Baryte or barite (BaSO4) is a mineral consisting of barium sulfate. The baryte group consists of baryte, celestine, anglesite and anhydrite. Baryte is generally white or colorless, and is the main source of barium. Baryte and celestine form a solid solution (Ba,Sr)SO4.
The radiating form, sometimes referred to as Bologna Stone, attained some notoriety among alchemists for the phosphorescent specimens found in the 17th century near Bologna by Vincenzo Casciarolo.
The American Petroleum Institute specification API 13/ISO 13500, which governs baryte for drilling purposes, does not refer to any specific mineral, but rather a material that meets that specification. In practice, however, this is usually the mineral baryte.
The term “primary barytes” refers to the first marketable product, which includes crude baryte (run of mine) and the products of simple beneficiation methods, such as washing, jigging, heavy media separation, tabling, flotation. Most crude baryte requires some upgrading to minimum purity or density. Baryte that is used as an aggregate in a “heavy” cement is crushed and screened to a uniform size. Most baryte is ground to a small, uniform size before it is used as a filler or extender, an addition to industrial products, in the production of barium chemicals or a weighting agent in petroleum well drilling mud.
The name baryte is derived from the Greek word βαρύς (heavy). The American spelling is barite. The International Mineralogical Association adopted “barite” as the official spelling when it formed in 1959, but recommended adopting the older “baryte” spelling in 1978, notably ignored by the Mineralogical Society of America.
Other names have been used for baryte, including barytine, barytite, schwerspath, Heavy Spar, tiff, and blanc fixe.
Mineral associations and locations
Baryte with galena and hematite from Poland
Large baryte crystals from Nevada, US
Abandoned baryte mine shaft near Aberfeldy, Perthshire, Scotland
Baryte occurs in a large number of depositional environments, and is deposited through a large number of processes including biogenic, hydrothermal, and evaporation, among others. Baryte commonly occurs in lead-zinc veins in limestones, in hot spring deposits, and with hematite ore. It is often associated with the minerals anglesite and celestine. It has also been identified in meteorites.
Baryte has been found at locations in Brazil, Nigeria, Canada, Chile, China, India, Pakistan, Greece, Guatemala, Iran, Ireland (where it was mined on Benbulben), Liberia, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, Romania (Baia Sprie), Turkey, South Africa (Barberton Mountain Land), Thailand, UK (Cornwall, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Durham, Perthshire, Argyllshire and Surrey) and in the US from Cheshire, Connecticut, De Kalb, New York and Fort Wallace, New Mexico. It is mined in Arkansas, Connecticut, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Nevada and Missouri.
World baryte production for 2014 was 9.7 million tonnes. The major baryte producers (in thousand tonnes, data for 2014) are as follows: China (4,100), India (1,200), Morocco (1,200), United States (1,100), Mexico (420), Iran (350), Turkey (340) and Kazakhstan (200).
The main users of baryte in 2014 were (in million tonnes) US (3.39), China (1.45), Gulf States (0.78), the European Union and Norway (0.61), South America (0.37), India (0.35), Canada (0.29) and Africa (0.28).
77% of baryte worldwide is used as a weighting agent for drilling fluids in oil and gas exploration to suppress high formation pressures and prevent blowouts. As a well is drilled, the bit passes through various formations, each with different characteristics. The deeper the hole, the more baryte is needed as a percentage of the total mud mix. An additional benefit of baryte is that it is non-magnetic and thus does not interfere with magnetic measurements taken in the borehole, either during logging-while-drilling or in separate drill hole logging. Baryte used for drilling petroleum wells can be black, blue, brown or gray depending on the ore body. The baryte is finely ground so that at least 97% of the material, by weight, can pass through a 200-mesh (75-μm) screen, and no more than 30%, by weight, can be less than 6 μm diameter. The ground baryte also must be dense enough so that its specific gravity is 4.2 or greater, soft enough to not damage the bearings of a tricone drill bit, chemically inert, and containing no more than 250 milligrams per kilogram of soluble alkaline salts. In August 2010 API (American Petroleum Institute) published specifications to modify the 4.2 drilling grade standards for baryte to include 4.1 SG materials.
