Dr. Brent Elliott has worked at the Bureau of Economic Geology since August 2012. He has extensive experience in field geology, sampling, and mapping in remote regions around the world, and came to the Bureau after working for the Department of Natural Resources, where he conducted resource evaluation and assessment for the State of Alaska. Elliott has researched a wide range of intrusive rocks from the Baltic Shield and North America, conducted crystallization and melting experiments, and developed geochemical models to better understand the petrogenetic evolution of igneous and metamorphic systems. He has taught at the university level for more than 15 years, supervised student research, developed field resource sampling and assessment programs, and supervised field crews in remote field projects. His work is currently focused on a number of projects in mineral resources and economic geology as part of the Economic Mineral Resources Program at the Bureau, as well as work on state- and federally funded mapping initiatives.
What are your current research activities?
I work on a number of projects connected with mineral resources across Texas, ranging from uranium, precious metals, and rare earth elements to base metals, sand, gravel, and aggregate materials. I work on STATEMAP projects, mapping in the Trans-Pecos region of West Texas, in and around the Llano Uplift of Central Texas, and in the sand district of South Central Texas. I am working with the Center for Transportation Research, the Department of Engineering, and the Texas Department of Transportation to identify, assess, and evaluate Texas aggregate resources. I’m working with the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to research, and inventory and archive, underground coal-mine resources. I’m working with the USGS on developing a resource assessment study of Texas uranium deposits and conducting research related to ore-forming processes (rare earth elements, silver, copper, molybdenum, and so on) in igneous systems of West Texas. I’m conducting studies on hydraulic-fracturing sand from various deposits across Texas, characterizing the quality of material as a frac sand, identifying where in Texas basins the material is best applied, and evaluating formations for current and future resource potential. I work with colleagues at the Jackson School mentoring and supervising research and have recently become involved in a national Science Foundation grant (NSF–IRES) that facilitates international research projects; we are conducting studies on a number of topics, including tectonics, geochronology, geochemistry, ore geology, and igneous and metamorphic petrology on a suite of rocks collected in Slovakia.
What excites you the most about your current research?
Everything excites me about my current research. Hydraulic-fracturing sands haven’t been studied in much detail from an academic or non-industry perspective, but the sands are a component crucial to hydraulic fracturing and well production. Texas is one of the largest producers of sand, gravel, and aggregate in the United States, and these materials are vital to construction and infrastructure development. The geology of aggregate materials and distribution around the state is critical to the economics of a $3 billion state industry but hasn’t been studied in a way that identifies resource quality in a spatial context or quantifies resource logistics and economics on a statewide or district-level scale. Rare earth elements in West Texas are an exciting prospect. Round Top, which has already been evaluated and is a viable mining prospect, is just one of over 100 laccoliths of similar age and chemistry in West Texas. There is a lot of potential for more rare-earth-element prospects in this area, which is potentially a new type of rare-earth-element-forming system in igneous rocks. Texas has a lot of mineral resources, and more studies and distribution of resource information are needed so that the public and the rest of the resource community is aware of their value and existence.
What is the desired outcome of your research?
Ideally, I want to conduct novel research connected to mineral resources, and publish and present the findings in the appropriate journals and venues, respectively. The work requires collaboration with academia, industry, and other disciplines, which can be challenging. The research is very multidisciplinary and, hopefully, provides value information to each of these partners, as well as to the public.
What do you need in order to make your research efforts more successful?
Funding and industry contributions (knowledge and scientific information, data, sponsored research projects, and so on) are key to developing and continuing research projects. The lab space for mineral research is part of the PRC 131 [building] renovation, and having lab space in which to conduct research will significantly help research efforts. A program is only as strong as its members, so recruitment of talented and knowledgeable individuals will eventually have to be a priority to foster program growth and development.
What are your latest papers/publications, and what is most exciting to you about them?
Two papers that deal with resource assessment of frac sand in Central Texas discuss resource assessment and evaluation, developing prospectivity models and transportation logistics of Central Texas sand to appropriate oil and gas basins across Texas. The research in these papers is exciting because these models can be applied to other resource types; the research helps industry and the government in making more efficient economic decisions; and the models can be applied to other resources, with the flexibility to integrate whatever definitive criteria and datasets are available. Recent submissions that detail the mineralogy, geochemistry, and petrogenesis of rare-earth-element-bearing rhyolites in West Texas are of particular interest because they identify a new type of igneous rare-earth-element deposit. The Round Top deposit should eventually be the type locality.
Who will benefit from your latest paper or publication?
The sand industry should benefit significantly from resource evaluation and assessment of the region. The oil and gas industry should benefit from the new knowledge and forecasting of sand resources, as well as from details regarding the applicability to areas in basins around Texas. State and local communities should benefit from new resource identification and revenue generated from resource and industry development in these regions (Central and West Texas). Very little is published in academic journals on the topic of industrial mineral resources, so the more publications and references that the mineral program can provide to the academic community, the better.
What was your most exciting past paper or publication, and why?
I published a couple of papers in the Journal of Petrology and Mineralogy and Petrology after my Ph.D. studies. These were exciting because the information was novel and created geochemical models for the petrogenesis of igneous rocks in the Baltic Shield that linked tectonics and magmatic evolution all the way through crystallization and subsequent alteration. A complete history through so many analytical methods, combining field work, tectonics, structural geology, petrology, mineralogy, microbeam studies, whole-rock geochemistry, isotope geochemistry, and geochronology.
Who are the types of research partners you are seeking?
Because my position at the Bureau is so multidisciplinary and diverse in terms of resources I study, I seek partners in academia from almost all disciplines and partners from all industry sectors, especially mining (all types of resources), mineral exploration and processing, oil and gas extraction, and so on. I currently collaborate with state agency and government partners and will continue to seek such partnerships. I especially need partners with analytical capabilities, and laboratories and means for conducting testing and characterization of mineral resources.
What are the desired relationships, expertise, or skills that could be brought in to benefit your research?
Knowledge of Texas mineral resources and mineral resources of all types; industrial mineral and industry logistics experience; GIS and statistical-analysis skill set; firm foundation in geology and economics; personable, friendly demeanor; positive outlook; and the ability to communicate with the public, government agencies, scientists, economists, and industry. The work I do at the Bureau is built on being able to communicate with these latter entities and build a positive relationship in order to understand what research the mineral program needs to do to provide a valuable service to each of these groups.
What have been recent successes associated with your research?
The minerals program has been successful in establishing a network of interagency and industry contacts that is essential for sharing information and establishing research collaborations. Developing research collaborations and establishing support with the Department of Interior, the USGS, and the Texas Department of Transportation have been instrumental in helping the mineral program grow.
What is the geographic location of your research?
Primarily Texas, but all locations are possible.
Mihalasky, M. J., Hall, S. M., Hammarstrom, J. M., Tureck, K. R., Hannon, M. T., Breit, G. N., Zielinski, R. A., and Elliott, B. A., 2015, Assessment of undiscovered sandstone-hosted uranium resources in the Texas Coastal Plain, 2015: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2015-3069 , 4 p., doi:10.3133/fs20153069.
U.S. Geological Survey Assessment Team, 2015, Assessment of undiscovered sandstone-hosted uranium resources in the Texas Coastal Plain, 2015: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2015–3069, 4 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/fs20153069.