Rapid Cross-Plot Discrimination of Commercial Potash Mineralization - Case Histories

Hill, Donald G., Crain, E. R.


Abstract Potash minerals are a source of potassium, which is used for the manufacture of gunpowder and fertilizer. Commercial potash mineralization is often discovered when petroleum wells are drilled through evaporite sequences and the Gamma Ray log “goes off scale”. This is because potassium is one of the naturally occurring radioactive elements, emitting gamma rays from the K isotope, in its decay to Ar. However, not all potash minerals may be commercial sources of potassium via underground mechanical or solution mining techniques and Potassium is not the only radioactive element. For example, the mineralogy of the McNutt “Potash” member of the Salado Formation in SE New Mexico, is extremely complex, consisting of multiple thin (i.e., less than 10 ft thick) beds of six low-grade (radioactive) potash minerals, only two of which are commercial. There are also four non-radioactive evaporite minerals, one of which interferes with potash milling chemistry, and numerous claystones and Marker Beds (shales), with GR count rates comparable to the low-grade potash. Because of this complexity, traditional wireline and Logging While Drilling Potash Assay techniques, such as Gamma Ray log-to-core assay transforms, may not be sufficient to identify potentially commercial potash mineralization, for underground mining. Crain and Anderson (1966) and Hill (2019) developed linear programming, and multi-mineral analyses, respectively, to estimate Potash mineralogy and grades. However, both of these approaches require complete sets of multiple log measurements. In SE New Mexico, petroleum wells are drilled through the McNutt “Potash” member of the Salado Formation, with air, cased and drilled out to TD in the underlying sediments, with water based mud. Complete log suites are then run from TD to the casing shoe, with only the GR and neutron logs recorded through the cased evaporite sequence for stratigraphic and structural correlation. As a result, numerous oil and gas wells, in SE New Mexico, have cased hole gamma ray and neutron logs, through the Salado Evaporite. Logs, from these wells could provide a rapid Potash screening database, if used properly. A simple screening cross-plot technique, the Potash Identification (PID) plot, utilizing only Gamma Ray and Neutron Porosity, is proposed and successfully demonstrated, as a potential screening tool. This technique can be used with both open and cased-hole petroleum well logs, as well as core hole wire-line logs, and provides discrimination of commercial potash mineralization from non-commercial (potash and nonpotash) radioactive mineralization. Case histories of the use of PID cross plots in the evaporite basins of Michigan, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, and SE New Mexico are described. The technique may also be useful in screening potential potash deposits in China, Europe, North Africa, and South America.

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