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KNOXVILLE — An Australian mining company has given the University of Tennessee a mile-long rock sample that may help geologists determine the likelihood of finding oil deep beneath Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau.

The Pasminco Mining Company, which operates a zinc mine and a smelter in Tennessee, donated the 5,346-foot core drill sample to the university’s department of geological sciences, said Dr. Robert D. Hatcher Jr., distinguished scientist in the UT-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Science Alliance.

Hatcher, who negotiated the donation, said the core came boxed in 120 containers.

“This contribution is comparable to the donation of a rare book to the library,” Hatcher said. “It contains unique and continuous information on the subsurface geology around Carthage.”

The core came from a site near Pasminco’s Gordonsville zinc mine. Hatcher said that at the 5,000-foot level the core reveals ancient volcanic rocks that are at least 1.1 billion years old.

“More precise radioactive dating of the deeper rocks will be done in a future research project,” he said. “The core will be of interest not only to university researchers but also to mining and petroleum geologists.”

Hatcher recently presented a paper on the core at a meeting of the Tennessee Oil and Gas Association in Knoxville.

“Data from the core are already being put to use with other subsurface data from beneath the Cumberland Plateau,” he said. “The information may help small petroleum companies understand the possibilities for the occurrence of deep oil and gas beneath the plateau.

“Most oil and gas production historically has been from shallow wells, but reports of oil in the deeper rocks around Nashville and the Pasminco mines have existed for many years.”