The Appalachian Salina Deposits: Salt, Industry And Geologists
Svitana, Kevin D.
The Department of Geological Sciences, The Ohio State University, 125 S Oval Mall, Columbus, OH 43210
The exploitation of the Appalachian Upper Silurian Salina Deposits has a unique history that reflects the evolving role of geologists in exploring resources in the Appalachian Basin. This paper addresses the relationship between geologists and the development of this salt resource since the late 1700's. The Salina Deposits formed in shallow evaporite seas where halite precipitated. In the Appalachian Basin, the salt sequences are up to 191 feet thick and now occur between 500 to 9,000 feet below MSL. The Colonial United States obtained most of its salt from European sources. During the revolutionary war, British embargoes limited salt supplies, spurring U.S. production. The concentrated brines along the Kanawha River (WV) became the main source of U.S. salt from the late 1700's through 1860. Exploitation of Kanawha brines led to development of drilling technologies to extract brines from subsurface "veins." These drilling techniques were later utilized throughout the Appalachians for the development of coal and petroleum resources. The salt industry matured in the late 1800's, when larger companies dominated, and solution and deep mining enhanced salt production. Appalachian salt production centers shifted to Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Charleston. In the early 1900's, the Chlor-Alkali industry (electrochemical production of chlorine, caustic soda and hydrogen from salt brine) stimulated salt production in Appalachia. Inexpensive hydroelectric power helped the Buffalo-Niagara region become a center for producing Chlor-Alkali and synthetic chemicals. Development of the interstate highway system in the late 1950's created a new demand for highway de-icing salt. Demand was met by increasing deep mining of Salina salts, which required preparation of environmental impact assessments for mining permits. The most recent association between the Salina Deposits and geologists resulted from the 1980's hazardous waste regulations. Wastes from synthetic chemical industries required geologists to modify their skills to assess and treat pollutants.