|Barite roses from Kansas. R.I. Gibson photo.|
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.