, jan!

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  23. Replies
    1. Have you read the book, Steph? I'm in the middle of Do No Harm, the memoir of Henry Marsh, a neurosurgeon. Definitely not something to read if you're ever going to have neurosurgery.

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    2. Silverman's book is on my list. And now Henry Marsh's. The NY Times review said it lagged a bit in the middle but had lots of heart.

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  24. The contour lines on LAURENTIDE are cool. . .and even better with water.

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    1. I hope that was carved by CNC, and not by hand!

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    2. The Computerized Numerical Control (CNC) results are amazing! I would bet they used CNC.

      100!

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  25. We're sometimes discussed unusual map projections here. Today's featured picture on Wikipedia is this Craig retroazimuthal projection, one of the weirdest I've seen. "It preserves the direction from any place to one other, predetermined place... This projection is sometimes known as the Mecca projection because Craig created it to help Muslims find the qibla."

    And, speaking of the qibla, it reminds me of a quibble I have with a popular tune from Fiddler on the Roof. In If I Were a Rich Man, Tevya sings "If I were rich, I'd have the time that I lack to sit in the synagogue and pray, And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall." Just as Muslims face Mecca when praying, synagogues are constructed with the Ark containing the Torah scrolls, and seats for the rabbi and other dignitaries, on the side of the building that faces Jerusalem. So, on Broadway, the favored side would indeed be East (OK, the Great Circle Route actually points northeast, but why quibble unduly?). But in Anatevka, the fictional Russian shtetl in the show, Tevye's synagogue should be facing South.

    How has Sheldon Harnick gotten away with that for so long?

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  26. That is a really wild projection!

    Because facing south is perhaps perceived as negative (a la things are going south quickly)? Looking to the east is always a fresh new start, new day kind of thing and Broadway loves that sort of thing. . .(?)

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    1. Nah, I'm sure it's because Broadway's writers' and theatergoers' synagogues face East. Likewise, why Tevye sings in English! Maybe when the show plays in Russia and South Africa, he dreams of a seat on the southern wall. And when it plays in Mecca....

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    2. Perhaps, with some imminent sea level rise, there will be a sequel to Harnick's play, "Fiddler Crab on the Roof."

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    3. Obviously, that should have been "... seat on the southern and northern walls" above. I really wish this blogspot let me edit my posts!

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  27. Newest post on ""Nothing to See Here:" From Agates to Ashes >>> All Fall Down: The Fascinating Fossils of Nebraska" is up.

    How many colons can I use in a title? Is a colonoscopy in order? ;-)

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