MAGNOLIA – A group supporting the development of lignite mining in south Arkansas is working to raise a $1.6 million match for a federal grant to conduct lignite core sampling.
Led by State Rep. Garry Smith, the group hopes to obtain a total of $3 million for the project. The core sampling is the first step in developing and mining south Arkansas lignite. Smith is hopeful that the funds can be raised, and said Governor Mike Beebe has pledged to support the project if funding is available.
Smith and other proponents of lignite development in Arkansas contend that mining the natural resource would be a boost to the region that has seen little economic growth in recent years. As a comparison, the Red Hills Mine in Mississippi reported a $13 million payroll with 180 employees in 2003. Similar results are expected for Arkansas mining operations.
“We don’t need to forget that those people working on those mine sites will be spending their money locally,” Smith said.
“The Governor has agreed to try to support core sampling and lignite research at SAU with a one-time grant from the state’s General Improvement Fund,” said a statement from Beebe’s office. “The amount will be determined later in the year as other critical needs are met using the limited resources available in the Fund.”
Southern Arkansas University will be the fiscal agent for this project. The University has a vested interest in lignite research as a member of the Arkansas Lignite Resources Pilot Program. The program was developed by the General Assembly in 2007 and includes SAU, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, and the Arkansas Geological Survey.
The University is also home to the Natural Resource Research Center, a $2 million facility dedicated to the research of south Arkansas’s natural resources including lignite, oil, natural gas, and bromine. The facility was funded through a grant from the Economic Development Administration and the University.
South Arkansas has approximately nine billion tons of lignite resources that remain unexplored and undeveloped. Surrounding states, including Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana are already reaping dividends from lignite development. Local researchers hope to develop south Arkansas lignite into a synthetic crude oil to be refined into diesel fuel. Carbon emissions would be sequestered for minimal environmental impact.