WISPS OF SALTY AIR waft daily across Albemarle Corp.'s chemical facility at Magnolia and past freshwater marshes to the south.
It makes the Gulf of Mexico seem much closer than the 400 miles away it actually is.
But in one sense, the ocean could be considered just a little more than a mile away -- straight down, that is -- at the Smackover Formation.
That's where Albemarle and rival Great Lakes Chemical Corp. annually drill for billions of gallons of the ancient, superdense, salty water; or brine, to produce one of the state's most valuable chemical elements -- bromine....
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Bromine, when combined with other chemicals to form useful compounds, is used in a variety of products Arkansans use every day -- and may take for granted. It's found in flame retardants, agricultural pesticides, water treatment chemicals, oil and natural gas drilling fluids, fire extinguisher chemicals, film developing chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food additives, makeup and cleaning products.
It's also in the controversial methylbromide, an agriculture fumigation pesticide, which is considered an ozone-depleting chemical along the lines of chlorofluorocarbons by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It's slowly being phased out in most of the world under the Montreal Protocols international treaty.
Bromine's varied uses help generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue for Albemarle Corp. of Richmond, Va., and Great Lakes Chemical Corp. of Indianapolis....
They, operate about 150 wells and have 14,000 leases for mineral drilling rights -- covering almost 169,000 acres -- and make combined annual lease payments of about $7.5 million to some 20,000 different landowners.
"Everybody in southeast Arkansas is about oil and gas production, but I have heard of only one new oil refinery," said Dan Redmond, plant manager at Great Lake's El Dorado facility. "All the others have dried up. All that's left is timber and brine. We're vital to Union and Columbia counties; we support a lot of things." ....
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[See link for full article at http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Brine+issues+boiling+up%3A+bromine+industry+faces+challenges+both...-a0101030010]