Walton Barite Mine

The Walton barite mine, before and after!

One of the biggest barite deposits in the world is in Hants County. It was mined from 1941-78. Today it's a lovely lake and greenspace.

A small, one metre-square outcrop of barite was discovered in 1894 but its location was lost to time until 1940 when prospector Roscoe Hiltz re-discovered it. Subsequent exploration confirmed the existence of a major deposit at the site and a surface mine started the following year.

In 1955, exploration drilling underneath the barite deposit discovered several metals: lead, zinc, copper and silver. Underground mining started in 1961 and made the site a significant producer of these metals along with its lucrative barite production.

Unfortunately, in 1970 a blast into one of the mine’s geological fault zones caused huge amounts of water to start flooding in. All efforts to stem the water flow failed and within a few months the fresh water was replaced by brackish water originating from the Minas Basin several kilometres away, indicating that the flow was unlikely to stop.

Barite mining continued above the water line but the water problem led to the mine shutting down in 1978. The mine produced 4.3 million tons of barite in total and 1.4 million tons are still in the deposit.

The Walton mine played an indirect but significant role in United States history. It was purchased in 1949 by Dresser Industries, a major oil industry service company. Dresser bought it because barite is a key ingredient in drilling mud - a heavy, viscous fluid mixture that is used in oil and gas drilling operations to carry rock cuttings to the surface and also to lubricate and cool the drill bit. The drilling mud, by hydrostatic pressure, also helps prevent the collapse of unstable strata into the borehole and the intrusion of water from water-bearing strata that may be encountered.

Barite increases the hydrostatic pressure of drilling mud, allowing it to compensate for high-pressure zones experienced during drilling.  Barite’s softness also prevents it from damaging drilling tools and enables it to serve as a lubricant. In other words, barite makes drilling safer and more efficient.

Owning the Walton mine allowed Dresser to gain full control of the barite market and acquire many of its competitors, many of whom had unique technologies and patents important to the oil service industry.

One of Dresser’s board members was Prescott Bush, grandfather of U.S. President George W. Bush and father of President George H. W. Bush. The Bush family wealth was, in great part, related to Dresser’s success. Without the Walton barite mine, who knows whether the Bush family would have produced two US presidents!

The Walton mine is also the type locality (where something was first discovered) for two minerals. Aplowite and moorhouseite were discovered by Robert William Boyle from the Geological Survey of Canada about 1963. He named them after geologists Walter Wilson Moorhouse, a professor of geology at the University of Toronto, and Albert Peter Low, a Canadian geologist and one-time director of the Geological Survey of Canada. Nova Scotia is the type locality for a total of five minerals.