Gilsonite: Utah’s strange but economically valuable resource

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(Utah Geological Survey)

UTAH (ABC4) – Have you ever sat down and thought about ink? No? How about paint? No, again? Well maybe you should if you are living in Utah.

According to the Utah Geological Survey, Utah is home to one rather unusual resource: Gilsonite. This resource is known to be used for ink, paint, and as a performance additive for the foundry and asphalt industries.

Interestingly enough, the Beehive state has actually been supplying Gilsonite to the world for 132 years.

Gilsonite is one of Utah’s earliest mined industrial minerals, and is currently experiencing increased interest by the oil and gas industry, which has resulted in a significant increase in development of the resource, according to UGS.

“The Uinta Basin of eastern Utah hosts the world’s largest deposits of Gilsonite, and is the only place where Gilsonite is economically produced in large quantities,” Utah Geological Survey informs.

Utah researchers say Gilsonite is known to be a geologically interesting and economically significant resource, and its wide range of uses has changed over time with new technology and industrial needs.

“Gilsonite’s unique properties make it important for many oilfield drilling fluid products and the recent boom in oil and gas development has increased demand,” they add.

According to UGS, when Gilsonite is added to oil and water-based drilling fluids, it is also known to partially melt or deform, plugging off micro-fractures in the rock and smearing the inside of the well bore to make a tight, tough filter cake that prevents fluid loss.

“The dissolved Gilsonite also increases drilling fluid viscosity, providing lubrication, and together with the sealing off and stabilization of problem rock around the well bore, helps prevent the drill pipe from getting stuck in the well. Gilsonite is also used in cementing fluids as a lost circulation material due to its plugging and binding properties, and as a slurry density reducer in some specialty cementing fluids,” the Survey includes.

Recently, an episode of the HISTORY Channel’s series “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch” made connections between Gilsonite and the possible explanation for black rocks found during a dig on the ranch that is located in the Uinta Basin area.

Officials state that the unusual resource, first discovered in the 1860s, is known to have veins widespread across the Uinta Basin, extending from Rio Blanco County in Western Colorado to Duchesne County in Eastern Utah.

According to UGS, the material was named after Samuel H. Gilson, despite not being the one to originally discover it. Officials say Gilson’s “enthusiastic development and promotional efforts linked the material to him, and the name ‘Gilsonite’ further solidified in common usage when an early mining company adopted and trademarked the name.”

“Gilsonite is remarkable for its unusual geologic origin, mode of occurrence, and chemical and physical properties. Also notable are the ingenuity and persistence of the Gilsonite company personnel who created a new industry and over the past 100 years have solved mining, processing, transportation, marketing, and other problems to continue to supply this unique Utah material to the world markets,” they add.

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