The West's Largest Calcium Carbonate Producer:
Lucerne Valley Limestone Province, Southern California

The Lucerne Valley Limestone Province contains enormous reserves of cement-grade and high-brightness, high-grade calcite limestone. The Province lies in the California Transverse Ranges of Southern California within the Los Angeles market region, the second largest economic region in the United States. The Province extends for about 40 kilometers along the north slope of the San Bernardino Mountains overlooking the Mojave Desert. About 5% (12-thousand hectares) of the San Bernardino Mountains is underlain by Paleozoic carbonate rocks. This carbonate stratigraphic section averages about 1,500 meters thick with white high-grade calcite limestone units ranging from 15 to 30 meters thick.

Mineral Materials Company, a subsidiary of A.S. Vinnell, pioneered white pigment filler-extender limestone mining in 1947 with Kennedy Materials Company of Los Angeles. Mineral Materials limestone operations were purchased by Kaiser Steel for steel flux at their Fontana, California steel mill in about 1950. Kaiser Steel operated metallurgical limestone quarries in Arctic and Marble Canyons and Kaiser's Permanente Cement quarried limestone from Cushenbury Canyon from the 1950's through the 1980's. Mitsubishi purchased Kaiser Cement from Hanson Trust in the mid-I980's.

Currently three operators, Omya (formerly Pluess Stauffer), Specialty Minerals (formerly Pfizer), and Mitsubishi Cement are exploiting the western portion of the Province. Along the north-facing slope of the San Bernardino Mountains much of the original high-grade ore has been lost through erosion into a series of northward dipping alluvial fans. Most of the eastern portion of the Province for several kilometers has not eroded away along a highland area known as "Lone Valley" (or the Smart Ranch Limestone Deposit). Right Star Minerals recently received approval to proceed with underground mining of the principal high-grade, white calcite limestone ore body similar to that being mined by Omya, Specialty Minerals, and Mitsubishi Cement in the western portion of the Province.

On the order of 2-million tons of high brightness calcite limestone and 6-million tons of cement-grade limestone per year are mined by these operations. The value-added wealth to the regional economy by this Province is estimated to be greater than a billion dollars a year. The principal markets for white pigment fillers and extenders are caulking compounds, dry-wall textures, fiberglass, fire-resistant roofing, flooring, food additives, paint, paper, plastics, pottery, putty, PVC pipe, stucco, tooth paste, white ink, and wire coatings. Chemical uses include acid neutralization, pharmaceuticals, glass, and air and water purification. Omya and Specialty Minerals are currently the principal producers of ground calcium carbonate (GCC). Mitsubishi produces by-product GCC at their cement operation in Cushenbury Canyon. The Lucerne Valley Limestone Province products are shipped more than 3000 km east to Chicago and 3000 km southwest to Hawaii. During the past 30 years the calcium carbonate market's growth rate for high-grade limestone has ranged from 5 to 15% per year.

Don Fife is an engineering and economic geologist in California. He earned a B.S. in Paleontology and Stratigraphy and an M.S. in Geology at San Diego State University (SDSU). Don's Masters Thesis, Geology of the Bahia Santa Rosalia 30-minute Quadrangle, is on the Pacific Slope of Baja California. His thesis was published as part of GSA Memoir 140, Reconnaissance Geology of Baja California (Gastil et al, 1975).

Don served from 1981 to 1989 as the Secretary of the Interior's Advisor for Geology, Energy, and Minerals for the 25-million acre California Desert Conservation Area. His experience includes 14 years with the California Department of Water Resources and California Department of Conservation (CDMG). Don joined Converse Consultants in 1978 as a Senior Engineering and Mining Geologist. He edited and compiled two major Southern California geology volumes for the South Coast Geological Society: Geology and Mineral Wealth of the California Desert, (Fife and Brown, 1980) and Geology and Mineral Wealth of the California Transverse Ranges, (Fife and Minch, 1982).

Don Fife grew up in the Mojave Desert helping his father in the family well drilling, excavating and mining business. A family friend gave his family a gold mine along a contact scam between granite and limestone. The tiny, gold vein was overlain by millions of tons of "worthless" white limestone (marble), which they blasted into the canyon below in order to expose the gold. The overburden rendered the gold mine economically unfeasible.

Don's father got a contract to haul limestone from a new quarry in nearby Cushenbury Canyon, near the present site of Mitsubishi's quarry and cement plant. This limestone was neither as white nor as pure as the limestone they had blasting into the canyon as waste. They realized the white limestone waste blasted into the canyon was far more valuable than the gold. They expanded their claim into the White Ridge 160 acre mining claim. This was patented and sold to Kaiser Steel in 1958 for steel flux reserves.

While at SDSU, Don's undergraduate thesis was Geology of the White Ridge and White Knob Limestone Deposits. In 1983 Don received a mineral patent on the 200-acre extension of the White Ridge Claim, known as the White Knob Claim. This required an 8 1/2-year battle with more than 20 Forest Service and BLM mineral examiners.

Both the White Ridge and White Knob claims were landlocked. Pfizer Chemical, Inc. had a virtual monopoly of white, high-grade limestone in Southern California. These companies, along with environmental groups, blocked access to these high-grade limestone deposits. In the mid 1980's, Don was a consultant appraising the mineral assets in the pending bankruptcy of the Kaiser Steel Mill. As a result, the Steelworkers Union acquired the White Ridge deposit for their vision insurance fund. Omya, the world's largest producer of white pigment limestone, was brought in as the operator. This former gold mine is now the second largest producer of white high-grade limestone in the western United States.

"The establishment of an American Soviet government will involve the confiscation of large landed estates in town and country, and also, the whole body of forests, mineral deposits, lakes, rivers, and so on."

William Z. Foster
National Chairman of the Communist Party, USA,. 1932