Mines, Minerals, and “Green” Energy: A Reality Check
by Mark P. Mills, Manhattan Institute
As policymakers have shifted focus from pandemic challenges to economic recovery, infrastructure plans are once more being actively discussed, including those relating to energy. Green energy advocates are doubling down on pressure to continue, or even increase, the use of wind, solar power, and electric cars. Left out of the discussion is any serious consideration of the broad environmental and supply-chain implications of renewable energy.
This paper turns to a different reality: all energy-producing machinery must be fabricated from materials extracted from the earth. No energy system, in short, is actually “renewable,” since all machines require the continual mining and processing of millions of tons of primary materials and the disposal of hardware that inevitably wears out. Compared with hydrocarbons, green machines entail, on average, a 10-fold increase in the quantities of materials extracted and processed to produce the same amount of energy.
Among the material realities of green energy:
Building wind turbines and solar panels to generate electricity, as well as batteries to fuel electric vehicles, requires, on average, more than 10 times the quantity of materials, compared with building machines using hydrocarbons to deliver the same amount of energy to society.
A single electric car contains more cobalt than 1,000 smartphone batteries; the blades on a single wind turbine have more plastic than 5 million smartphones; and a solar array that can power one data center uses more glass than 50 million phones.
Replacing hydrocarbons with green machines under current plans—never mind aspirations for far greater expansion—will vastly increase the mining of various critical minerals around the world. For example, a single electric car battery weighing 1,000 pounds requires extracting and processing some 500,000 pounds of materials. Averaged over a battery’s life, each mile of driving an electric car “consumes” five pounds of earth. Using an internal combustion engine consumes about 0.2 pounds of liquids per mile.
Oil, natural gas, and coal are needed to produce the concrete, steel, plastics, and purified minerals used to build green machines. The energy equivalent of 100 barrels of oil is used in the processes to fabricate a single battery that can store the equivalent of one barrel of oil.
By 2050, with current plans, the quantity of worn-out solar panels—much of it nonrecyclable—will constitute double the tonnage of all today’s global plastic waste, along with over 3 million tons per year of unrecyclable plastics from worn-out wind turbine blades. By 2030, more than 10 million tons per year of batteries will become garbage.
(Download full report)
From the Arizona Geology blog of the Arizona Geological Survey (link to full post with graphics)
The U.S. Geological Survey’s 42nd annual ‘Mineral Commodity Summary’ catalogs global and U.S. mineral production for 2019. The estimated total value of nonfuel mineral production in the U.S. was $86.3 billion, a 3% increase from 2018. Production of metals in 2019 was $28.1 billion, nearly identical to that of 2018. At $58.2 billion, industrial mineral production accounted for 67% of nonfuel mineral production in the U.S.
Export of raw mineral materials was $3.7 billion, an increase of 27% from 2018. Collectively, domestic raw and recycled mineral material production was $770 billion; of this iron and steel scrap contributed $17.6 billion.
Imported minerals made up more than one-half of the U.S. consumption for 46 nonfuel mineral commodities; 17 mineral commodities (e.g., arsenic, graphite, manganese, and fluorspar) rely wholly on imports. Canada and China dominate mineral imports to the U.S., followed by Australia, Russia, Germany, South Africa, and Mexico.
Each year we peruse the Mineral Commodity Summary for insight into how Arizona mineral production compares with that of other States. Arizona followed Nevada as the #2 state in U.S. nonfuel mineral production. Nevada mineral production was $8,190 million – 9.5% of U.S. total of nonfuel mineral production; Arizona weighted in with 8.08% of US production. Arizona non-fuel mineral production in 2019 reached $6,970 million. Texas followed closely on the heels of Arizona ($6,470 million), with Minnesota and California rounding out the top five producing states.
Principal nonfuel mineral products of Arizona include: cement (portland), copper, molybdenum concentrates, sand & gravel, crushed stone, dimension stone, bentonite, clay, gypsum, helium, industrial sand, perlite, pumice, salt, and zeolites. For more than 100 years Arizona has led the U.S. in copper production. In 2019 Arizona produced 68% of all copper in the U.S., worth roughly $5.3 billion. Molybdenum byproducts were recovered at four Arizona copper mines: Bagdad, Morenci, Pinto Valley and Sierrita. (see more at AZGS)
In FY 2019, there were 380 active, full-time mines or development projects in the state of Arizona. Arizona typically ranks 2nd to Nevada in non-fuel mineral production annually in the U.S. mining industry. Mined mineral resources in Arizona (Fig. 1) range from metals, chiefly copper with minor production of gold, silver, iron ore, lead and zinc (Fig. 2), to a broad suite of industrial minerals dominated by aggregate (sand, gravel, and building stones) complemented by cement and lime, flagstone, gemstone, cinders, and gypsum, among other mineral resources.