Other uses are in added-value applications which include filler in paint and plastics, sound reduction in engine compartments, coat of automobile finishes for smoothness and corrosion resistance, friction products for automobiles and trucks, radiation-shielding cement, glass ceramics and medical applications (for example, a barium meal before a contrast CAT scan). Baryte is supplied in a variety of forms and the price depends on the amount of processing; filler applications commanding higher prices following intense physical processing by grinding and micronising, and there are further premiums for whiteness and brightness and color. It is also used to produce other barium chemicals, notably barium carbonate which is used for the manufacture of LED glass for television and computer screens ( historically in cathode ray tubes); and for dielectrics.
Historically baryte was used for the production of barium hydroxide for sugar refining, and as a white pigment for textiles, paper, and paint.
Although baryte contains a “heavy” metal (barium), it is not a toxic chemical because of its extreme insolubility.
Oxygen and sulfur isotope records
Baryte with cerussite from Morocco
In the deep ocean, away from continental sources of sediment, pelagic baryte precipitates and forms a significant amount of the sediments. Since baryte has oxygen, systematics in the δ18O of these sediments have been used to help constrain paleotemperatures for oceanic crust.
The variations in sulfur isotopes (34S/32S) are being examined in evaporite minerals containing sulfur (ex, baryte) and carbonate associated sulfates (CAS) to determine past seawater sulfur concentrations which can help identify specific depositonal periods such as anoxic or oxic conditions. The use of sulfur isotope reconstruction is often paired with oxygen when a molecule contains both elements.
What is Barite
Barite is a mineral composed of barium sulfate (BaSO4). It receives its name from the Greek word “barys” which means “heavy.” This name is in response to barite’s high specific gravity of 4.5, which is exceptional for a nonmetallic mineral. The high specific gravity of barite makes it suitable for a wide range of industrial, medical, and manufacturing uses. Barite also serves as the principal ore of barium.
Barite Rose: This “barite rose” is a cluster of bladed barite crystals that have grown in sand, incorporating many of the sand grains within each crystal. Specimen and photo by Arkenstone / www.iRocks.com.
Barite often occurs as concretions and void-filling crystals in sediments and sedimentary rocks. It is especially common as concretions and vein fillings in limestone and dolostone. Where these carbonate rock units have been heavily weathered, large accumulations of barite are sometimes found at the soil-bedrock contact. Many of the commercial barite mines produce from these residual deposits.
Barite is also found as concretions in sand and sandstone. These concretions grow as barite crystallizes within the interstitial spaces between sand grains. Sometimes crystals of barite grow into interesting shapes within the sand. These structures are known as “barite roses” (see photo). They can be up to several inches in length and incorporate large numbers of sand grains. Occasionally barite is so abundant in a sandstone that it serves as the “cement” for the rock.
Barite is also a common mineral in hydrothermal veins and is a gangue mineral associated with sulfide ore veins. It is found in association with ores of antimony, cobalt, copper, lead, manganese, and silver. In a few locations barite is deposited as a sinter at hot springs.
Physical Properties of Barite
|Color||Colorless, white, light blue, light yellow, light red, light green|
|Luster||Vitreous to pearly|
|Diaphaneity||Transparent to translucent|
|Cleavage||Very good, basal, prismatic|
|Mohs Hardness||2.5 to 3.5|
|Diagnostic Properties||High specific gravity, three cleavage directions at right angles|
|Chemical Composition||Barium sulfate, BaSO4|
|Uses||Drilling mud; high-density filler for paper, rubber, plastics|
The best way to learn about minerals is to study with a collection of small specimens that you can handle, examine, and observe their properties. Inexpensive mineral collections are available in the Geology.com Store.
Physical Properties of Barite
Barite is generally easy to identify. It is one of just a few nonmetallic minerals with a specific gravity of four or higher. Combine that with its low Mohs hardness (2.5 to 3.5) and its three directions of right-angle cleavage, and the mineral can usually be reliably identified with just three observations.
In the classroom, students often have difficulty identifying specimens of massive barite with fine-grained crystals. They look at the specimen, see the sugary appearance, correctly attribute it to cleavage, and apply a drop of dilute hydrochloric acid. The mineral effervesces and they think that they have calcite or a piece of marble. The problem is that the effervescence is caused by contamination. The students tested the hardness of the barite with a piece of calcite from their hardness kit. Or the specimen of barite can naturally contain calcite. However, any student who tests the specific gravity will discover that calcite or marble are incorrect identifications.
Barite is also a good mineral to use when teaching about specific gravity. Give students several white mineral specimens that are about the same size (we suggest calcite, quartz, barite, talc, gypsum). Students should be able to easily identify barite using the “heft test” (placing Specimen “A” in their right hand and Specimen “B” in their left hand and “hefting” the specimens to determine which one is heaviest). Students in third or fourth grade are capable of using the heft test to identify barite.
