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Williston Basin CORE-CM Initiative
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The goal of the Williston Basin CORE-CM Initiative is to drive the expansion and transformation of using coal and coal-based resources within the Williston Basin to produce rare-earth elements (REE), critical minerals (CM), and carbon-based products. This is accomplished through 1) assessing the existing information available for resource characterization, waste streams, and technologies, and identifying options for business development, innovation centers, and stakeholder engagement; 2) identifying the gaps where additional research and technology development are necessary; 3) creating a series of plans to provide a pathway for future phases of development; and 4) initiating stakeholder engagement.


University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND 58202
Ames National Laboratory, Ames, IA 50011 
Montana Tech of the University of Montana, Butte, MT 59701 
North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND 58105 
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Richland, WA 99352


The Williston Basin is a large sedimentary basin centered in western North Dakota with portions reaching into South Dakota and Montana, as well as Canada. The sediments were laid down in an ancient interior sea as a series of transgressive and regressive sequences. The sediments deposited in the basin span every geologic time period from the Cambrian through the Tertiary. The Williston Basin has a rich and extensive history of producing critical resources for the United States and contains extensive infrastructure today for mining, transport, and processing of a variety of resources. The primary areas of resource development within the basin have been the Bakken oil and gas development, producing over 1.4 million barrels of oil per day, and lignite coal for power production, providing over 4000 MW of electrical generation capacity. The state of North Dakota is the sixth largest overall energy producer in the U.S. largely due to the extensive coal and oil and gas development within the Williston Basin. Significant research has been previously done on REE and CM content in the basin as well as exploration of technologies for extraction of these components. Additionally, recent research has also focused on the production of nonfuel carbon-based products such as graphene and carbon-based building materials from lignite coal.

The project will compile information and data gained in previous work, bringing together agencies within the Williston Basin to determine the benefits of REE and critical elements, the needs for continued development, technologies available, and the education and training necessary for growing regional economic success. This not only preserves coal-related jobs, but also grows local development.


The Williston Basin CORE-CM initiative is specifically focused on gathering the essential information necessary to assess the opportunity for REE, CM, and carbon-based products in the basin. This assessment will result in databases, models, and a series of assessments/plans that are intended to guide the next phase of activities, with the overall goal of expanding and transforming the use of coal and coal-based resources within the basin. Successful development of this opportunity will help to catalyze regional economic growth and job creation.

Accomplishments (most recent listed first)
  • The team has been compiling sample data sets of field characterization data. To date, over 1900 sample sets have been collected.
  • Limited additional sampling was conducted in the southwestern area of the Williston Basin to better clarify rare-earth concentrations as coal deposits transition from North Dakota into South Dakota.
  • It has been determined from the sample data that the key elements of interest in the Williston basin have been identified.
    • Rare-earths – scandium, yttrium, praseodymium, neodymium, gadolinium, terbium, and dysprosium.
    • Critical minerals – lithium, magnesium, gallium, germanium, niobium, indium, and carbon.
  • Statistics have been compiled from the available data on REE and CM from the collected data sets.
  • The milestone report on the initial analysis of value chain segments was completed.
  • A preliminary investigation into determining the barriers to entry into the market indicated that the most significant barrier is the high capital cost to establish REE mining and processing facilities, including environmental compliance.
  • Preliminary analysis and technology readiness level (TRL) ranking has begun for the technologies identified via technology provider input and literature review to identify critical supply chain and economically disruptive technologies that utilize basinal resources and/or infrastructure.
  • An annual meeting, titled the “Critical & Rare Earth Elements Symposium for the Williston Basin,” took place at the Bismarck State College National Energy Center of Excellence on October 11, 2022. Over 60 attendees from industry, Montana and North Dakota state government officials, and academic institutions were present.
  • A series of educational webinars are being conducted to educate participants on the importance of REE and CM in the Williston Basin. To date, one webinar has been conducted with three more planned through March 2023. 
  • An interim report of the Williston Basin CORE-CM Initiative was completed.
Current Status

The project is active, on time, and within budget. Milestones and deliverables are being met as scheduled. A geologic model is being developed in Petrel denoting coal seam isopach and extent maps. Development of the geologic model structure will be completed before the end of 2022. Investigations into possible locations within the basin that may have waste streams for reuse are being conducted, and gaps have been identified that need to be bridged. The Initial Waste Stream Reuse Plan will be issued at the end of November. Block flow diagrams are being developed for germanium, gallium, lithium, cobalt, and magnesium metal. Reference cost databases for evaluation and costing of identified technologies, including reference costs for mining, extraction, processing, refining, and manufacturing technologies for REE, CM, and carbon-based products are also in development. The Results of the Basinal Strategies for Infrastructure, Industries, and Business Assessment report will be completed by the end of November 2022. Additionally, the North Dakota Geologic Survey will release additional data on rare-earth concentrations for selected samples within the basin. Several hundred data sets are anticipated in this release. Comparison criteria will be developed for recommending technologies for field testing in the next few months.

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Contact Information

NETL – Kyle Clark (  or 304-285-5052)
University of North Dakota – John Kay ( or 701-777-4580)