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Strategic and critical metals in produced geothermal fluids from Nevada and Utah

December 1, 2018

Herein we summarize the results of an investigation dealing with the concentrations and inventories of strategic, critical and valuable materials (SCVM) in produced fluids from geothermal and hydrocarbon reservoirs (50-250° C) in Nevada and Utah. Water samples were collected from thirty-four production wells across eight geothermal fields, the Uinta Basin oil/gas province in northeast Utah, and the Covenant oil field in southwestern Utah; additional water samples were collected from six hot springs in the Sevier Thermal Belt in southwestern Utah. Most SCVM concentrations in produced waters range from <0.1 to 100 µg/kg; the main exception is lithium, which has concentrations that range from <1000 to 25,000 ug/kg. Relatively high concentrations of gallium, germanium, scandium, selenium, and tellurium are measured too. Geothermal waters contain very low concentrations of REEs, below analytical detections limits (0.01 µg/kg), but the concentrations of lanthanum, cerium, and europium range from 0.05 to 5 µg/kg in Uinta basin waters. Among the geothermal fields, the Roosevelt Hot Spring reservoir appears to have the largest inventories of germanium and lithium, and Patua appears to have the largest inventories of gallium, scandium, selenium, and tellurium. By comparison, the Uinta basin has larger inventories of gallium. The concentrations of gallium, germanium, lithium, scandium, selenium, and tellurium in produced waters appear to be partly related to reservoir temperature and concentrations of total dissolved salts. The relatively high concentration and large inventory of lithium occurring at Roosevelt Hot Springs may be related to granitic-gneissic crystalline rocks, which host the reservoir. Analyses of calcite scales from Dixie Valley indicate enrichments in cobalt, gallium, gold, palladium, selenium and tellurium, and these metals appear to be depositing at deep levels in production wells due to boiling. Comparisons with SCVM mineral deposits suggest that brines in sedimentary basins, or derived from lacustrine evaporites, enable aqueous transport of gallium, germanium, and lithium.