USGS Assesses Uranium Potential in Southern High Plains
Forty million pounds of uranium resources could exist in parts of Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates a mean of 40 million pounds of in-place uranium oxide remaining as potential undiscovered resources in the Southern High Plains region of Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.
The uranium occurs in a type of rock formation called “calcrete,” which has been well-documented in noted uranium-producing countries like Australia and Namibia. The calcrete formations described in this assessment are the first uranium-bearing calcrete deposits reported in the United States.
The United States is the world’s largest consumer of uranium used in nuclear power plants, which provide approximately 19 percent of the Nation’s electricity. Substantial uranium resources are identified in the United States, yet only 11 percent of uranium purchased by civilian nuclear power reactors during 2016 was obtained from domestic sources.
“Planning for long-term sustainable nuclear power in the United States requires evaluation of both identified and potential undiscovered resources,” said Tom Crafford, program coordinator for the USGS Mineral Resources Program. “That’s where USGS science comes in. Identifying and understanding our domestic mineral wealth is a vital part of ensuring the security of our supply chain for these resources.”
The assessment focuses on a region known as the Southern High Plains, which stretch from eastern New Mexico across North Texas to western Oklahoma. The assessment area is divided into a northern and southern portion, with the southern portion estimated to contain 80 percent of the undiscovered resources. For comparison, the two known deposits, Buzzard Draw and Sulfur Springs Draw, both located in Texas, contain a combined total of 2.7 million pounds of uranium oxide.
“Texas is well-known for its energy potential, from petroleum to wind to uranium,” said Walter Guidroz, program coordinator of the USGS Energy Resources Program. “In fact, in 2015, we released another assessment of uranium in South Texas, where we estimated a mean of about 5 years of U.S. uranium needs.”
The current assessment of the Southern High Plains yielded another surprise—a new uranium mineral species. Discovered near Sulphur Springs Draw in Texas, the new mineral was named finchite, after long-time USGS uranium scientist Warren Finch (1924—2014).
“This assessment was especially exciting for us, as not only did we get to discover a new species of mineral, but we also had the opportunity to honor a friend and celebrated colleague,” said USGS scientist Susan Hall, lead author of the assessment. “Dr. Finch’s long service and contributions to uranium science now live on through this new mineral, which itself has the potential to contribute to the Nation’s energy mix.”
Finchite is a unique combination of strontium, uranium, vanadium, and water, and is a potential source of mineable uranium ore. Today, it is part of the Southern High Plains, a region that has drawn little attention for uranium resource potential. That may change, given the qualities of the uranium deposits.
“The calcrete uranium deposits within this region have the advantage of shallow depth and soft host rock,” said USGS scientist Brad Van Gosen, co-author of the assessment. “These qualities work well for open-pit mining, assuming uranium prices and other factors are favorable.”
The assessment can be accessed here. Other USGS research regarding uranium potential can be found here. Stay up to date with USGS energy science by subscribing to our Newsletter or following us on Twitter.