Sunday, May 22, 2016

Arizona legislative session had big impact on geology

Governor Doug Ducey last week signed bills that his office described as "aimed at protecting job creators from excessive government regulations and burdensome licensing requirements." This included HB 2613 that de-licensed a number of professions, initially including geologists, and SB 1256 which eliminated licensing of assayers.  

The statement from the Governor's Office said, "In signing these bills, Governor Ducey kept good on his promise to begin the elimination of burdensome licensure of scores of odd jobs – regulations that are often designed to kill competition or keep out the little guy, including the elimination of licenses for talent agents."

"State licensure is the most restrictive regulation on individuals looking to earn an honest living. Licenses should only be required when they are truly designed to protect the public health and safety. With these bills, Arizona has started the process of chipping away at unnecessary licensing regulations."

A coalition of geoscience societies with support from some of the largest mining companies in the state opposed the de-licensing of geologists. This became one of the most intense battles of the session and resulted in licensing continuing but on a voluntary basis.

Earlier, Gov. Ducey approved the Agency Consolidation budget bill, SB1530, which eliminates state funding for the Arizona Geological Survey and transfers the duties of the Survey to the University of Arizona.  The Governor's staff said this is part of his efforts to consolidate state government.

There was no additional funding provided to UA, so they are expected to fund the Survey from their own funds.  AZGS has been told that the UA will provide one-time funding of $941,000 which is equal to the last state appropriation. After this coming year, AZGS will be responsible for finding 100% of its funding from grants and contracts.

AZGS will also give up most of its overhead on existing grants to the University.   These funds had been about as much as our state appropriation, and used to support our core mission, so the net result will be a 40-50% reduction in funds for state services.  We have started notifying staff members whose jobs will be eliminated as of July due to the loss of funding.

Earthquake swarm in northwest Arizona slowing but still active

There was a magnitude 1.1 earthquake in northwest Arizona about 8:43 p.m. last night after several days of no activity in the area.  We have seen over 60 earthquakes in this area since March 28.   [Right, orange star marks last night's epicenter.   Red lines are active faults. Credit, USGS]

 The Arizona [Tucson] Daily Star ran a front page story by science reporter Tom Beal in Sunday's paper about this swarm and another one in southeast Arizona near Duncan. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

AZGS moving to University of Arizona by June 30

The Arizona Geological Survey will move out of our state offices in Tucson by June 30 and move into the office space recently vacated by the Arid Lands Resource Sciences on the east end of the University of Arizona campus.   This is a result of the Governor's consolidation of state agencies.  AZGS is transferred to UA effective July 1.

The space will be considerably smaller than what we currently occupy so we are looking at moving some library materials to the UA libraries, some into storage in the Phoenix museum we are taking over, and some will likely be given away or tossed.   Our Arizona Experience retail store will be closed.   We will be sharing the space with other UA programs.

We also are looking at moving the core repository to the museum as well to preserve that material.

One advantage of the Arid Lands building is that there it is off campus and does have a limited amount of free parking for visitors.

AZGS will operate as a research center in the UA College of Science.  The State appropriation to AZGS is zeroed out June 30.  UA is providing one-time funding to cover a portion of our operations for the next year as part of the transition.  After that, it will be up to the Survey to raise all of its own funding.   There are plans by UA to develop a fee for services program to help underwrite activities.

Mineral museum transfer will occur in August

The former Mining & Mineral Museum in Phoenix will transfer to the Arizona Geological Survey sometime in August.  A proviso in SB1530, the Agency Consolidation bill, called for it to be retroactive to May 1, but it failed to include the emergency statute that would allow that.

We also got a 65-page preliminary Facility Assessment  prepared for the Dept. of Administration describing in detail the status and requirements for opening the building.

The conclusion is that the building will needs ~$700K in priority 1 remodels and repairs (which is close to the estimates made in 2014) and perhaps another $200K is the flooring on the main floor needs to be replaced.    Over 5 years, they identify a total of $2.86 million to make the building like new.   (it was built in 1921).

At present, the building cannot be occupied.

However, we are able to store materials there, and we plan on moving the extensive mining files and library from our Phoenix branch there in the next 10 days.  We have to vacate our current office which is commercial space sublet from AZ Dept. of Water Resources by May 30.  In addition, AZGS is being transferred to the University of Arizona which has no space available in Phoenix for our operations.

