Natural Resources Lab Project

12 Mar

Natural Resources Lab Project


In this lab we will take a look at the effects on the landscape when natural resources are utilized.  We will be comparing three different areas where three different natural resources were or are being used.  The first is located in Wyoming and deals with wells drilled to extract natural gas.  The second area we will look at is located in West Virginia on the Appalachian Mountain Range.  This site scrapes off the tops of mountains in order to reach coal.  The third area we are going to look at is in Clarkdale, AZ where over 100 years ago a smelter was built which melted ore and extracted copper leaving behind a slag pile of melted waste.  All of these areas show us dramatic effects on the landscape due to the removal of natural resources.


For the first two sites I used a web-based computer program called Google Earth to study the areas.  This program allowed me to get a view of the area and its surroundings from an overhead view. Below are the first images I received from Goggle Earth for both Wyoming and for West Virginia.

As I looked at these photos I also zoomed out to the next photos in order to answer some questions about these areas and the chapter which I have been studying.

1. State the differences between the disturbed and natural areas in the Powder River Basin.

Answer – When I looked at this map I found little undisturbed areas.  Those with fewer drill pads seemed less disturbed having only a few roads compared to the multiple roads and numerous drill sites.  The places with fewer drill pads also seemed to me to have more water around them even though this is still a small amount.

2.  According to what you know from Chapter 10, what specific effects can this brine have on the fish (not simply “death” please)?

Answer – As brine is added to the water the waters acid level changes and though the fish may be able to survive with a little brine there will reach a point when the water is to acidic for anything to live in creating a dead zone.

3. What is the origin of the methane associated with coal beds?

Answer – Both methane and coal are made from the remnants of organic matter.

4. According to what you know from Chapter 10, what specific effects can soil and rock have on wildlife (not simply “death” please)?

Answer – If soil and rocks pushed down the mountain it could bury plants that the wildlife need to survive.  It might also make it harder for any vegetation to grow depending on what water sources were buried.

After I was finished looking at the first two areas I shifted my focus to an area closer to home.  I went to Clarkdale, Arizona which was home to the United Verde Copper Smelter.  I was fortunate enough to be able to go into the Clarkdale Museum and gather information.  Below is all that is left of the smelter which is the massive slag pile.  The 1st smelter was built in 1915 by William K. Clark owner of the United Verde Copper Company that was located in Jerome AZ.  This smelter was used from 1915 until the 1953 when the mine in Jerome was shut down.  Along with the smelter Clark built a railroad from Jerome to Clarkdale and also the town of Clarkdale that was to house the over 7, 000 mine employees.  The area where the train, town and smelter were to be built had once belonged to native Indians who had built irrigation ditches and used the land to farm.  After the native Indians were relocated the land was used by farmers and ranchers and there was said to be a large orchards down by the river that runs through the far northeast valley.    The smelter was used to melt down ore and extract the copper.  The methods used were so outdated compared to today’s techniques that the slag pile that remains is said to be the richest mineral waste pile in the U.S.  But even though it is rich still in minerals it has forever changed the landscape that once was and the landscape that will come.  The orchard that was destroyed before the smelter was put into place was located almost exactly where the slag pile resides today.  There are no living organisms on the slag pile. Pictures below are of the old smelters and also what the slag pile looks like now.

I drew a map of the major aspects of the area.  There was basic vegetation surrounding the slag pile but nothing overgrown and especially not an orchard that once stood on the land.  Also the other thing included in the map is the SMG Cement Plant which operates in Clarkdale and is also utilizing natural resources.

I also looked at other areas around Clarkdale to get an idea as to what the area might look like if the United Verde Copper Company had not built the smelter and left the slag pile.  I found a similar area close to Clarkdale which seemed to have little disturbances.  This area was rich with natural plants such as mesquite trees, sage brush and multiple kinds of grasses.  These can be seen in the photos below.  There was only one road that ran across this area limiting the amount of people who access this area.


This lab provides a great deal of education to those who complete it.  I found that areas that I would never research such as Virginia and Wyoming have problems with the effects of natural resource utilization just like we do here in the Verde Valley.  I was amazed to think about the size of the destruction area in each of these projects.  We will never be able to know what the land would have looked like if the smelter had not been built in Clarkdale but I did learn a very interesting fact.  The slag pile in Clarkdale has been sold to Searchlight Mineral Group and is going to be removed over the next 20 years.  Even though the land will ever be undisturbed this is a good step in the right direction to remove some of the damage.

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Posted by on March 12, 2012 in Uncategorized


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