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Utah's Phosphate Rock Industry and Utah Railroads

This page was last updated on July 18, 2013.

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Vernal Mine

In 1915, Harry Ratliffe staked nearly 15,000 acres of low to medium grade phosphate rock along the southern flank of the Uintah Mountains. This deposit became the largest privately owned phosphate deposit containing approximately 700 million tons of reserves. Initial development of the deposit began in 1958 by San Francisco Chemical, a joint venture between Stauffer Chemical Company and Mountain Copper Limited. In 1968, Stauffer Chemical Company bought out Mountain Copper Limited and became sole owner and operator. In 1981, Chevron Resources Company bought the property from Stauffer and operated the mining and milling operations after that date.

The following comes from a suit filed in U. S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, decided in January 2003:

In the 1980's, Chevron built an integrated phosphate fertilizer project. The purpose of the project was to utilize sulfur by-product from Chevron's natural gas operations in Carter Creek, Wyoming. Rather than attempt to sell the sulfur to existing phosphate fertilizer producers, Chevron chose to produce phosphate fertilizer itself. Entry into the phosphate fertilizer business was consistent with Chevron's preexisting nitrogen fertilizer business and fertilizer distribution system. In furtherance of this plan, Chevron purchased an operating phosphate mine located near Vernal, Utah. Because it was roughly equidistant between Carter Creek and Vernal, and because it was a railhead, Chevron chose to construct its fertilizer plant in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Chevron built a pipeline to transport phosphate concentrate slurry from the Vernal mine to the fertilizer plant in Rock Springs. This pipeline runs over lands owned by the United States, including environmentally sensitive lands, pursuant to a right-of-way issued by the Bureau of Land Management. The project became operational with the first shipments of phosphate concentrate through the pipeline sometime after May of 1986.

When Chevron purchased the Vernal phosphate mine it assumed an existing phosphate sales contract with Cominco, Ltd., a phosphate fertilizer producer in western Canada. Prior to the time the pipeline became operational, Chevron supplied Cominco by trucking phosphate to a railhead near Park City, Utah. In 1988, Cominco cancelled its phosphate contract with Chevron, concluding that it could obtain all the phosphate it needed at a lower cost from its own mining operations. Neither Chevron nor its successor-in-interest, SF, ever sold phosphate concentrate to a third-party after 1988, despite repeatedly trying to find outsider purchasers. During the entire time Chevron owned and operated the pipeline, no additional phosphate mines were developed in the United States and, after 1988, there were no third-party phosphate sales from a western United States phosphate mine.

In April of 1992, Chevron sold its entire integrated phosphate fertilizer project to SF (a joint venture between J. R. Simplot Company and Farmland Industries, Inc.). In 1992, Chevron completely exited the business by selling its interest in the entire integrated fertilizer project to SF for $64 million, only half of what it paid for the Vernal mine alone. (Findlaw.com)

In 1985, Chevron Resources Company owned and operated an open pit phosphate mine and mill 11 miles north of Vernal, Utah. At that time, the plant produced 500,000 tons per year of concentrate and had the capacity to produce 750,000 tons per year. The operation was about to be expanded to 1,300,000 tons per year of concentrate in order to supply a new fertilizer plant being constructed by Chevron Chemical Company in Rock Springs, Wyoming. A 10-inch, 96-mile pipeline was being built to transport the concentrate from Vernal to Rock Springs.

In 1993, the Vernal phosphate rock concentrator was located in the Uinta Mountains near Vernal, Utah. Ore was sedimentary rock from the Phosphoria Formation. Truck and shovel mining was done at a rate of 11,500 tons per day. Run of mine ore was crushed and then milled through a SAG mill and ball mill to minus 16 mesh. Milled ore was deslimed using cyclones and hydrosizers. Sands were conditioned with fatty acid, petroleum sulfonate, diesel fuel and frother prior to primary rougher and cleaner flotation. Primary flotation tailing was milled to 95 per cent minus 48 mesh, deslimed in cyclones, conditioned using reagents previously described, and then processed through rougher and cleaner scavenger flotation. Product of scavenger cleaner concentrate was upgraded by reverse flotation of dolomite. Flotation concentrates were combined and dewatered, pulp being milled to 99.5 per cent minus 65 mesh and then thickened to 65 per cent solids. Product was pumped from storage through a 10 inch, 94 mile pipeline to a conversion plant at Rock Springs, Wyoming. Mill tailing was stored behind an earthen dam, water from the settled tailing being reclaimed for mill use.

As of 1997, the mine near Vernal was being operated by S. F. Phosphates Limited Company.

"The original SF Phosphates mine–near Vernal, Utah–was developed by the San Francisco Chemical Company in 1960. Chevron Resources Company purchased the mine in 1981, and in 1984 began construction of the slurry pipeline and the fertilizer manufacturing plant near Rock Springs, Wyoming. Chevron's plant and pipeline operations were underway by 1986. Spring of 1992 saw the formation of SF Phosphates Limited Company with the purchase of the mine, pipeline, and fertilizer plant in a joint venture between the J.R. Simplot Company and Farmland Industries, Inc. In 2003 the J.R. Simplot Company purchased Farmland Industries' interest in the operation, renaming it Simplot Phosphates, LLC." (Simplot Phosphates, LLC, brochure, which includes a well-done illustration of the fertilizer making process)