ENID, Okla. (AP) — The oil and gas industry in Northwest Oklahoma regularly makes headlines, but there’s another industry in the area that few people know exists — iodine.
A mineral in the halogen family, iodine is a relatively rare element and is found in few places around the world.
Most of the world’s iodine supply comes from three areas: the Chilean desert nitrate mines, and the oil and gas fields in Japan and Northwest Oklahoma, according to the United States Geological Society mineral commodity studies.
In 2006, Oklahoma produced an estimated 1,200 metric tons of iodine; Japan produced 7,300 metric tons; and Chile produced 15,300 metric tons, according to the 2007 commodities study. After 2007, the Oklahoma producers classified production as proprietary information and stopped reporting total production to the USGS.
Only in Oklahoma
Although iodine is found in pockets across the United States, Oklahoma is the only state in the country that produces it, said Stan Krukowski, an industrial minerals geologist with the Oklahoma Geological Society.
“The concentrations are pretty high in this state,” he told the Enid News & Eagle (http://bit.ly/29y4Gej ). “The Woodward Trench provides a larger amount of iodine concentrated in brine in a small area.”
The Woodward Trench in the Morrowan formation is part of the oil and gas field American Anadarko Basin that extends from the Texas Panhandle into western Oklahoma, southwestern Kansas and southeastern Colorado, according to the OGS.
Three companies process iodine-rich brine in Northwest Oklahoma: Iofina Plc. opened in Woods and Alfalfa counties in 2012; Iochem Corp. began operations in Vici in 1987; and Woodward Iodine Corp. started production in 1977.
Woodward Iodine Corp. declined to interview for this story.
Kent Hood, executive vice president of Iochem, said there are two kinds of iodine production in Oklahoma.
“The one we are involved in is a business where we drill brine wells in the Morrowan formation specifically to produce iodine-rich subterranean brine,” he said. “The brine comes to a central processing plant, where the iodine is extracted. The brine is then reinjected back into the same Morrowan formation.”
The other production method uses brine produced by oil and gas wells, Hood said.
“With portable or less-permeant plants, they remove iodine from the oil and gas brine and that brine is put into disposal wells,” he said. “That’s one big distinction we would like everyone to understand. All the brine we produce goes right back where it came from.”
Iochem uses enhanced recovery injection wells that put the produced brine back where it came from, rather than going to a disposal well that displaces brine, he said.
Iochem employs about 45 people locally and has 16 producing wells and six injection wells on approximately 25,000 acres in the Vici area, Hood said.
“The Morrowan formation, more specifically the Woodward Trench, runs from southeast of Vici up to Woodward County and further,” he said. “That’s the mother lode of iodine production in Oklahoma.”
‘It’s priced by the kilo’
Hood said the company produces between 1,000 and 1,200 metric tons of iodine per year.
Iofina is fairly new to the area, CEO Tom Becker said.
“We are the new guys on the block, but we produced 500 metric tons of iodine in 2015,” he said, adding that they employ 40 to 45 people. “We created some new jobs.”
Iofina has built five plants in Oklahoma, the last being completed in late 2014, he said.
“We take brine that’s being produced from oil and gas companies,” he said. “Before they reinject the brine back into the ground, we have them divert it to our plants to take the iodine out of the brine.”
Becker declined to name which oil and gas companies they work with, citing proprietary information.
Once iodine is extracted, it’s crystallized and sold to create iodine compounds or for other uses, Becker said.
“We sell it by the kilo,” he said. “We sell it to users generally in metric ton lots, but it’s priced by the kilo.”
It’s not as easy to follow iodine prices as it is to follow copper or oil prices, he said.
“Prices are a little below $25 per kilo for big buyers,” he said. “It’s higher for smaller volumes.”
Prices are historically lower than usually, he said.
A 9.0 magnitude earthquake shook northeastern Japan in 2011, causing a tsunami, killing more than 15,000 people, and impacting the country’s iodine production.
“In 2011, prices were over $30 per kilo,” he said. “Late in 2011, due to the Japanese tsunami, there was a shortage that shot prices well over $60 per kilo. But, that didn’t last.”
From paint to animal feed
Iodine has a wide variety of uses across the manufacturing, pharmaceutical and health fields.
Major uses include stain guard, a catalyst for making plastic drinking bottles and disinfectants, Krukowski said.
It’s used in paint and coatings, animal feed and to disinfect cow teats before milking, Becker said.
Iodine is also used in LCD screens and in the medical field for X-ray contrast, Hood said.
“The reason iodine is used in X-ray contrast media is because X-rays do not penetrate iodine,” he said. “If you inject it into a certain organ, like heart or brain, you can take an X-ray of the organ and that iodine in the bloodstream makes the X-ray highly contrasted and you can see blockages.”
Iodine is necessary for thyroid health and many Americans are iodine-deficient, Hood said, which is why table salt is iodized.
“If we ate more seafood, we wouldn’t need to supplement iodine,” he said. “There is iodine in the ocean, but sea salt doesn’t usually have iodine in it. When people cut back on table salt and want to use sea salt, they need to be aware they’re not getting their iodine supplement.”