Searles Valley Minerals

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Searles Valley Minerals Inc. is a raw materials mining and production company based in Overland Park, Kansas. It is owned by the Indian company Nirma.[1][2] It has major operations in the Searles Valley and in Trona, California where it is the town's largest employer.[3][4] The company produces borax, boric acid, soda ash, salt cake and salt. It also owns the Trona Railway.[1][5]

The Trona facility extracts and ships 1.75 million tons of chemicals per year.[3]

Searles Valley Minerals Inc. is part of Climate VISION (Voluntary Innovative Sector Initiatives: Opportunities Now), a public/private partnership which is seeking to reduce US industry greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent between 2002 and 2012.[6] As it operates on government owned land, Searles Valley Minerals Inc. pays royalties of millions of dollars each year to both the federal and state governments. Much of those royalties cover the expenses of local school districts.[7]


The mining, production, and assets of the present day Searles Valley Minerals Inc. have a long and varied history.

When John Searles arrived in the area in the 1860s, he was looking for gold and silver to mine. Instead he found a white crystalline powder, borax, in the dry Searles Lake bed. [8] In 1873 he went into production as the San Bernardino Borax Mining Company to mine borax. Long mule teams were used to haul borax in wagons to San Pedro, until the much closer settlement of Mojave was used after the Southern Pacific Railroad reached it in 1876. [8]

In 1895 The San Bernardino Borax Mining Company was sold by Searles to the Pacific Coast Borax Company, owned by Francis "Borax King" Smith. [8] He shut down production at the company's section of Searles Lake the next year. [8][9]

American Trona Company[edit]

The American Trona Company was founded in 1913 by the British-owned Consolidated Gold Fields of South Africa company. [8] In 1914 the company completed the Trona Railway line from Searles Station south to a junction with the Southern Pacific Railroad. Also in 1914, the American Trona Corporation established the company-owned town of Trona, named for crystals of soda ash formed by the evaporation of chemical-rich water commonly found in the lake bed. [8] The production of potash began in 1915. [8]

In 1917 construction was completed on the American Trona Corporation Building in San Pedro, to process and store salt potash.

In 1926, after becoming the American Potash & Chemical Corporation, it began producing borax, soda ash, and sodium sulfate. Productions of these chemicals continued to expand until the 1980s.

Post-WW II[edit]

After World War II, American Potash had labor relations problems due to allegations that Latino workers were paid lower wages than White workers. Later, Latino workers were promoted to managerial positions also.[3] In 1962 the company received nationwide recognition and an award for its innovative solvent extraction process to recover boric acid and potassium sulfate from weak brines.[5]

In 1974 American Potash and Chemical Corp. was bought by Kerr-McGee Corporation (current subsidiary of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation). [8] However they didn’t want to own the company town and sold it. They cut production in half in 1982 and instituted massive layoffs. [8]

Kerr-McGee sold the Searles Valley production facilities in 1990, to capital investors D. George Harris and Associates, which formed the North American Chemical Company.[5] Ownership changed again in 1998 when IMC Global corporation acquired North American Chemical Company.[5]

21st century[edit]

In 2004 when Sun Capital, LLC purchased IMC Global corporation, the North American Chemical Company facilities at Trona and Westend were renamed Searles Valley Minerals, Inc.[3][5][6]

In November 2007, Karnavati Holdings, a subsidiary of the Indian corporation Nirma Limited based in Ahmedabad (India), purchased Searles Valley Minerals corporation from Sun Capital Partners.[8][1][2]

Environmental Problems[edit]

The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) has noted that salt toxicosis has killed over 4,000 birds in brine ponds produced by the Trona plant. The DFG made an agreement with the company in 2005 to allow a certain number of bird deaths, if the company paid $300,000 for a new wetlands area in the southern Owens Valley on a main migratory bird route.[10][11]

There are allegations of arsenic poisoning of plant workers.[12] SVM argued in a letter to the State Water Resources Control Board, that concentration of total dissolved solids, chlorides, sodium and other minerals are higher in natural ephemeral pools than in the company's depleted brine ponds.

The Searles Lake brine is rich in arsenic, and a unique anaerobic, extremely haloalkaliphilic bacterium which uses arsenic for respiration has been isolated from the mud.[13]


  1. ^ a b c Justis, Ruth (November 28, 2007). "New owners for Trona plant". The Daily Independent. 
  2. ^ a b "Nirma shares soar 7% on acquisition of US coenvironment". The Economic Times. November 27, 2007. 
  3. ^ a b c d Hughes, Wesley G. (October 16, 2005). "Town at 'End of the World' Friendliness Runs Deep in Remote San Bernardino County Desert Hamlet". Los Angeles Daily News. 
  4. ^ "Leasing at Searles Lake". U.S. Department of the Interior - Bureau of Land Management. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Searles Valley Timeline". Searles Valley Historical Society. 
  6. ^ a b Saholt, Linda (June 9, 2005). "Searles Valley Minerals takes steps to protect environment". The Daily Independent. 
  7. ^ Justis, Ruth (May 31, 2007). "Royalty cut a mixed bag for Trona". The Daily Independent. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Searles Valley Historical Searles Valley History Timeline
  9. ^ San Bernardino Sun: "Tiny desert community of Trona hopes to rise from the ashes", by Beau Yarbrough, 24 October 2015.
  10. ^ Sward, Susan (July 6, 2008). "Ex-worker on crusade against chemical plant". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  11. ^ Holcomb, Jay (July 9, 2008). "Trona bird rescue project: Making a difference". International Bird Rescue Research Center. 
  12. ^ Sward, Susan (July 8, 2008). "Lawmakers call for probe of chemical plant". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  13. ^ Oremland, R., et al., "A Microbial Arsenic Cycle in a Salt-Saturated, Extreme Environment", Science, Vol. 308. no. 5726, pp. 1305 - 1308, 27 May 2005..

External links[edit]