If you haven’t had of Barite, you’re excused – even for avid followers of ARPN Barite is not among the first that come to mind of when you think of critical minerals. It has, however, attained that status with its inclusion in the Department of Interior’s list of 35 metals and minerals considered critical to U.S. national security.
In his latest installment of his series “Critical Minerals Alaska” for North of 60 Mining News, Shane Lasley spotlights what makes the metal a critical mineral:
“While not the flashiest of the 35 minerals on the United States Geological Survey’s critical list, barite plays an essential role in America’s energy sector.
Barite got its name from the Ancient Greek word for heavy, barús, and it is the high specific gravity that earned this mineral its name that makes it a critical mineral.”
Lasley quotes USGS which stated in its 2018 Mineral Commodity Summaries report that “more than 90 percent of the barite sold in the United States was used as a weighting agent in fluids used in the drilling of oil and natural gas wells.” Other applications include its use in as filler, extender or weighting agents in a variety of products ranging from paints to plastic and rubber. It is widely used in the automobile and metal-casting industries, as well as the medical field where its ability to block x-ray and gamma-ray emissions makes it the perfect aggregate in high-density concrete.
Meanwhile, U.S. domestic production of Barite is declining, with only two mines and a temporary mining project active in 2017, according to USGS. The exact numbers for domestic barite production were withheld for the 2018 Mineral Commodity Summaries report, but of the roughly 3 million metric tons of Barite used in the U.S, more than 75 percent is imported from China.
With domestic production faltering, that number can only be expected to grow — and once more, China, which already supplies more than half of the world’s Barite and is the main import source for the metal used in the U.S. may step in to fill any void.
USGS does not provide numbers on available domestic resources or reserves — but as Lasley points out, there are several metal-rich deposits in Alaska “that host intriguing quantities of this critical drill mud mineral.”
In light of its properties and the supply and demand picture, Barite has earned its stripes as a critical mineral — now it is up to policy makers to devise a comprehensive policy framework that fosters the responsible domestic development of our mineral resources.
Click here to read Shane Lasley’s full piece for North of 60 Mining News.