Black Ops II and our mineral supply

Mineral-imports-2011A new action video game Call of Duty: Black Ops II is now on the market. While I don’t play such games myself, the premise is interesting: A new cold war has begun between the U.S. and China because China has banned exports of rare earth minerals. We get nearly all of our rare earth minerals from China. This premise and its implications are discussed in a Washington Times editorial by Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, and by Michael Silver is president of American Elements, a manufacturer of engineered and advanced materials. (See chart of all our imported minerals at the bottom of this post.)

Within the editorial Quinn and Silver lament the loss of investment in U.S. mineral development which they say is due to “to an outdated, muddled permitting process, which can require a staggering seven to 10 years for approval of just one mine. This is precious time that costs our nation valuable jobs and discourages companies from investing here.” I discuss this state of affairs in my post: Mining and the bureaucracy.

In my post China Controls Rare Earth Elements Supply I note that the rare earth elements are used every day in things such as liquid-crystal displays on computer monitors and televisions, fiber optic cables, magnets, glass polishing, DVD and USB drives in the computer, catalytic converters, and petroleum cracking catalysts, batteries (the Prius uses 10 pounds of lanthanum), fluorescent lights, missiles, jet engines, and satellites. In other words, these elements are critical to our high-technology world.

In my post Rare Earths Resources in the US I note that only one mine, Mountain Pass, California, is currently producing rare earth minerals in the U.S. although there are other potential sources in the U.S. That post also links to a U.S. Geological Survey report “The Principal Rare Earth Elements Deposits of the United States—A Summary of Domestic Deposits and a Global Perspective.”

To get some perspective on the state of our mineral commodities, see the U.S. Geological Survey Report: “Mineral Commodity Summaries, 2012.” The chart below showing our mineral imports is a slightly modified version of the chart that appears on page 6 of the USGS report.

Maybe the premise of the video game is not so far fetched.



  1. While I agree with you that the U.S. must invest more in rare earth mineral discovery and recovery, it’s unfair to compare China to the U.S. We’re a democracy where the people make the rules and currently the rules are cumbersome because the people want them to be (perhaps not all of them, of course, but enough to prevent those who wish them to be less cumbersome from changing the rules). China is a totalitarian state that can rape and scrape its own country at will, the people and their health be damned.

    What is more concerning to me is the success of China’s foreign policy, in which it has been willing to lavish bribes and baubles upon the despots and corrupt regimes of poor countries to secure the mineral rights to rare earth minerals and other natural resources necessary to fuel its burgeoning manufacturing economy. While we spend enormous sums on Cold War era ships and planes to enforce our militaristic foreign policy at the point of a drone-fired missile, China uses our money to fund an economic foreign policy that secures what it needs to be the world’s economic power. Given the choice, I’d rather be the world’s economic power than the world’s leader in aircraft carriers and nifty jet fighters.
    For instance, while we’ve spent billions blowing up and rebuilding (and blowing up and rebuilding) Afghanistan, China has swooped in and secured mining rights worth nearly as many billions as we’ve spent blowing up and rebuilding. And their mines benefit from the security our military provides so they can mine rare earth minerals to manufacture iPhones and what not that we then purchase, giving China money to secure more mining rights around the world to make stuff for us.
    I think that’s what you call ironic.

  2. It’s only fair to compare China and the US when there is a direct comparison. Here there is. The author is only stating that we need to get rare earth elements out of our own national area. And if we are a Republic (NOT a democracy as the previous commenter claims) then it should be easier.

  3. Afghanistan? Really? What do they have Lapis Lazuli, pomegranates, raisins and nuts. No rain, no railroads, no oil and only one paved road, and they live in the past (hundreds of years). Oh yes, opium and the best hashish in the World. So what’s all the fighting about? I don’t see them mentioned on the above list as a source for minerals

  4. Maybe there is hope in this. The “kids” are getting some reality through a channel that the normal media (television, newspapers, movies, college professors) does not control.

    To be honest, I always thought that the advent of computer games were a net plus for the mental development of children. It is much more active than passively watching TV. Also, there are various simulation games (SimCity and Roller Coaster Tycoon come to mind) that demand great thought.

    Come to think of it, the -Tycoon series is very anti-Occupy. The player strives to be a Tycoon!

    It is so rebellious to be based in reality.

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