New Mineral Studies

The Wyoming State Geological Survey (WSGS) has received funding from the state Legislature to study several mineral resources, including rare earth elements (a continuation of a recent study), zeolites, lithium, and iron.

Rare Earth Elements Investigation

The WSGS will take to the field again to continue its efforts to sample and map locations of the state’s rare earth elements (REE), with geologists also measuring and recording REE abundances for potential exploration. This project is a continuation of a recently completed study supported by the Legislature through Abandon Mine Reclamation funds. The original study was published in 2013 (WSGS Report of Investigation, No. 65.). The current investigation will fill in gaps from the first investigation and provide additional details on REEs throughout Wyoming, as documented in the first study. A final report will include new elemental analyses. In addition, new samples and field notes will also be included in the WSGS’ online database (Wyo-DOG) created for rare earths and other mineral investigations. The REE study will be completed by June of 2016.

Zeolite Investigation

Zeolite is the name of a group of more than three dozen naturally-occurring minerals used for a wide variety of applications, from cat litter, to uses in the agricultural industry.

The WSGS will investigate Wyoming’s known and potential zeolite occurrences and deposits over the next two years. Geologists will collect samples and analyze them using several techniques, including identification by X-ray diffraction (XRD), geochemical characterization for major, minor and trace elements, physical properties by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and optical microscopy, and other chemical and physical properties such as cation exchange capacity (CEC), chemical purity, specific gravity, etc. Deposits will also be examined to measure their thickness, number of individual beds, their areal extent, depth, etc., to determine their resource potential. The study will result in a report to the Legislature in 2016.

Lithium Investigation

World demand for lithium is expected to continue to rise in the coming decades. The soft silver-white metal is used in batteries for cell phones and electric vehicles, ceramics and glass making as well as high strength to weight metal alloys. Currently, Chile, Australia, China, and Argentina produce most of the world’s lithium from hard rock mines or groundwater brines.

WSGS geologists will evaluate the state’s lithium deposits by analyzing lithium concentrations in selected rock formations, natural hot water springs, and groundwater brines associated with existing oil and gas wells. The two-year study will include a final report provided to the Legislature in 2016.

Iron Investigation

The Wyoming Legislature has also allocated funds for the WSGS to conduct an investigation of Wyoming’s iron resources. This will be the first comprehensive study of iron by the agency. Recent interest — along with exploration drilling and claim staking in the state — has been driven by what many perceive as new domestic needs for iron in the manufacturing industry and particularly in creating heavy cement.

The last publication addressing iron in Wyoming was in 1976 by the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Some recent interest has been expressed by both foreign and domestic entities. In 2013, active exploration drilling and claim staking for iron occurred within the state. This interest has been driven in part by what many perceive as potential new domestic needs for iron resources in the manufacturing industry and particularly in creating heavy cement. Although the recent iron bear market has been driven by weak global economic activity, an investigation of Wyoming’s iron resources will provide baseline information for future exploration.

The WSGS iron investigation will summarize known iron resources, historic mines, and occurrences accompanied by analyses of iron quality and associated trace elements. The study will include information from historical sources and new sampling to help characterize occurrences for their suitability for a variety of potential uses. Results from the investigation will include a written summary report, related maps, and new entries into WSGS’s publicly available online database (Wyo-DOG), which will include all elemental analyses. The WSGS will provide a report on its findings by June of 2016.