About the blog: What Things Are Made Of


The United States relies on imports for dozens of commodities in everyday use. Often enough, that reliance is 100%. In this book I aim to provide awareness of the hidden geology and mineralogy behind common things, and to develop an appreciation for the global resource distribution that underpins our society. While concerns about oil import reliance are in the news every day, our needs for other minerals are comparable and are typically unknown even to technologically aware Americans.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Barite helps find oil

Barite roses from Kansas. R.I. Gibson photo.
Barite is a fairly common mineral, barium sulfate, frequently represented in collections. Its noticeably high specific gravity, 4.5, together with interesting crystals and occasional fluorescence make it popular with mineral collectors. Iron-bearing red sand incorporated into its crystalline aggregates makes barite roses, the state rock of Oklahoma. Gypsum crystals with sand in their matrix make similar “desert roses.”

From 2005 through 2008, the US consumed more than three million tons of barite each year. This volume fell to under two million in 2009 thanks to the recession and its impact on oil and gas consumption because 95% of all the barite used goes into drilling fluids for oil and gas wells. Barite’s density helps control high subsurface pressures.

Barite finds its way into many other uses, volumetrically smaller than oil and gas drilling but more directly pertinent to consumers. It helps protect metal in brake linings and adds gloss to automobile paint. Truck mud flaps, auto tires, home carpet backings, and playing cards include barite for weight, strength, and stiffness.

As a radiation blocker, barite shields x-ray machines and nuclear reactors, and creates the x-ray-opaque contrast medium for intestinal soft-tissue scans. A use that is declining as flat-panel technology expands is in the glass of cathode-ray tubes, where barium carbonate reduces radiation from old-style televisions and computer monitors.

About 80% of US barite is imported, virtually all of it (93%) from China, world leader with more than half the production (India is #2 with about 15%). The 20% of US consumption mined domestically is mostly from Nevada; the US industry employs about 330 workers in a $20 million business, representing about 7% of the world’s barite.

Photo: Barite roses from Kansas. Photo by Richard Gibson. 


Angela said...

I just have to say I love your blog. It is very informative and interesting. My favorite is your article on Sapphires (what girl wouldn't). I am following your blog avidly. Perhaps you could take a look into mine, rom one writer to another. http://sheerglow.blogspot.com/. Looking forward to the next stone highlighted from Butte!

Richard Gibson said...

Thanks for the nice words - and good luck to you with your writing project as well! Guess it is colder in New Hampshire than Butte, now.