A 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editorial Quinn and Silver lament the loss of investment in U.S. mineral development which they say is due to “to an outdated, muddled permitting process, which can require a staggering seven to 10 years for approval of just one mine.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.