WILLISTON, N.D. (KXNET) — The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), in conjunction with State Geologist Ed Murphy, has announced that ND’s Geological Survey has discovered a nearly thirty-foot-thick interval of rocks containing untapped critical minerals.

Critical minerals are defined by the U.S. Government as minerals that are essential to the economic or national security of the states. Typically, these are minerals that make up vital components of modern technologies, especially energy infrastructures and those used in defense applications. However, as important as these minerals are, there is little to no production of them in the United States — and manufacturers in the country are often forced to rely on supplies from foreign countries, some of which are adversaries of our national interests. Much of the global supply of these more valuable rare minerals currently comes from South China.

Although their name suggests that rare minerals are difficult to find, they are relatively common in some types of rocks — however, they do not always concentrate into ores that can be mined. Currently, the US only has one such deposit (the Mountain Pass mine in CA), but this is not enough to fulfill the domestic demand for these materials. However, samplings from 2015 to recent times by the ND Geological Survey have identified a tremendous concentration of critical minerals throughout the Williston Basin.

The sampling project has produced one of, if not the most detailed data sets of enriched coal deposits in North America through the analysis of over 300 sites and 1,700 samples from western and south-central North Dakota. While these formations only represent a small amount of the total estimated lignite reserves in the state, testing has already suggested that ND has many deposits of critical earth elements that have not yet been tapped into. The largest of these, a brightly-colored area containing many enriched minerals, is known as the Bear Den Member of the Golden Valley Formation — which can most often be seen in upland areas covering 340 square miles over west-central North Dakota.

Samples of lignite coal and mudstones from the lower aspects of Bear Den Member were noted to contain up to 2,570 parts per million rare earth elements — which is believed to be the highest spot concentration ever reported from North American coal deposits (far exceeding the threshold of 300 per million in most areas considered ‘economic’). Enriched concentrations of critical minerals including cobalt, gallium, germanium, and lithium were also present in these samples.

The Geological Survey has already identified a handful of other weathering zones in the Williston Basin, which will be discussed in future reports sent out by the DMR. Another of these deposits, located 1,000 feet stratigraphically below the Bear Den Member, has also been confirmed to contain high concentrations of rare minerals and has been used to supply enriched lignite for research at the University of North Dakota.

The full details of the discovery are available to download on this page at the DMR’s Geological Survey website.