Production of barite from Arkansas was used exclusively as a weighting agent in drilling muds in the oil and gas industry, due to its relatively high specific gravity (4.5). World class barite deposits contained within the Stanley Shale (Mississippian) are present in the Ouachita Mountains province of Arkansas, specifically in Hot Spring, Montgomery, and Polk Counties. Production was mainly by National Lead Division of Baroid Company and Magnet Cove Barium Corporation (Magcobar).
In 1981, the cost of extracting and processing barite ore exceeded the product's value because the nation began importing ore from less expensive over-seas sources. Most of the barite mining operations in the United States ceased.
Mining and Production
Most of Arkansas's bedded deposits were worked solely by open-pit methods, but the Chamberlain Creek deposit in Hot Spring County was mined by both open-pit and underground techniques. Ore in the deeper parts of the syncline was mined underground to as much as 500 feet below the ground surface. Most of the barite was processed at flotation mills at Magnet Cove and Malvern, both in Hot Spring County. A small quantity of barite ore was mined and test-milled by Milchem Corporation at Hopper, Montgomery County, before economics forced closure of the facility. The flotation mills typically utilized barite ore containing about 50 percent barite. The result was a concentrate composed of 92 to 94 percent barite. Total production of Arkansas barite concentrates is 9 million short tons (1939-1983 inclusive) – 8 million short tons from the Chamberlain Creek deposit alone valued at ~ 70 million dollars.
Reserves of barite in Arkansas are estimated to be in the order of millions of tons, but further mining awaits barite's expanded use. Increased domestic oil-field drilling activities and a shortage of cheap foreign ores could make Arkansas barite a viable mineral commodity again.
Barite, Hot Spring County
Barite, Hot Spring County
Zoned barite, Montgomery County
The Fancy Hill & Gap Mountain Barite Deposits - A Summary of Available Data
In 1984, the Arkansas Geological Commission, now the Arkansas Geological Survey, was contacted by Mr. Ferrell Gale, the site geologist working for Milchem Incorporated. He informed the AGC that Milchem was going to abandon the project and if the Agency wanted any of the exploration drill core (1.75" diameter) and exploration and development data on the deposit, then the AGC was welcome to it. Geologic staff members, led by B. F. Clardy, made a number of trips to Milchem's office and core storage building to recover both core and paperwork. The drill core, mine maps, and technical drawings were transferred for permanent storage to the Norman F. Williams Well Sample Library in Little Rock, Arkansas. A short time later Milchem gave up their interests in the Arkansas deposits, and turned the properties back to the original land holders.
Due to interest, AGS staff began electronic preservation of these paper documents, starting with scanning 153 maps, drill core cross sections with ore intecepts, ore removal schedules, and geologic maps. A second phase of scanning resulted in digital availability of all the drilling logs for the Milchem exploration holes, and core sample analyses, and calculated ore grades.
Core from the Milchem exploration project of Fancy Hill and Gap Mountain deposits is available for visual examination at the Norman F. Williams Well Sample Library during normal working hours. Contact Jack Stephenson, AGS Mineral Specialist, at 501-324-9167 to schedule appointments for core examination.
Documents listed in the references are available for examination at the AGS Library during normal working hours. Contact Matt Nicholas, AGS Specialist, at 501-683-0120, to schedule an appointment to view these documents.
Additional Notes on the History of the Fancy Hill Barite Deposit
The earliest published work on the Fancy Hill and Gap Mountain barite deposits of Montgomery County was by R. B. McElwaine of the USBM in 1946. This report was followed by a more general 3 county report by T. A. Jones, USBM, in 1948. A later report covering all of the known barite deposits in Arkansas was published in 1958 by B. J. Scull as Information Circular 18 by the Arkansas Geology and Conservation Commission, a predecessor of the Arkansas Geological Survey (AGS).
