One crisp November morning in 1957, farm workers on the Sinclair Ranches near Calipatria witnessed a curious spectacle. Jouncing along the rutted ranch roads came a small caravan of trucks and trailers laden with steel masts, draw works, diesel motors, cables, pulleys and related paraphernalia of then-modern oil and gas drilling rigs. In those days, rigs were a rare sight in the Imperial Valley.
The expedition was financed by Kent Imperial Co. of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and led by chief geologist, Robert W. Cypher, and drilling expert, R.B. Mitchell, who directed the procession to the southeastern corner of the ranch, rigged up and began "makin' hole within spit tin' distance of the Salton Sea."
This was Sinclair No. 1, an exploratory oil-gas venture which found neither one, but instead drilled into "a vast subterranean basin of volcanically heated water." Thus was launched the Imperial Valley's on-again-off-again romance, a 30-year roller coaster ride with geothermal energy development.
Kent Imperial, along with other companies and individual wildcatters, drilled other geothermal wells near the Salton Sea, wells that produced hot salty fluids with dissolved mineral concentrations approaching 300,000 parts per million (ppm), ten times the salinity of sea water.
The economic jackpot promised by successful mineral extraction proved a powerful lure. A mineral recovery industry sprang up, with electrical power generation as a secondary product. But the fluids were corrosive and also caused plugging and scaling of equipment. After several years of trial and (mostly) error these ventures were abandoned.
Despite their disappointments,
Figures & Tables
The Kramer borate deposit is located in the northwestern Mojave Desert, about 90 air miles northeast of Los Angeles and 3 miles north of the town of Boron (figure 1). The deposit derives its name from the mining district in which it lies. The Kramer deposit, presently being mined from the Boron open pit, has been a world-class source of sodium borates since mine startup in 1926 and continues to be the largest source of borates in the world.
The Kramer ore body is a roughly lenticular sedimentary sequence of borax (Na2B4O7 • 10H2O) and kernite (Na2B4O7 • 4H2O) containing interbedded claystone. This central crystalline facies is successively enveloped by facies consisting of ulexite (Na,CaB5O9 • 8H2O) -bearing claystone, colemanite (Ca2B6O11 • 5H2O) -bearing claystone, and barren claystone. Studies indicate the Kramer borates were deposited in a small structural, nonmarine basin, associated with thermal (volcanic) spring activity during Miocene time.
The Kramer deposit does not crop out. It was discovered accidentally in 1213 by Dr. John Suckow, a homesteader, who struck colemanite while drilling a water well (figure 2). Exploratory drilling and shaft sinking after World War I by Pacific Coast Borax Company, the predecessor of U.S. Borax, led to the discovery of borax and kernite in 1925. In 1926 PCB went into large-scale, underground sodium borate mining in the Baker mine, located nearly 2 miles east of Suckow's discovery well. The company soon closed all its calcium borate operations near Ryan in Death Valley in favor of the more easily processed sodium borates at Boron.
U.S. Borax ships mostly bulk, refined sodium borate products and boric acid to both domestic and world markets from Boron. Principal uses for these products are in the manufacturing of glass and fiberglass, herbicides, ceramics, soaps and detergents, fluxes, fertilizers, and fire retardants.