Texas Salt Domes: Natural Resources, Storage Caverns, and Extraction Technology

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This report reviews natural resources associated with salt domes in Texas. Salt domes provide a broad spectrum of the nation's industrial needs including fuel, minerals, chemical feedstock, and efficient storage space. This report focuses on the development, technology, uses, and problems associated with solution-mined caverns in salt domes. One proposed new use for salt domes is the permanent isolation of toxic chemical waste in solution-mined caverns. As the Texas Department of Water Resources (TDWR) is the State authority responsible for issuing permits for waste disposal in Texas, TDWR funded this report to judge better the technical merits of toxic waste disposal in domes and to gain a review of the state of the art of applicable technology. Salt domes are among the most interesting and intensively studied structural-stratigraphic geologic features. Individual domes may be the largest autochthonous structures on earth. Yet many aspects of salt-dome genesis and evolution, geometry, internal structure, and stratigraphy are problematic. Details of both external and internal geometry of salt stocks and their cap rocks are vague, and information is restricted to the shallow parts of the structure. These facts are all the more surprising considering that salt diapirs dominate the fabric of the Gulf Coastal Province, which is one of the most explored and best known geologic regions on earth. This report includes information on present and past uses of Texas salt domes, their production histories, and extractive technologies (see also Halbouty, 1979; Hawkins and Jirik, 1966; and Jirik and Weaver, 1976). Natural resources associated with salt domes are dominated by petroleum that is trapped in cap rocks and in strata flanking and overlying salt structures. Sulfur occurs in the cap rock of many domes. Some cap rocks also host potentially valuable Mississippi Valley-type sulfide and silver deposits. Salt is produced both by underground mining of rock salt and by solution brining. The caverns created in salt by solution mining also represent a natural resource. The relative stability, economics, location, and size of these caverns make them valuable storage vessels for various petroleum products and chemical feedstocks.


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