Gas well site: Barite is used to make high-density drilling mud for wells. Aerial photo of a gas well site. © iStockphoto / Edward Todd.
Barite from Canada: Barite from Madoc, Ontario, Canada. Specimen is approximately 4 inches (10 centimeters) across.
Uses of Barite
Most barite produced is used as a weighting agent in drilling muds. This is what 99% of the barite consumed in the United States is used for. These high-density muds are pumped down the drill stem, exit through the cutting bit and return to the surface between the drill stem and the wall of the well. This flow of fluid does two things: 1) it cools the drill bit; and, 2) the high-density barite mud suspends the rock cuttings produced by the drill and carries them up to the surface.
Barite is also used as a pigment in paints and as a weighted filler for paper, cloth and rubber. The paper used to make some playing cards has barite packed between the paper fibers. This gives the paper a very high density that allows the cards to be “dealt” easily to players around a card table. Barite is used as a weighting filler in rubber to make “anti-sail” mudflaps for trucks.
Barite is the primary ore of barium, which is used to make a wide variety of barium compounds. Some of these are used for x-ray shielding. Barite has the ability to block x-ray and gamma-ray emissions. Barite is used to make high-density concrete to block x-ray emissions in hospitals, power plants, and laboratories.
Barite compounds are also used in diagnostic medical tests. If a patient drinks a small cup of liquid that contains a barium powder in a milkshake consistency, the liquid will coat the patient’s esophagus. An x-ray of the throat taken immediately after the “barium swallow” will image the soft tissue of the esophagus (which is usually transparent to x-rays) because the barium is opaque to x-rays and blocks their passage. A “barium enema” can be used in a similar way to image the shape of the colon.
Barite from Australia: Barite from Edith River, Northern Territory, Australia. Specimen is approximately 2 inches (5 centimeters) across.
Barite from Utah: Barite from Mercur, Utah. Specimen is approximately 4 inches (10 centimeters) across.
The oil and gas industry is the primary user of barite worldwide. There it is used as a weighting agent in drilling mud. This is a growth industry, as global demand for oil and natural gas has been on a long-term increase. In addition, the long-term drilling trend is more feet of drilling per barrel of oil produced.
This has caused the price of barite to increase. Price levels during 2012 were between 10% and 20% higher than 2011 in many important markets. The typical price of drilling mud barite is about $150 per metric ton at the mine.
Substitutes for barite in drilling mud include celestite, ilmenite, iron ore, and synthetic hematite. None of these substitutes have been effective at displacing barite in any major market area. They are too expensive or do not perform competitively.
China and India are the leading producers of barite, and they also have the largest reserves. The United States does not produce enough barite to supply its domestic needs. In 2011 the United States produced about 700,000 metric tons of barite and imported about 2,300,000 metric tons.
The Mineral barite
Barite is well-known for its great range of colors and varied crystal forms and habits. It is an immensely popular mineral among collectors. Barite is easily identifiable by its heavy weight, since most similar minerals are much lighter. Barite often replaces other minerals, and may even replace organic materials such as wood, shells, and fossils. It sometimes forms tufacious mounds from deposition of hot, barium-rich springs.
Controversy exists in regards to the spelling of Barite. For the last 100 years or so, this mineral has always been spelled “Barite” in the United States. In the United Kingdom, the spelling has traditionally been “Baryte”. The IMA has recently changed the official spelling from “Barite” to “Baryte”, and this has been a very controversial move, with many questioning the IMA’s logic behind this change. Most U.S. mineral collectors and mineralogists still prefer the spelling Barite, and we reflect that spelling here in this guide as well.
Barite specimens from certain locations are brown from sand inclusions, and may occur in beautiful rosette aggregates that strikingly resemble a flower. These are known as Barite “Desert Roses”. The mineral Gypsum also contains similar Desert Roses, but the Gypsum roses are much light in weight, and are more brittle and thin.
Barite is isomorphous and very similar in form with the mineral Celestine, and may partially replace it.
Barite is the primary, naturally occurring, barium-based mineral. Barium, atomic number 56, derives its name from Greek and means heavy. Barite is also known as baryte, and in Missouri is known as “tiff”. The primary countries in which commercial deposits of barite are currently found are the United States, China, India and Morocco. Barite’s high density and chemical inertness make it an ideal mineral for many applications.