Similarly, UA has little or no storage space on campus for our Tucson office.  So we are looking at moving files, library materials, and cores to the museum in order to preserve them.  Otherwise, they would all be disposed.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Quake swarm resumes in northwest Arizona

Two earthquakes in northwest Arizona demonstrate the swarm activity is not over yet.   A magnitude 1.7 earthquake occurred just before midnight, followed by a magnitude 2.0 event at 10:21 a.m. local time this morning.   It's been a few days with no reported activity.   [Right, red dot marks the epicenter of the magnitude 2.0 event, the orange dot shows the smaller quake. The red lines are active faults. Credit, USGS]

We've seen over 60 earthquakes in this area since March 28 and cannot say how much longer they may continue.   

Monday, May 16, 2016

Dust storm closes I-10 east of Tucson

Dust storms have closed Interstate 10 east of Tucson near the New Mexico border multiple times in recent weeks. It's happening again.

Here is a picture of I-10 taken at 4 p.m. today east of Willcox at mile marker 376.  [Credit, AZ Dept. of Transportation]

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Arizona mining scams "alive and in good standing"

Fraudulent mining schemes are "alive and in good standing" according to an article, "Recent Arizona Mining Scams," by W. Scott Donaldson, in the May issue of Arizona Attorney magazine.  

Donaldson notes scams dating back to the 1800s but focuses his analyses mostly on modern events.  He examines a number of case histories ranging from the Desert Gold Mining Co's salting of samples in their supposed Phoenix gold mine with gold dust, to Xenolix Technologies claims to be able to recover gold from volcanic cinders from the Sheep Hill property near Flagstaff [right, photo credit AZ Corporation Commission], to International Precious Metals Corp, which he calls the "mother of all recent Arizona desert dirt plays," with their claims of sensational platinum and gold grades in rocks 90 miles west of Phoenix.    The Arizona Dept. of Mines & Mineral Resources, which was merged into AZGS in 2011, carried out its own investigations in the 1990s and could not find any platinum or gold in hundreds of samples and only traces of silver.  ADMMR published a report in 2002 on Arizona mining scams and unassayable ore projects.  It covers many of the case histories in Donaldson's article.

The article continues its tour with Peter Pocklington, former Edmonton Oilers owner, and the Golden Nugget Mine near Quartzite.  Pocklington and his associates were ordered to pay over $5 million in restitution to investors and he was sentenced to prison, house arrest, and probation time for securities fraud, perjury, and failure to disclose millions of dollars of income as a gold mine consultant in the affair.

Donaldson concludes the article noting that the pool of potential investors in these fraudulent activities seems to renew itself in less than a decade.    Our own experience is that we seem some of these purported gold and platinum mines repackaged with new names and promotional materials within a few years.   Donaldson warns that he expects to see the Sheep Hill property "be proposed as a source of gold or platinum in cinders in the not-so-distant future."  

On a related note, the State of Arizona has just eliminated licensing of assayers.  One argument in favor of the legislation is that it limited competition from assayers who were not licensed to practice.    Phony or questionable assays have always been one of the key tools used in mining fraud, so please, buyer beware.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Earthquake swarm in northwest Arizona continues

We now have recorded more than 60 small to moderate earthquakes in northwest Arizona as part of a swarm that began on March 28.  There have been 11 events in the past 7 days 9shown in the figure at right), including a magnitude 3.8 quake which is the largest one in the sequence.

The list below shows the magnitude, location, and time/date of this past weeks quakes.   [Credit, USGS]

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

AZGS moving to University of Arizona, gets mineral museum in Phoenix

Gov. Doug Ducey signed the Fiscal Year 2017 state budget today, that includes transfer of the Arizona Geological Survey to the University of Arizona, effective July 1.

The bill also transfers the former Mining & Mineral Museum in Phoenix from the Arizona Historical Society to AZGS, to be re-opened as the Mining, Mineral, and Natural Resources Education Museum.    AZGS is given two years to raise the funds to refurbish the building, construct exhibits and make operations sustainable, otherwise the building is returned to AHS.

