Thursday, February 12, 2009


Everyone has heard of kaopectate, that helpful white kaolin clay product that you take to end the squirts, when all else fails. But have you ever heard of smectopectate, the related product made with Wyoming Bentonite. Smectite is a highly expansive clay that sorbs water into its structure and can swell up to 1000 times its dry volume. I tried this little known product for some mild indegestion and noticed one of its more interesting side effects, as shown in the photo. I'm glad I only took 1 tablespoon of the stuff, or I might not be here today. My son thought my agony was really funny. Kids! Moral of the story: Stick with kaolin-based anti-squirt products and avoid gut splitting problems associated with expansive clays.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Art of Clays

Sometimes, when looking at things that are really small with a really good scanning electron microscope, you see things that remind you how beautiful and complex nature is, right down to the level of these tiny clay minerals. Whether it is "hairy illite" (you guess which one that is) or tiny remnants of solid hydrocarbon trapped in the "taco shell" of some grain-rimming iron-rich chlorite, it makes you pause and wonder who wrote the plan for these things. A lot of folks think oil just gushes from the ground and is easy to find and produce. So mnay of the rocks that contain oil have these darn clays plugging everything up that production of any fluid is very difficult. 90% of Americans don't have a clue how difficult it is to find and produce oil and gas. Just as long as it comes out a nozzel at the gas pump for a reasonable price, they don't want to know what it took to get there. Keep driving!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

When I look out my window

So, if you are wondering why I left California 16 years ago, this is the view from my office window. Enuf said.
Seriously, this landscape boggles the imagination. Do peneplains really exist? This view shows an erosion surface that may be well over 5 million years old. The Jory/Bellpine soils that occur out to the horizon have pedorelicts of gibbsite and decades-old volcanic ash. So much interesting stuff, all clothed in a beautiful doug fir forest. Mary's Peak in the background is an uplifted fault block that exposes 45 million year old sea floor pillow basalts overlain by deep marine sandstone. It's all a piece of Oregon's history. Too bad the sands don't contain a few hundred million barrels of oil. We could disguise the pumpers as log cabins or black berry bushes and make oil while appeasing the environmental types. Oregon's economy could use a kick in the pants. Our great govenor wants to put a gps device on every car in the state and tax us for the number of miles we drive. Since we have one of the highest gas taxes in the nation, but have too many fuel efficient cars (you know - powder-blue Prius'), the tax revenue has dropped as people have fought through $5 a gallon gas by not driving as much. So, if the gas tax can't bring in enough money, the gps locator tax is the best way to get more money and really hurt the poorer class that has to commute long distances to work due to less affordable homes in the big cities. It surely won't put the burden on the upper class. How about that political view? How did this get started? I was talking about geology and beauty and things millions of years old?!!!! Then oil and taxes? That's Oregon for you. Never a dull moment. My solution? Let's have a hunting season on Prisus' that will decrease overall fuel efficiency and increase gas tax revenue.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Honest, it was just glass...

Sometimes you want to find some cool clay, but end up with this amorphous junk. Pity, just glass!
So, you are wondering, what the heck is this curvy graph? Or if you were me, you'd say, what is an XRD pattern doing on a stupid blog? If you think this is dumb, just wait until you see some hairy illite, or snotty-looking smectite, or blocky kaolinite, or some other thing that tweaks a clay mineralogist's fancy.
Well, my eggs are done, so it's off to breakfast. Maybe I could greasy my potatoe gun's barrell with some bentonite and get more distance...

Altered Basalt

Nice looking smectite in altered basalts found in western Oregon! As it turns out, too much clay in basaltic rocks makes them troublesome for engineering uses. Take highway road beds and gravel roads for example. Spread this clay-rich basalt on a road and after a few rainstorms you have a muddy mess. Not what the doctor ordered! So while the clays are pretty under the microscope, they can be a royal pain in the bedonkadonk when they get into our roads and buildings. Some rocks should never be used for roads or buildings. That nice porous basaltic sandstone image actually comes from a building built in the 1800's that is falling apart at the seams. Wonder why? The sandstone is not cemented by anything other than a little expandable smectite clay. The building gets wet, the clay expands; the building dries, the clays shrink. A few years later, the building falls apart. Hmmmm. Next time use granite!