The chemical formula for barite is BaSO4. It has a high specific gravity of 4.50 g/cm3. Its Mohs hardness is 3.0 to 3.5. Barite, which may be found in a variety of colors including yellow, brown, white, blue, gray, or even colorless, typically has a vitreous to pearly luster.
Barite may be found in conjunction with both metallic and nonmetallic mineral deposits. To be economically viable for extraction, barite usually needs to be the predominant material in a deposit. The types of deposits in which it is normally found include vein, residual, and bedded. Vein and residual deposits are of hydrothermal origin, while bedded deposits are sedimentary.
Major deposits in the United States have been found in Georgia, Missouri, Nevada and Tennessee. In Canada, the mineral has been mined in the Yukon Territory, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. In Mexico, barite deposits have been discovered in Hermosillo, Pueblo, Monterrey and Durango.
Drilling Industry: The overwhelming majority of the barite that is mined is used by the petroleum industry as a weighting material in the formulation of drilling mud. Barite increases the hydrostatic pressure of the drilling mud allowing it to compensate for high-pressure zones experienced during drilling. The softness of the mineral also prevents it from damaging drilling tools during drilling and enables it to serve as a lubricant. The American Petroleum Institute (API) has established specifications for the use of barite in drilling mud.
Medical Industry: An application where many people have heard of barite is within the medical field. A high-purity form of barite is used in the gastrointestinal tract where its density prevents x-ray penetration, and thus is visible on an x-ray. The outline of the gastrointestinal tract thus becomes visible allowing the determination of normal and abnormal anatomy.
Other Uses: Barite is also used in a wide variety of other applications including plastics, clutch pads, rubber mudflaps, mold release compounds, radiation shielding, television and computer monitors, sound-deadening material in automobiles, traffic cones, brake linings, paint and golf balls.
Most barite is mined from layers of sedimentary rock which formed when barite precipitated onto the bottom of the ocean. Some smaller mines utilize barite from veins, which formed when barium sulfate was precipitated from hot subterranean waters. In some cases, barite is a by-product of mining lead, zinc, silver, or other metal ores Like the ones we have from the Barrick gold strike mine.
bladed crystals that have two large pinacoid faces top and bottom and small prism faces forming a jutting angle on every side. There are many variations of these faces but the flattened blades and tabular crystals are the most common. If the pinacoid faces become diminished or are absent, the resulting prismatic crystal has a rhombic cross section. Also scaly, lamellar, and can even be fiberous.
Barite is distinguished from calcite by it’s insolubility in acid, from feldspar by its softness,
from celestite and anhydrite by the orange fluorescence after firing or when powdered
barite produces a light green flame. While celestite produces a reddish flame. From fluorite
by its lack of the typical fluorite fluorescence.
The specimens we have on our site come from the Barrick gold strike mine in Nevada. Barite is abundant. So there are many world wide localities. Large barite crystals have come from Cumberland, England. Flat colorless or yellowish crystals mixed with stibnite needles have come from Felsobanya, Rumania. On the web you can find specimens for sale from such places as Missouri. Where good white to clear crystals, some a foot long, have been found . Once again the popular “Barite Roses” which have a reddish brown color and sandy texture, are found near Norman, Oklahoma. Fine crusts of blue crystals are found near Sterling, Colorado. Great concretions, known as “septarian nodules,” are for sale from the Bad Lands of South Dakota. There are many other localities such as Illinois, Morocco and Tennessee.We have some Strontiobarite from the Elm Wood deposit in Tennessee.
Barite is an important commercial mineral. Barite “mud” is poured into deep oil wells. The heavy mud helps to flush rock chips away from the drilling head and float them to the surface for inspection. The heavy mud also partially supports the enormous weight of the steel drilling tools. Barite also has economic value as a common ore for the metal barium. Barite is also used as an aggregate to make a stronger type of cement. Barite can be ground and used as a filler or extender in industrial products. Such as paper, cosmetics, paint, linoleum or a weighting agent in petroleum. Barite is also used to line the intestines when conducting X-rays and is commonly used to enhance brilliance in glass products. Even though barite contains the heavy metal barium. It is not thought to be a toxic chemical because it is very insoluble.
FACTS & HISTORY:
The name Barite was derived from the Greek word “barus” (heavy) referring to the minerals high specific gravity. Several hundred years ago, a massive, variety of barite from Italy was found to phosphoresce when it was lightly heated. It was called “Bologna stone” from its locale of discovery. It was of great interest to alchemists.