North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources: Rare earth elements likely prevalent in Williston Basin

Photo by: WDAY Radio Staff
Photo by: WDAY Radio Staff

(Bismarck, ND) -- Rare earth elements and minerals are in high demand for the United States, and North Dakota has signs of the necessary materials deep in the soil.

The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources say the state's Geological Survey has found indications of several critical minerals in the Williston Basin. The ND Geological Survey says cobalt, gallium, germanium, lithium, and several other rare and critical minerals are present in the more than 1,700 samples taken from lignite beds across a 340 square mile region. These minerals are used for multiple technologies, including rechargeable batteries, fiber optic cables, LED displays, and multiple other modern machinery. Experts say they can't put their shovels in the ground quite yet, as they are looking for possible locations with higher concentrations or thicker lignite deposits - which are predicted to hold the minerals. 

"Now if we can go back and start to look and actually take some samples and see if there is rare-earths in the coal, "said Levi Moxness, a Geologist with the North Dakota Geological Survey, "If there is a thick coal [deposit] right underneath the Bear Den Member, that would be probably one of the highest, if not the highest, concentrations of rare earth elements and these other critical minerals - certainly in North Dakota. I think it would be very competitive with any other coal in the United States."

One challenge experts say needs to be solved is the separation and extraction of the minerals from the lignite coal deposits. Moxness says millions of taxpayer dollars from The U.S Department of Energy is being sent to different research facilities, including UND's Institute of Energy Studies, to develop a scalable method that can efficiently separate the coal from the rare minerals. One expert says It is a method North Dakota could use to diversify from other mining operations occurring across the Williston Basin.

"The impact of finding some more concentrations of [rare earth minerals] is that it could diversity North Dakota's mineral resource space, "said Bernhardt Saini-Eidukat, Professor of Geology Department of Earth, Environmental and Geospatial Sciences at NDSU, "Right now we are mostly dependent on petroleum and lignite in terms of mining but there is all sorts of other types elements that could be extracted."

A statement from the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources can be found by clicking here

Original Air Date: 
Wednesday, April 26, 2023