American Company Seeks a Share in Dead Sea Concession
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American Company Seeks a Share in Dead Sea Concession

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(Jewish Telegraphic Agency)

Seeking a share in the salts of the Dead Sea, Dr. Thomas Herbert Norton of New York, a leading American chemist, organizer of the Anglo-American syndicate which hopes to obtain a franchise for the extraction of the mineral deposits, is now in London seeking to put through the concession.

The British Colonial Office has been considering the bids of various competitors for the last year and a half. Announcement of their award may be expected at any time.

Potash, bromine salts, gypsum and magnesium chloride are the principal of these Dead Sea fruits. But, according to Dr. Norton, the American members of his group are chiefly interested in the potash.

It is believed that if Dr. Norton and his group could acquire possession of the Dead Sea resources in that mineral, the United States would not only be independent of German and French supplies but would be able to cut very drastically the price of this essential fertilizer to the American farmers.

It is understood Dr. Norton has obtained guarantees for the capital necessary to undertake such a huge work, and also has collected an entire technical, chemical and engineering staff with a view to beginning the work as soon as the concession is granted.

There are three other strong bidders in the field. The first group represents the British Chemical Trust, presided over by Sir Alfred Mond. The second is headed by the Russian Jewish engineer Novomeisky, representing Zionist interests, and also believed to have certain affiliations with Sir Alfred. The third is an independent British syndicate.

Dr. Norton went abroad more than a year ago in the interests of the chemical development of the Dead Sea and the securing of an operating concession. He made a study of the possibilities of exploiting the salts of the Dead Sea. He reported the findings of his survey and the progress in the negotiations in a recent article in “Chemicals,” American chemical trade magazine of which he was for a number of years technical editor.

“There is nothing to prevent Palestine from becoming, at an early date, a powerful factor in the production on a large scale of some of our most important chemicals, and from being the seat of one chemical world monopoly.” Dr. Norton wrote.

“Highly perfected processes make it possible to supply bromine and potassium chloride at a cost of production far below that of any other known source. Sodium chloride–salt–is a by product, costing literally nothing beyond the trifling expense of collecting and shipping in bags or bulk. It furnishes the raw material for the establishment in the land itself of a highly remunerative soda industry, capable of supplying the markets of the Near East with a variety of products. Caustic potash can be placed upon the market at about the cost of caustic soda and regain its old-time predominance in a variety of chemical reactions.

“Numerous other features carefully developed by the chemists who have been occupied with this problem for the past nine years, contribute to make the economic exploitation of the Dead Sea one of the most interesting and important chemical triumphs of our day.

“Palestine will not be alone in profiting from this sudden entry of the Dead Sea among the chemical assets of the world. The farmers of Great Britain, and of the Dominions as well as those of all other countries, will appreciate a cut in the cost of potash, that indispensable plant food, to at least one half of what they have hitherto paid.

“No one can blame the officials charged with the serious task of granting so important a franchise, as being unduly slow,” Dr. Norton continued.

“The values involved are such that the responsibility of dealing with the problems of creating a vast modern industry in what is little more than a pastoral country must, of necessity, be entrusted to men fully competent to handle them, from every standpoint. They should be technically and temperamentally well equipped for a task of such magnitude, demanding an unusual range of experience and highly specialized knowledge.

“Fortunately for Palestine this type of chemist is well represented in the small group of applicants for the concession in question. It includes men who have devoted long years to the study of the chemistry of potash, who have mastered every detail in connection with the production of potash salts, their marketing and their applications, before specializing on the problem of the Dead Sea. They are intimately familiar with all the phases of the large scale production of the numerous compounds to be manufactured from the quartet of basic salts present in such enormous quantities. Of international repute, highly trained in research, they command the confidence of banking houses and chemical companies to such a degree that the most ample financial support and the full cooperation of powerful industrial corporations are at their service. One of the group was a resident for several years in the Turkish Empire and is familiar with every detail of oriental life.

“A most interesting feature is the spirit in which these chemists enter friendly rivalry for the honor of creating the new industry. The dominant idea, the mainspring of the prolonged studies and experimentation of the past nine years has naturally been the ambition to achieve a notable success in creating a new industry and unlocking a marvelous storehouse of mineral wealth. It is, however, coupled with a resolute determination that Palestine, so rich in historical and spiritual associations, so destitute of actual wealth, shall be the chief beneficiary of the undertaking in view. They are ready to combine their efforts and pool their interests, unite individual effort and financial support, or enter into any arrangement deemed most desirable and effective for the purpose in view by the Colonial Office.

“Formal proposals include the transfer of the bulk of the surplus profits to the Government of Palestine, or the obligatory reinvestment of a portion in the Palestinian industrial, financial, commercial, transportation, and similar organizations thus retaining in the land itself the chief amount of the tribute paid by the rest of the world for the country’s mineral treasure; the distribution of potash salts for fertilizer at cost prices to the farmers of Palestine and Transjordan; the gift of the entire plant for the recovery of the salts of the Dead Sea after a short period of years to the Government of Palestine; the establishment of vocational schools to trainnatives for subordinate posts and eventually higher administrative and technical positions; the presence in the directorate of the proposed Corporation of one or more competent natives of Palestine representing ex officio its Government; a highly perfected welfare organization, dealing with the interests of workmen and their families; and similar features aiming at the closest cooperation with the mandatory administration in its efforts for the social and industrial uplift of Palestine.

“Probably no Government has ever been approached with more generous propositions in return for a franchise.

“Very complete preparations have been made for a prompt entrance upon active operations in case the concession is granted. Thus the staff of one applicant includes four prominent chemists of international reputation, all Fellows of the London Chemical Society, distinguished by the number and value of their original researches, and experienced specialists for all key positions are already chosen.

“The technical and financial support of a long established and powerful chemical manufacturing firm, with agencies throughout the world is a most valuable feature.

“In numberless ways ample provision has been made to solve all the problems incident to the creation of a great industry as far as is feasible before the actual terms of a concession are defined and formulated.

“The generous offers extended to the Colonial Office are thoroughly justified. In their blue book 1925 the Crown Agents for the Colonies cautiously characterize the proposition as “an enterprise which in any case must be speculative.” The preliminary studies and experiments of those applying for the franchise show conclusively that the term “speculative” must disappear.

“The actual problem will be: How far below the minimum cost of production of potash salts in Alsace, Germany, Poland, Russia and Spain, shall the price of Palestinian potassium chioride be fixed to meet the demands of agriculture throughout the world? It is not to be forgotten that Palestine is the ward of the League of Nations.

“Few realize the amounts of potential values of the contents of the Dead Sea. Based upon current quotation they are: Potash 1,300,000,000 tons, $70,000,000,000; Eromine 853,000,000 tons. $260,000,000,000; Salt, 11,900,000,000 tons, $27,000,000,000; Gypsum 81,000,000 tons $120,000,000; Calcium Chloride 6,000,000,000 tons $85,000,000,000; Magnesium Chloride 22,000,000,000 tons $825,000,000,000–a total value of $1,267,000,000,000. Of this, the gypsum is purely of local interest and the calcium chloride for the time being is without value.

“This latest effort of technical and scientific efficiency may place the historic land at an early date among the powerful industrial factors of our age,” Dr. Norton concludes.

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