Impact Of China On Drilling Grade Barite - Introduction - Preprint 09-129

Miles, W. J.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 5
Publication Date: Jan 1, 2009
At the beginning of the 20th century, barite was a mineral of minor importance in the USA. Its primary use was to extend lead oxide in white paint. Barite also added the special qualities of hiding power and flatness to paint. Because white lead sometimes turns black or yellow and barite does not, ground barite became a pigment on its own merit. Barium chloride was added to bricks before firing to stop efflorescence when exposed to weather. Barium carbonate or nitrate added luster and brilliance to glass. Barium chemicals were added to refining sugar, enameling iron, making oilcloths and paper collars, and in the manufacture of paper, artificial ivory, rubber and lithopone. Lithopone became a major paint ingredient in the 1920s; its use lasted until the 1950s, peaking at 150,000 metric tons of barite in both 1937 and 1947 for the manufacture of lithopone. Later in the 20th century, titanium dioxide replaced lead oxide, barite and zinc oxide in the coatings industry. In the 21st century, barite is used as a filler, extender, or weighting agent in products such as paints, plastics, and rubber. Some specific uses include its use in brake and clutch pads for automobiles, automobile paint primer for metal protection and gloss, add weight to rubber mud flaps on trucks, and add weight to the cement jacket around petroleum pipelines under water. In the metals casting industry, barite is part of mold release compounds. Because barite significantly blocks X-ray and gamma ray emissions, it is used as aggregate in high density concrete for radiation shielding around x-ray units in hospitals, nuclear power plants, and university nuclear research facilities. Ultra-pure barite consumed as liquid is used as a contrast medium in medical X-ray examinations. Barite is the raw material for barium chemicals, such as barium carbonate, which is an ingredient in faceplate glass in the cathode-ray tubes of televisions and computer monitors. In the 21st century, barite industrial uses account for an estimated 78,000 tons per year in the United States. Another barite use was patented in 1926 by the oil industry. In this patent, barite is primarily used as a non-abrasive weighting agent for drilling for oil and gas exploration and production. As a weighting agent, it provides the downward force in a water based or oil based drilling fluid for cutting through rock with a tri-cone diamond drill bit. In order to minimize the wear on the drill bit and drill stem, minimum abrasion of the weighting agent is preferred. In recent years in the USA, 95% of the barite produced and about 80% on a world basis are used as a fluid weighting material during the search for oil and gas. During the latter part of the 20th century, barite was used in the drilling mud of oil and gas wells, particularly for wells deeper than 2000 meters, and petroleum well drilling demand for barite became the mineral?s major end use during economic expansions after World War II and subsequent increased use of oil and gas in the USA. The profitability of oil and gas production had a strong effect on the number of drill rigs and consumption of barite. The United States was the leading petroleum well drilling country starting in 1970, reaching 4,530 drill rigs in December 1981, and was the largest consumer of barite. In the USA, record highs of about 2.6 million tons of barite produced and 4.3 million tons consumed were reported in 1981. From 1997 to 2006, barite production declined from 662,000 to 589,000 metric tons. However, USA imports increased from 1,470,000 to 2,530,000 metric tons for lump barite. World production of barite increased from 6,780,000 to 7,960,000 metric tons during the same period. Table 1 (see Appendix) lists USA production, imports and exports and world production from 1997 to 2006. Major sources of imported barite include China, India and Morocco. Table 2 (see Appendix) lists the USA imports and price of barite by country. China, India and Morocco are the three largest exporters of barite to the USA and the world. Vietnam is a new producer, beginning in 2006. IMPACT OF CHINA ON DRILLING GRADE BARITE In the 1970s or before, China began supplying barite to the world drilling market in order to help develop their economy. When China first entered the barite export market, their high production volume, low pricing and low ocean transport expenses to the Gulf Coast forced barite producers in the USA to supply only regional markets, such as Battle Mountain Nevada barite for the western and Rocky Mountain states and Canada. Until recently, it was China?s government policy for domestic consumers to use barite below the API 4.20 specific gravity specification, leaving higher grades for export, but this is no longer the case. In recent years the internal demand for barite in China increased tremendously as their economy rapidly developed. China reduced their former 15% VAT tax rebates to 5% for Chinese barite producers, and then eliminated all VAT tax rebates on December 15, 2006. On the supply side, some high-grade barite deposits in China have been depleted. In particular, the low heavy metals sources are less plentiful. Additional mine capacity is being developed, but the new mines are underground and therefore costs will be higher. China?s appetite for other raw materials has tied up a large portion of the world?s bulk vessel fleet, including Panamax vessels (preferred for barite ore transport). Ocean transport freight rates have increased in recent years, and receiving ports in the USA are congested with imports of higher-added-value products. The Panamax Index, which tracks maritime shipping rates, more than doubled in 2006. China has also devalued its currency from RMB8.30 to RMB7.80 per dollar. These factors are driving up the import price of crude and ground barite for drilling. In addition, in the USA, rail congestion and high fuel prices led to higher trucking rates, increasing the delivered cost of ground barite to oil customers. India is the second largest supplier of crude barite to the USA and world drilling market. It produces all of its barite from a single deposit in the Cuddapah region of Andhra Pradesh State. More than 90% of production comes from the State-owned Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corp., and the government continues to closely control production, export volumes, and prices. India saw a dramatic increase in barite prices as a result of its last 3-year tender in 2004. However, in 2004 and 2005 their shipments of crude barite to the USA were not significant. In 2005, India began supplying barite pulverized to meet API specifications to the Gulf Coast. In 2006, Indian production was reduced owing to severe flooding in November 2005 that curtailed mining until mid-April 2006. Morocco has been the third largest supplier of crude barite to the USA and world drilling market. In 2003 and 2004 their shipments of crude barite to the USA were not significant. In 2005, Morocco resumed shipment of crude barite to the Gulf Coast and began supplying barite ground to meet API specifications to the Gulf Coast.
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