We are in conversations with UA officials about the mechanics of the transfer. Legislative intent language directed the university to maintain AZGS's current level of services, but the AZGS appropriation is zeroed out June 30 and UA was instructed to fund Survey operations out of their existing funds.

The AZGS duties to provide technical and administrative support for the Arizona Oil & Gas Conservation Commission are transferred to the AZ Dept. of Environmental Quality.

The move to UA was announced by Gov. Ducey in January as part of his efforts to consolidate state government.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Geologist's amended de-licensing bill sent to Governor

The bill to de-license geologists in Arizona, HB2613, was the most monitored piece of legislation in the just completed session. It was the most viewed bill online as well.

The bill was introduced at the request of Governor Ducey. It was opposed by a coalition of geological professional societies, and companies.  It was intensely debated and legislators reported getting more feedback from constituents on this bill than any other.  The following email was sent out by the Arizona Section of the American Institute of Professional Geologists about the results:

While not signed into law, HB 2613 is close enough to it that I feel we can finally send you the final version of the bill that Governor Ducey will shortly sign into law. As you all know, this has been quite a bumpy ride for all Arizona geologists. We started out on February 5 with a bill that deregulated the geologic profession and removed the geologist representation on the Arizona Board of Technical Registration. We quickly moved to retain lobbyists to represent us as the bill was debated and moved from committee to floor vote in the House and then again in the Senate. Your many emails to House and Senate members were instrumental in getting the bill modified while still in the House to retain geology registration and our position on the AZ BTR. However, an amendment was introduced that would have allowed geologists to work in the state in a non-regulated capacity as “Trained Geologists” essentially making geology registration optional. Our lobbyists came up with a sponsored amendment (the Donahue Amendment) that eliminated this language essentially keeping geology registration at status quo. The amendment initially passed on voice vote. The governor did not like this and pressured various Republican Senators. Our lobbyists felt that it was likely that the Governor’s pressure would cause the Donahue Amendment to fail. The Trained Geologist category was problematic and needed qualifications. This was done by modifying the Donahue Amendment in coordination with the Governor’s office such that Trained Geologists could not practice in Arizona if they were convicted felons or had lost their geologist license in another state. It also requires the Trained Geologist to disclose their lack of licensing to a prospective employer/client. A Trained Geologist cannot prepare materials related to any State Law that required professional registration (e.g. Aquifer Protection Permits, UST Permits, etc). A Trained Geologists must also have received a Geology Degree from an accredited university and have at least 4 years of professional experience.
In my view, we achieved about 90 percent of what we wanted. The only thing left that is still not acceptable is that there is no provision for who will monitor Trained Geologists. The AZ BTR [Board of Technical Registration] will not have any records of these individuals, so the onus will be on the buyer of the services of a Trained Geologist to do a background check and make sure the individual is truly qualified. But, considering where we started this process back in February, we achieved a very workable outcome.
The bill was transmitted to the Governor, and is now waiting for his action.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Magnitude 3.4 earthquake follows yesterday's M=3.8 event

A magnitude 3.4 earthquake occurred at almost the same location early this morning as the magnitude 3.8 from yesterday.   No one has reported feeling the 1:30 am quake today.

The M=3.8 quake is the largest one yet recorded in the northwest Arizona swarm that began March 28.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Biggest quake yet in NW Arizona swarm

A magnitude 3.8 earthquake struck at 06:49 a.m. this morning in the area of northwest Arizona that has seen a continuing swarm of over 55 earthquakes that started March 28. This is the largest event yet recorded in the swarm sequence, just surpassing the M=3.7 event of April 17.

There are reports of the tremor being felt in Arizona and Nevada. There are no reports of damage.

[Right, orange star marks epicenter of quake.  Red lines are known active faults. Credit, USGS]

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Mineral museum comes to AZGS, AZGS goes to UA

The Arizona Legislature last night approved SB1530, the Agency Consolidation bill, with significant floor amendments.   The bill has been sent to the Governor for approval.

The original budget bill zeroed out the AZGS budget as of June 30 and authorized the University of Arizona to establish a Geological Survey there.  No physical or financial assets were included nor transfer of any staff.

The amendments now authorize those transfers and direct UA to maintain the level of services and products currently provided by AZGS.

The former Mining and Mineral Museum is also transferred to AZGS and will come with us to UA.

