USGS Assesses Billions of Potential Potash Resources in Ukraine

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The Dnieper-Donets Basin of Ukraine could contain an estimated 4.3 billion tons of undiscovered potassium-bearing salt according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey assessment. In addition, previous estimates show that the nearby Pripyat Basin of Belarus could contain 80–200 billion metric tons of undiscovered potash resources.

The term “potash” refers to potassium-bearing, water-soluble salts like potassium chloride derived from evaporite basins, where seawater evaporated and precipitated various salt compounds. In 2010, world potash production was about 33 million metric tons, mostly for use in fertilizers.

Potash resources are often expressed in terms of the amount of potassium oxide (K2O) that can be obtained from the potassium-bearing salt. For instance, the 4.3 billion tons of potassium-bearing salt in the Dnieper-Donets Basin is the equivalent of 840 million tons K2O, while the 80–200 billion metric tons of potassium-bearing salt in the Pripyat Basin could contain 15-30 billion metric tons of K2O.

Canada was the largest producer of potash (9.5 million metric tons in 2010), followed by Russia, Belarus, China, Germany, Israel and Jordan. Potash is produced in many countries throughout the world, but production is concentrated in North America and Eurasia. Each of the 12 major potash-producing countries produced 1 million metric ton or more in 2010; production from other countries was less than 1 million metric ton each.

Image shows a map of Eastern Europe with the assessed basins shown in colored polygons
A map showing the assessed areas in Bgelarus and Ukraine.
(Public domain.)

The Pripyat Basin in Belarus is currently the third largest global producer of potassium-bearing salts, and published reserves in the Pripyat Basin are about 7.3 billion metric tons of potassium-bearing salt (or about 1.3 to 1.4 billion metric tons of K2O). Published potash resources in the Pripyat Basin are estimated to depths of about 1,200 meters. Potash mining began in the Pripyat Basin in 1963 and continues to the present day. In 2012, six conventional underground mines produced 4.04 million metric tons of potash (as K2O) from four potash horizons.

In this report, additional undiscovered resources in the Pripyat Basin that could be recovered at depths to 3,000 meters from up to 60 potash-bearing horizons were estimated to be in the range of 80–200 billion metric tons of potassium-bearing salt and could contain 15 to 30 billion metric tons of K2O. Recovery of these deeper resources is possible by solution methods aided by high geothermal temperatures.

The probabilistic assessment examined 248 salt structures in the Dnieper-Donets Basin and found that as many as 11 potash-bearing salt deposits may be present. As part of the assessment, the Pripyat and Dnieper-Donets Basins were subdivided into four tracts, also known as permissive areas, for evaluation: the stratabound Famennian age salt of the Pripyat tract in the Pripyat Basin, the stratabound Famennian age salt of the Dnieper-Donets tract in the northwestern part of the Dnieper-Donets Basin, the Famennian age salt in halokinetic structures in the Dnieper-Donets tract, and stratabound Cisuralian age salt of the Dnieper-Donets tract. The halokinetic Dnieper-Donets tract was quantitatively assessed using the USGS three-part assessment methodology. The other tracts, which contained varying amounts of publically accessible geologic data, were only qualitatively assessed.

Although salt (as halite), probably from Cisuralian strata, is being recovered from five conventional underground mines in the Dnieper-Donets Basin, potash production is not recorded. Published potash resources were estimated to be 794 million metric tons of potassium-bearing salt (or the equivalent of 50 to 150 million metric tons of K2O) in one of the eleven Cisuralian subbasins of the Dnieper-Donets Basin. Additional undiscovered resources may be present in the other subbasins.

This report provides an updated and expanded compilation and interpretation of the geology and extent of known potash occurrences and deposits in the Pripyat and Dnieper-Donets Basins, most of which was derived from older Russian language scientific literature. A geodatabase of the located geologic data and mines accompanies this report.

The assessment can be found here. The USGS Mineral Resources Program delivers unbiased science and information to understand mineral resource potential, production, consumption, and how minerals interact with the environment. To keep up-to-date on USGS mineral research, follow us on Twitter!