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Evaporites pp 1303–1374Cite as

Solution Mining and Salt Cavern Usage

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Abstract

Salt solution mining is just what it says, the mining of various salts by dissolving them and pumping the resulting brine to the surface where it is concentrated or processed to recover the desired chemical products. Actual dissolution and recovery methodology is predicated on the solubility of the targeted salt, A “rule of thumb” in the solution mining industry is that every 7–8 m3 of freshwater pumped into a cavity will dissolve 1 m3 of halite. Water or undersaturated brine is injected through a purpose-designed well drilled into a salt mass to etch out a void or cavern. The resulting “almost saturated” brine is then extracted for processing. The technique usually targets salts at depths greater than 400–500 m and down to 2,000 m (Fig. 13.1). The current deepest salt solution operation is in the Barradeel concession in northern Netherlands in Zechstein Z2 salts and operating at depths around 2,800 m (Geluk et al. 2007). At depths greater than 2,000 m ongoing salt creep tends to reduce cavern size. Some operating brinefield caverns are as shallow as 150 m, but this can lead to catastrophic chimneying and stoping in sediments above cavity. With deeper operations the landsurface tends to subside into a bowl of subsidence, as it does above many conventional mines. Cavern shape and the upward rise of the cavern roof is today controlled by an inert fluid blanket pumped in and maintained at the top of the zone of active brine creation. Early solution wells did not use this blanket technology. In the 1800’s and extending into first half of last century many brinefield operators perceived surface sinks, collapses and regular abandonment of caved wells as normal, during the operational life of a saltfield. Attitudes in the mining community today, across all types of exploration and production, are much changed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Natural gas is a naturally occurring mixture of hydrocarbon gases, principally methane with lesser quantities of ethane, propane, butane, and other gases.

  2. 2.

    Compressed air energy storage (CAES) is a way to store massive amounts of renewable power by compressing air at very high pressures and storing it in large underground caverns (or depleted fields or aquifers). Compression and underground storage takes place at times of excess energy generation (aka peaking). The compressed air is later released and run through turbines to generate power when wind turbines and solar plant outputs are reduced and power is needed.

  3. 3.

    Black start is the ability of a plant to start up during a complete grid outage. Because nuclear power stations require some power to resume operation, the Huntorf plant was built in part to provide black-start power.

  4. 4.

    Cushion gas is the volume of gas needed to fill a subsurface storage facility to where the gas pressure is sufficient to supply a significant flow of gas to the surface.

  5. 5.

    On completion of this section of highway, and the subsidence that followed, the press and the locals were quick to blame the subsidence on the oil industry and poor drilling practice, with subsequent questions as to the competency of the engineering studies done prior to highway construction. When geology crews began their preliminary studies for this section of 1–70 in the early 1960s, there was a large pond along the right-of-way, some six miles west of Russell. They noticed that the pond appeared rather deep, and although it was situated in a streambed, apparently it had no dam. Asking around among local residents, Highway Commission geologists were told that the pond had always been there. An 83-year-old woman who had lived in the area all of her life reported that there had been a pond in that location ever since she could remember (pre-oilfield!). So little additional planning as to its origin was given. During construction, the Crawford and Witt sinks were filled in and the highway was built, along with a nearby bridge to carry county traffic over the interstate. Final grading for the new lanes was finished in the spring of 1966 and the subsidence problems began.

    Once again it seems Hutchison Salt in the Gorham region likely was dissolving naturally with a typical landscape sink expression. If word of mouth recollection was correct, then sinks were present in the area prior to both the oil field and highway construction. Then again, as all lawyers know, it is hard to sue mother nature.

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Warren, J.K. (2016). Solution Mining and Salt Cavern Usage. In: Evaporites. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-13512-0_13

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