Here is the Senate's summary of the key requirements and changes:

Arizona Geological Survey

1.      Transfers the Arizona Geological Survey (AZGS) to the University of Arizona.

2.      Transfers from the AZGS to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) the Oil and Gas Commission (Commission), including all funds, personnel and property.

3.      Requires ADEQ to appoint a person with a background in oil and gas conservation to administer and enforce Commission laws.

4.      Requires ADEQ to use Commission fees to prepare, reproduce and distribute conservation publications.

5.      Transfers authority over the State Geologist and AZGS from the Governor to the Arizona Board of Regents. 

6.      Removes the requirement that the State Geologist must be registered by the Board of Technical Registration.

7.      Removes the requirement that the AZGS must maintain a central repository for rock cores, well cuttings and samples.

8.      Transfers from the Arizona Historical Society to the AZGS administration of the Mining, Mineral and Natural Resources Educational Museum (Mining Museum).

9.      Transfers $428, 300 and one full time employee from the Arizona Historical Society to the AZGS.

10.  Requires the Arizona Historical Society to fulfill existing Mining Museum obligations, provide AZGS with a list of inventory and assist in the transfer of the inventory.

11.  Stipulates that the Arizona Historical Society regains authority of the Mining Museum if the Museum is unopened by July 1, 2018.

12.  Allows the State Geologist, in administration of the Mining Museum, to:
a)      promote the recognition of the historical, cultural, economic and social contributions made by the mining, mineral, natural resources, livestock and agricultural industries;
b)      apply for and accept grants, gifts, donations or other contributions for use in accordance with the direction of the donor or as prescribed by the AZGS;
c)      accept restricted and unrestricted monies from federal, state or local governments;
d)     establish and collect entrance fees;
e)      operate a retail gift shop;
f)       employ a curator with knowledge or experience in natural resources and museum operation;
g)      accept and oversee volunteers services; and
h)      pay maintenance and operation expenses.

13.  Requires the AZGS to:
a)      operate and maintain a Mining Museum as the state depository for collecting, cataloging and displaying mining, mineral and natural resources artifacts and specimens;
b)      adopt a collections management policy that is consistent with national standards and best practices for museums;
c)      maintain the items, artifacts and other inventory received for display or storage; and
d)     coordinate with the Mining Museum Advisory Council.

14.  Requires the State Geologist to submit a report of Mining Museum operations, General Fund needs, benefits of expanded building use and excess inventory recommendations to the Governor, Secretary of State, Senate President and House Speaker before 2019.

15.  Transfers to AZGS all unspent and unencumbered funds received by the Arizona Historical Society for Mining Museum operations.

16.  Transfers, from the Arizona Historical Society to the AZGS retroactive to May 1, 2016, all unencumbered balances and future revenues of the Centennial Special Plate Fund.

17.  Establishes the Mining Museum Account within the AZGS Fund to be used exclusively for the maintenance operations of the Mining Museum.

18.  Reconstructs the Mining Museum Advisory Council to consist of the following members:
a)      Executive Director of the Historical Society;
b)      State Geologist;
c)      two members representing livestock industry;
d)     two member representing mining industry;
e)      two members representing agriculture industry;
f)       two members representing tourism and other climate-related industries;
g)      two members representing specialty crops industry;
h)      one member who is a natural resources education professional;
i)        one member representing a natural resources foundation; and
j)        two public members;
k)      one member appointed by the House Speaker; and
l)        one member appointed by the Senate President.

19.  States the legislature’s intent that the AZGS maintain the current level of service and approximately fifteen full time employees.


40.  Makes technical and conforming changes.

41.  Makes bill provisions retroactive to July 1, 2016.

Amendments Adopted by Committee of the Whole

1.      Transfers authority over the State Geologist and AZGS from the Governor to the Arizona Board of Regents. 

2.      Removes the requirement that the State Geologist must be registered by the Board of Technical Registration.

3.      Removes the requirement that the AZGS must maintain a central repository for rock cores, well cuttings and samples.

4.      Transfers administration of the Mining Museum to AZGS.

5.      Outlines obligations of the Arizona Historical Society in Mining Museum transition.

6.      Stipulates authority and duties of the AZGS and State Geologist in administration of the Mining Museum.

7.      Outlines membership of the Mining Museum Advisory Council.