Milchem Incorporated began exploratory investigations of barite in Arkansas in the middle 1970's, and by 1979, the land had been acquired through lease or contract and the Company was in full study of the Fancy Hill and Gap Mountain barite deposits. Both the Fancy Hill and Gap Mountain barite deposits were drilled, but the Gap Mountain deposit was found not to contain high enough barite ore grades to justify further investigations. Soon after Milchem's drilling program was completed, studies of the mineralogy and flotation studies of ground barite were completed for the Fancy Hill deposit. Detailed surface geologic mapping was completed by E.F. Lawrence in 1979. A seismic reflection study of the Stanley Shale - Arkansas Novaculite contact was completed in 1982 by R.D. Rectien. Also during this period, Bechtel Inc. was contracted by Milchem to complete a final feasibility study including the mine plan, mill facility and design and construction of three open pits (East, Central, West) on the Fancy Hill deposit. Documents pertaining to both mining and reclamation plans for the Fancy Hill deposit were filed with the Arkansas Department of Pollution Control, now named the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, Mining Division.
President Richard Nixon visited China in 1972 and began the process of normalizing relations. By 1983, significant imports of raw lump barite ore from China began to be delivered to grinding mills on the Texas Gulf Coast at about 1/3rd the cost of bagged ground barite produced in the USA. The increased imports of Chinese barite caused a retraction of domestic barite production and barite projects were also hindered by falling crude oil prices that also reduced the demand for barite associated with oil and gas drilling mud applications. U.S. consumption caved in 1983 and by 1986 had decreased to only 1.2 Mt compared with about 4.1 Mt in 1982. These economic factors were instrumental in the cessation of barite exploration and mining projects in Arkansas.
A renewed recent interest in the Arkansas barite deposits is partly due to increased drilling in the USA, combined with China's increasing domestic consumption of barite and stated policy to begin a reduction of the export of barite exports. These economic developments have drawn commercial interests by mining and development companies to the Fancy Hill deposit.
Hanor, J. S., and Baria, L. R., 1977, Controls on the distribution of barite deposits in Arkansas, in Stone, C. G., ed., Symposium on the geology of the Ouachita Mountains, v. 2: Arkansas Geological Commission Miscellaneous Publication 14, p. 42-47.
Jones, T. A., 1948, Barite deposits in the Ouachita Mountains, Montgomery, Polk, and Pike Counties, Arkansas: U. S. Bureau of Mines Report of Investigations 4348, 15 p.
Mitchell, A. W., 1984, Barite in the western Ouachita Mountains, Arkansas, in Stone, C. G. and Haley, B. R., eds., Guidebook to the geology of the central and southern Ouachita Mountains, Arkansas: Arkansas Geological Commission Guidebook 84-2, p. 124-131.
Scull, B. J., 1958, Origin and occurrence of barite in Arkansas: Arkansas Geological and Conservation Commission Information Circular 18, 101 p.
Zimmerman, R. A., 1965, The origin of the Arkansas bedded barite deposits with special reference to the genetic value of sedimentary features in the ore: Ph. D. dissertation, Rolla, University of Missouri, 367 p.
References Specific to the Fancy Hill Barite Deposit
Dawson Metallurgical Laboratories, Inc., 1979, Results of Laboratory Testing and Consultation on Fancy Hill Barite Ore Our Project No. P-199 (Tests and Assays).
Lawrence, E.F., 1979, The Fancy Hill Barite Deposit, Montgomery County, Arkansas.
McElwaine, R. B., 1946, Exploration of barite deposits in Montgomery County, Arkansas: USBM Report of Investigations 3971.
Milchem Incorporated, 1979, Research Laboratory Service Report SRQ-54-79, Composite samples of Fancy Hill Laboratory Flotation Concentration.
Mountain States Research and Development, 1977, Flotation Tests on Fancy Hill Barite Ore for Milchem Incorporated Project No. 563.
Mountain States Research and Development, 1977, Mineralogical Investigations of Flotation Test (158) Products and Flotation Feed Composites of Barite Ore from Arkansas, Milchem Project No. 563.
Rechtien, R. D., 1982, Seismic Reflection Investigation of the Stanley Shale - Arkansas Novaculite Contact, Fancy Hill Mining District for Milchem Incorporated.
Zeuch, C. F., 1978, Review of Work done on Fancy Hill, Arkansas Barite Ore of Milchem Incorporated.