Barite is a mineral found in natural deposits all over the world. Also known as baryte, it is primarily of interest to the oil and gas industry, which uses it in the production of drilling muds. Secondary uses for barite can be seen in medicine, industrial production, and a variety of other applications. Mining firms can provide raw or processed barite for customers, along with other minerals they may find in close vicinity.
A number of formative processes including evaporation and geothermal deposition can contribute to the formation of this mineral, which is often found in association with materials like sandstone and hematite. In nature, it consists of loose crystal formations which often cleave readily. The crystals can be white, gray, brown, and red to rose-colored, depending on the neighboring mineral compounds. Pure barite has the mineral formula BaSO4, otherwise known as barium sulfate.
One interesting property of barite is its extreme weight. The mineral is much heavier than others of a comparable size. In drilling fluids, it makes a useful weighting agent, although oil and gas companies also have to compensate for the added weight of the barite in drilling calculations. The weight also makes it easy to identify, as it will be heavier than it looks, which can help distinguish it from crystalline formations of a similar superficial appearance.
Some companies use this mineral as a filler material in concrete and other products. It can be useful for radiation shielding, where layers of concrete and other materials create a wall to isolate an area with radioactive substances. In medicine, processed barite in the form of barium is used for some kinds of medical imaging studies. Patients swallow the mineral, which is opaque on x-ray, allowing doctors and medical professionals to study the throats and digestive tract. It is not soluble in water, and is eliminated by the body without accumulating in tissues like the liver and kidneys.
Mining firms analyze barite deposits to estimate how much of the mineral is available and to test for impurities and companion deposits that may be of financial use as well. In the process of drilling and mining, they can uncover a range of products that may be separated by processing for use in various applications. Processing typically includes grinding to pull components apart and reduce them to fragments of similar size for ease of handling. The fragmented minerals can be subjected to additional processes to purify them and prepare them for various uses.