RESPEC Commemorates Historic Potash Discovery in New Mexico

Carlsbad, NM.  Serving the worldwide potash mining community, RESPEC is pleased to announce the recent installation of a scenic historic marker that celebrates the site where geologist Vachel Harry McNutt discovered a vast deposit of potash ore.  Driving through Eddy County on US Route 62/180, east of Carlsbad, NM, history buffs can visit the actual test well site, McSweeney-McNutt #1, at mile marker 58/59, where the US potash industry began 93 years ago.

RESPEC’s Project Geologist, Peter Smith held the vision to redeem this valuable piece of potash history, a borehole located in the Maroon Cliffs area on an open grassland marked by mesquite, sage brush and sunflowers.  He worked in collaboration with James Rutley, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Carlsbad Field Office; Michael Younger, Geologist, Intrepid Potash;  and Professor David Borrok, Chairman of the Department of Geosciences and Geological and Petroleum Engineering, Missouri S&T.  Smith also coordinated the drafting of the marker with Gretchen Brock, Historian, New Mexico Historic Preservation Division, Archaeological Records Management Section (ARMS), and was present when the marker was approved by the Cultural Properties Review Committee.  The marker was constructed and installed by engineers from the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) Region 2.

“What motivated me was that this borehole is where it all started and that even if you knew where to look, it’s still hard to find.  This historic location had long been forgotten and it needed recognition,” commented Smith.

The World War I embargo on the importation of German potash spurred exploratory drilling in the United States. In 1925, while drilling for petroleum, McNutt discovered the first commercial potash deposits in the entire Western Hemisphere. The McSweeney-McNutt discovery ended the nation’s dependence on imported potash and created a new industry in southeastern New Mexico. Commercial potash mining began in 1926 with the incorporation of the American Potash Company, and since then over 248-million tons of ore have been mined from the Carlsbad area.

In the mining hall of fame, V.H McNutt is well-known as a wildcatter petroleum geologist as well as the unsung hero of potash in America. A geologist of Scotch descent, McNutt, (1888 – 1936) was born in Minerva, Kentucky.

Employed by the Texas oil company, Snowden and McSweeney, McNutt initially looked for oil but found potash. In 1925, while McNutt examined drill cuttings from petroleum exploration, he found pink and red salts, and recognized the potash minerals, polyhalite and sylvite. His samples confirmed a high percentage of potash.  McNutt immediately started acquiring land rights and began exploration. McNutt’s wife Amy was responsible for core storage.

Potash is the common term for mined and manufactured salts containing the element potassium in a water-soluble form. As a commodity, potash has global importance to today’s agricultural producers.  Potash in the form of potassium chloride and potassium carbonate is used in fertilizers. Historically, potash was made from residue left by the evaporation of water-soaked wood ash and used for manufacturing soap, textiles, and glass. New Mexico’s Permian Basin has the largest concentration of potash ores in the United States.

Collaborating with a diverse team, RESPEC is proud to honor the pioneering efforts of our forefathers in the mining industry.

Founded in 1969, RESPEC is a global leader in geoscience, engineering, data, and integrated technology solutions for major industry sectors.

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