The race is on to get the mineral out of Clayton Valley and into your iPhones, Bolts, and Powerwalls.
John Rud has been riding the peaks and valleys of the commodities markets around North America since he left the University of Oregon 55 years ago with a master’s degree in geology. “The valleys are real broad, and the peaks are real narrow,” he likes to say. Copper in Canada. Silver in Texas. Gold in Mexico.
Iron in Arizona. Uranium in Utah. In one 18-year stretch, Rud and his wife moved 27 times. “I got to where I could load up a house in a U-Haul truck starting at 4 p.m., be done by midnight, and be on the next job by morning,” he says. “I considered that quite a talent.” (His wife was rather less impressed and eventually left him.)
Rud—pronounced like the adjective—typically shows up in an area with abundant stores of a natural element that looks set for a price spike, puts his geology skills to work finding a lode, files a claim under the General Mining Act of 1872, and waits for the phone to ring.
Once it does, the company he co-owns, GeoXplor Corp., leases its claim to the would-be owner and offers its extraction services. “We’re glorified prospectors,” Rud says of himself and his business partner, Clive Ashworth. “Some days, not so glorified.”
On a cold, gray January morning, Rud sits in his white Dodge Ram pickup with his pet Chihuahua mix, B.J., outside the Dinky Diner in Goldfield, Nev. He’s on the phone with a drilling-rig operator he hired to dig a well in nearby Clayton Valley. They’re trying to get at a mineral-rich brine solution stuck between layers of a porous aquifer created by the explosion of volcanoes in the vicinity about 5 million years ago. “We need some gravel on this road; can you talk to the county about that?” the driller asks. “Yeah, I’ll get on ’em,” Rud replies.
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