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Barite (barium sulphate BaSO4) is the only commercial source of barium and barium compounds. It is a relatively soft, inert mineral with a high SG (specific gravity) in the range of 4.2–4.5.

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World production is ~6 Mt/year, one-half of which comes from China. South Australia, with a current production of ~10 000 t/year, is Australia's largest producer Production Figures.

Uses

  • Approximately 90% of world production is used as a weighting agent in drilling mud for oil and gas wells where the high SG assists in containing pressures and preventing blowouts.
  • A heavy filler in special paper, rubber, paint and plastics applications.
  • Its radiation absorbing properties are used in:
    • special concretes
    • barium meals for medical X-ray examinations.
  • Barium compounds are used:
    • in ceramic glazes
    • to enhance the brilliance and clarity of optical and TV glass.
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Barite in South Australia

Specifications for oil drilling grade barite are generally >92% (Ba + Sr)SO4. Highest prices are for fine-ground white to off-white paint and pigment grades - fetching more than twice the price of oil drilling grade. Most barite supplied in South Australia is of oil drilling grade.

Ore from the northern Flinders Ranges is treated at the Quorn treatment plant, producing three industrial grade products: A grade, standard grade, and B grade, depending on colour.

One hundred and sixty four barite deposits and occurrences have been documented in South Australia, with a total recorded production of ~870 000 t (December 2013). Total resources (inclusive of production) were estimated at 4.3 million tonne from resource figures available for 62 deposits. Currently the only deposit being mined is the Dunbar deposit in the Oraparinna region in northern Flinders Ranges at the rate of several thousand tonne per annum.

The majority of deposits are small and of the open-fracture infill type hosted by Adelaide Geosyncline rocks in the Mount Lofty and Flinders Ranges. Deposits generally comprise steeply dipping tabular bodies up to 5 m wide which crosscut the enclosing sediments and metasediments.

Flinders Ranges

Many deposits in the Flinders Ranges are spatially related to diapirs, either as veins infilling fractures along steeply dipping diapir - country rock contacts or radiating from diapirs. Over 400 000 t of barite have been produced from the dozen or so individual deposits associated with the Oraparinna Diapir including the only South Australian mines in current production at Oraparinna and Dunbar. (Barite Deposits in South Australia).

Oraparinna

barite_oraparinna.jpg (11869 bytes)

Roberts lode No.2 level entrance portal, Oraparinna Mine.

  • 500 km north of Adelaide
  • Production commenced 1940
  • Deposit operated by Normandy Industrial Minerals from 1984, transferred to Unimin Australia Ltd in 2000
  • Australia's largest supplied of industrial-grade barite

The mine has seven underground levels and works a system of 1–2 m wide veins which have developed in tensional fractures within Adelaidean Wilpena Group sediments in a graben structure extending from the northeastern corner of the Oraparinna Diapir.

Ore is trucked 160 km to the treatment plant at Quorn, producing barite for use in surface coatings, plastics fillers and mould coatings at Olympic Dam.

Standard grade material is trucked to Gillman in suburban Adelaide for fine milling. 2002 production of 5248 tonnes is the largest since 1996.

Dunbar

  • ~15 km southwest of the Oraparinna Mine
  • Formerly known as 'Linke's Lode'

The deposit is worked by an open cut on a 30 m wide subparallel vein system ~500 m in length. Individual veins are up to 9 m wide. The ore is enclosed in a raft of Adelaidean sediments within the Oraparinna Diapir.

Most Dunbar ore is used in the production of oil-drilling grades of barite, but some is used to feed a magnetic separation plant at Quorn which produces a super-white AA industrial grade. Production has been historically high since 1997, totalling 11254 tonnes in 2002.

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Other deposits

Other smaller barite deposits which have been worked in the Flinders Ranges include those at Appealinna, Artipena, Carey Hill, Martin's Well and Mount John in the Blinman area, Mount Coffin (10 km east of Leigh Creek) and Mount James (30 km northwest of Beltana).

Yanyarrie Prospect

Potential significant resources exist at the Yanyarrie Prospect ~40 km due east of Quorn. A non-JORC resource estimate based on geological reconnaissance mapping only (no drilling) was >500 000 tonne at 70% BaSO4.

A deposit of high-grade barite crops out adjacent to the manganese deposits on the floor of Pernatty Lagoon near the western shore. It forms a rise elevated 0.3 m above the general lake level over an area 6–12 m wide and is traceable for 500 m as a succession of patches forming a long, narrow lode. A rough resource esteimate of 160 000 tonne at 98% BaSO4 was made in 1971.

Mount Lofty Ranges 

Numerous mines have been worked in the past but are now abandoned, including:

  • A number of small mines at Julia Creek (72 km northeast of Adelaide) producing 10 500 t of barite between 1925 and 1974 
  • Large deposits in the Brachina Formation 3 km south of Noarlunga producing 57 000 t from four main workings between 1918 and 1961
  • Woodside producing small tonnages of high-quality barite during 1978.

Other barite mines which have been worked out or abandoned include those near Athelstone, Uraidla, Prairie and Birdwood; two of the oldest mines are at Aldgate and Williamstown.

Olary District

Large, low-grade deposits in the Olary district occur at the same stratigraphic level within a banded iron formation in metamorphic rocks of the Willyama Supergroup. The deposits are conformable with bedding of the country rock and are considered to be of sedimentary origin. The barite is of drilling grade due to the presence of silica and iron oxide.

The largest deposits are at:

  • Mount Mulga (21 km north of Olary) which produced 14 000 t of oil drilling grade between 1962 and 1980
  • Walparuta (11 km northeast of Weekeroo Station) which produced 54 t between 1946 and 1954.

Other occurrences are at Dome Rock, Waukaloo, Ameroo Hill and Meningie Well.

Eyre Peninsula

Mount Whyalla barite mine, 24 km northwest of Whyalla, was selectively worked over a distance of 1 km from a series of vertical lenses in the Pandurra Formation. Similar veins occur in the Moonabie Formation at Mount Laura overlooking Whyalla, and in the Burkitt Granite and Corunna Conglomerate at Corunna, 15 km northwest of Iron Knob.

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Additional reading

Hiern MN, 1976. Barite South Australia. In: Knight CL (Ed.), Economic geology of Australia and Papua New Guinea, 4, Industrial minerals and rocks. Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. Monograph Series 8:27–30.

McCallum WS, 1990. Oraparinna barite deposits. In: Hughes FE (Ed.), Geology of the mineral deposits of Australia and Papua New Guinea. Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. Monograph Series 14:1159–1161.

Valentine JT, 1989. Industrial and non metallic minerals operations in South Australia. South Australia. Department of Mines and Energy. Report Book 89/74:3–11. 

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