Minerals Program: Uniquely Utah

Utah is home to an interesting mix of minerals used for a wide variety of products. Some of these minerals are found only in Utah, making them unique and valuable to the rest of the world. The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining Minerals Program oversees and regulates all non-coal mining operations in the state. From large to small operators, staff works to ensure mining operation procedures are followed. This includes verifying operators work within permit boundaries, mining operations pose no threat to public safety or the environment, and making sure the Division has adequate bonds to ensure reclamation.

There are over 500 different minerals found in Utah with over 20 different metals including copper, gold and silver. Currently there are nearly 600 permitted mineral operations statewide with a total of approximately 66,600 acres of disturbance. The Minerals program with a staff of six inspectors statewide is tasked with reviewing mine permit applications (21 new permits in 2016) and amendments, inspecting mines (over 470 inspections in 2016), ensuring compliance with the law, and responding to public comments.

Red Beryl- rarer than diamond and more valuable than gold
Privately-held mining claim
Millard County, Utah

The gemstone has several different names: red beryl, red emerald, or bixbite. Originally, the mineral was named bixbite, but now red beryl is the most accepted designation. Red beryl is estimated to be worth 1,000 times more than gold and is so rare that one red beryl crystal is found for every 150,000 diamonds.

Red beryl is presently found at only three locations in the world: the Thomas Range and the Wah Wah Mountains in west-central Utah, and the Black Range in New Mexico. The only known deposit of large, gem-quality red beryl in the world is from the Ruby-Violet claims in the Wah Wah Mountains of Beaver County, Utah. These are private claims and no collecting is allowed without permission from the present claim owners.

Materion Corporation
Millard County, Utah

Beryllium is a light metal, but strong, melts at a high temperature and is corrosion-resistant. It is expensive and is used in missile and rocket parts due to its strength without weight. It is used in x-ray tubes because it is transparent to x-rays. When combined with copper it forms a high-strength, non-sparking alloy used for tools handled around oil wells and flammable gases, where a spark from an iron tool could be disastrous. It’s also used in beryllium copper golf clubs. Certain forms of Beryllium are toxic, so it must be handled with caution. Utah is home to the only active beryllium mine in the world.

American Gilsonite
Uintah County, Utah

Gilsonite is a shiny, black, solid hydrocarbon that has been mined in Utah since 1888. It is a trademarked brand name for uintaite, a naturally occurring hydrocarbon resin found in products including oil and gas, ink, paint, construction, asphalt and explosives. It is an important industrial mineral that is shipped worldwide. All Utah’s gilsonite mines are located in southeastern Uintah County.

Intrepid Potash
Grand County, Utah

Potash is potassium-containing salts used widely by farmers in fertilizer.
Most potash forms in arid regions when inland seas or lakes evaporate leaving behind potassium salt deposits. Over time, sediment buried these deposits creating potash ore.

In Utah, miners pump water into deep underground caverns. Potash is soluble, so water dissolves it into brine that is pumped back to the surface and into one of the evaporation ponds.  As the water evaporates, potash and other salts crystallize out. This evaporation process typically takes about 300 days. The water is dyed bright blue to reduce the amount of time it takes for the potash to crystallize; darker water absorbs more sunlight and heat. The crystals of potash and salt are then sent to a facility to be separated through a flotation process.

In 2013, the United States produced over one million tons of potash, about two percent of global production. The fertilizer industry consumed about 85 percent of the potash produced by the United States; the chemical industry used the rest.

Intrepid Potash near Moab is the largest producer of potassium chloride, one of many potash salts used in fertilizer and used to farm a variety of foods, particularly chloride-loving vegetables like sugar beets, celery, Swiss chard and other plants that are resilient to chloride. Its chloride can be beneficial for soils that are low in chloride, making plants more disease resistant; however, if the soil or irrigation water has high levels of chloride, the added content can create toxicity. This means that the levels have to be carefully managed, and MOP must only be used for select crops.

U.S. Magnesium
Tooele County, Utah

Magnesium is moderately priced, strong, light and easy to machine. Its downside is that it’s highly flammable. Magnesium was used for early photographic flashes; many modern pyrotechnics use magnesium powder, especially incendiary bombs, signals and flares. Magnesium is used in jet-engine parts, rockets and missiles, bicycles, and portable power tools. Much more common is aluminum mixed with magnesium.

Although there are other magnesium mines in the world. US Magnesium is the sole provider in the United States.

Dragon Mine
Juab County, Utah

The Dragon Mine is the only known measured resource of Halloysite Clay in the Western Hemisphere significant enough for large scale production. It is also one of only a few underground mineral mines in the state and one of the only halloysite mines in the world.

Halloysite has historically been used in the manufacture of porcelain, bone china, and fine china. In these applications the combination of the tubular shape in clay with low iron and titanium content produces ceramic ware with exceptional whiteness and translucency. The tubular shape, also known as a nanotube, may be large enough to serve as a pipe through which other nanoparticles can be channeled, or, depending on the material, may be used as an electrical conductor or an electrical insulator.

Halloysite nanotubes can be coated with metallic and other substances to achieve a wide variety of electrical, chemical, and physical properties. The hollow tubes can be filled with a variety of active ingredients including those used for cosmetics, household and personal care products, pesticides, pest repellents, pharmaceuticals and other agents that could benefit from extended release.

The State of Utah recently awarded a grant to a team from the University of Utah to further development of soild polymer electrolytes using halloysite for use in solid-state lithium batteries.