Genetic and grade and tonnage models for sandstone-hosted roll-type uranium deposits, Texas Coastal Plain, USA

Research paper by Susan M. Hall, Mark J. Mihalasky, Kathleen R. Tureck, Jane M. Hammarstrom, Mark T. Hannon

Indexed on: 14 Jul '16Published on: 12 Jul '16Published in: Ore Geology Reviews


The coincidence of a number of geologic and climatic factors combined to create conditions favorable for the development of mineable concentrations of uranium hosted by Eocene through Pliocene sandstones in the Texas Coastal Plain. Here 254 uranium occurrences, including 169 deposits, 73 prospects, 6 showings and 4 anomalies, have been identified. About 80 million pounds of U3O8 have been produced and about 60 million pounds of identified producible U3O8 remain in place. The development of economic roll-type uranium deposits requires a source, large-scale transport of uranium in groundwater, and deposition in reducing zones within a sedimentary sequence. The weight of the evidence supports a source from thick sequences of volcanic ash and volcaniclastic sediment derived mostly from the Trans-Pecos volcanic field and Sierra Madre Occidental that lie west of the region. The thickest accumulations of source material were deposited and preserved south and west of the San Marcos arch in the Catahoula Formation. By the early Oligocene, a formerly uniformly subtropical climate along the Gulf Coast transitioned to a zoned climate in which the southwestern portion of Texas Coastal Plain was dry, and the eastern portion humid. The more arid climate in the southwestern area supported weathering of volcanic ash source rocks during pedogenesis and early diagenesis, concentration of uranium in groundwater and movement through host sediments. During the middle Tertiary Era, abundant clastic sediments were deposited in thick sequences by bed-load dominated fluvial systems in long-lived channel complexes that provided transmissive conduits favoring transport of uranium-rich groundwater. Groundwater transported uranium through permeable sandstones that were hydrologically connected with source rocks, commonly across formation boundaries driven by isostatic loading and eustatic sea level changes. Uranium roll fronts formed as a result of the interaction of uranium-rich groundwater with either (1) organic-rich debris adjacent to large long-lived fluvial channels and barrier–bar sequences or (2) extrinsic reductants entrained in formation water or discrete gas that migrated into host units via faults and along the flanks of salt domes and shale diapirs. The southwestern portion of the region, the Rio Grande embayment, contains all the necessary factors required for roll-type uranium deposits. However, the eastern portion of the region, the Houston embayment, is challenged by a humid environment and a lack of source rock and transmissive units, which may combine to preclude the deposition of economic deposits. A grade and tonnage model for the Texas Coastal Plain showed that the Texas deposits represent a lower tonnage subset of roll-type deposits that occur around the world, and required clustering of production centers into deposits based on geologic interpretation.

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