The report contains a state map showing mine locations and plates of Arizona counties which show the distribution of active mines with respect to legislative districts and major road systems.
Congressman Raul Grijalva is at it again with his proposed H.R. 2579 Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act of 2019 which would probably make future mining in America uneconomic. Among other things, the law would impose a 12.5% royalty on productions and eliminate valid mining claims after 20 years (read full text). The royalty is extremely punitive to an industry that already pays over 45 percent of its earnings to federal, state and local governments, in the form of taxes, fees, royalties and other assessments. Currently, the U.S. is 100% import-reliant for 18 minerals – 14 of which have been deemed “critical” by the departments of defense or interior.
The American Exploration & Mining Association (AEMA) notes that:
The sweeping changes in Rep. Grijalva’s legislation are unnecessary and a disaster in the making for the domestic mining industry and for America.
The fact is, hardrock mining is fundamentally different than oil, gas, and coal because it is much more difficult to find and develop hardrock mineral resources. This bill ignores these differences and seeks to force-fit royalty and leasing programs for coal, oil, and gas on hardrock mining. Without question, the Grijalva bill, if enacted, would substantially chill private-sector investment in exploring for and developing minerals on federal land and dramatically increase our already extensive reliance on foreign sources of minerals.
This bill poses a significant threat to our Nation’s economic security and to our defense, technology, manufacturing, infrastructure, and renewable energy sectors, all of which rely on minerals from mining. The country will suffer as high paying family-wage jobs are exported, and our rural communities will experience disproportionately severe economic hardships.
Geologist Ned Mamula (adjunct scholar in Geosciences at the Center for the Study of Science, Cato Institute) opines that:
Mining is a long-term investment process and, although two decades is a long time, some hardrock mines now take 10 years or more just to get approved. What company would be willing to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a new mine only to see its mining claims suddenly revoked?
Remarkably, the timing of this “reform” is just as bad as the substance. U.S. demand for minerals is climbing steadily: for hundreds of defense, aerospace, electronic, energy, medical, computing, transportation and other applications. Yet, our dependence on China for minerals is at an all-time high and growing, despite increasingly tense diplomatic relations.(Read full article)
Matthew Kandrach, President of Consumer Action for a Strong Economy notes:
The taboo against hard-rock mining in the United States is nonsensical and should be abandoned. Instead, America should embrace a far wiser policy of ensuring greater access to minerals on our public lands, since it’s in our national and economic interest. This would help reduce our heavy dependence on foreign nations for minerals that are needed in the production of advanced weapons systems and a multitude of consumer technologies.
The current problem stems from America adhering to a highly duplicative and inefficient system of regulatory permits and oversight that governs domestic mining. Over all, the mining industry is struggling with a regulatory system that forces them to wait seven to 10 years to obtain a mining permit, in contrast to Canada and Australia where the process takes two to three years.
The permit system was set up during a very different era when the U.S. dominated the production and use of minerals. But those days are long past. China is now the world’s leading producer and exporter of minerals and metals, supplying many that are critical to U.S. manufacturing, our technology and energy sectors, and national defense. Our ongoing dependence is not only a potential vulnerability during a time of increased global tensions, but greatly limits our nation’s ability to capitalize on our mineral wealth. (Read more)
In March, 2019, President Trump signed legislation creating the 3,600 square mile Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area in parts of Pima and Santa Cruz Counties, Arizona. This has long been a pet project of Congressman Raul Grijalva. The proposed boundaries of the heritage area encompass major copper mines, sources of construction aggregate, and many ranches.
According to the Arizona Geological Survey, the mines in the area have produced 65 percent of the nation’s copper. (Maps in this article are from AZGS.) It remains to be seen whether establishment of an NHA will impact mining and mineral exploration.
The heritage area will be managed through the National Park Service which will contract management to a “local coordinating entity” which in this case is the Santa Cruz Valley Heritage Alliance. The Alliance will receive $1 million per year up to a maximum of $15 million for its services.
According to the House version of the legislation (link 3 below):
The purposes of this Act include:
(1) to establish the Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area in the State of Arizona;
(2) to implement the recommendations of the Alternative Concepts for Commemorating Spanish Colonization study completed by the National Park Service in 1991, and the Feasibility Study for the Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area prepared by the Center for Desert Archaeology in July 2005;
(3) to provide a management framework to foster a close working relationship with all levels of government, the private sector, and the local communities in the region and to conserve the region’s heritage while continuing to pursue compatible economic opportunities;
(4) to assist communities, organizations, and citizens in the State of Arizona in identifying, preserving, interpreting, and developing the historical, cultural, scenic, and natural resources of the region for the educational and inspirational benefit of current and future generations; and
(5) to provide appropriate linkages between units of the National Park System and communities, governments, and organizations within the National Heritage Area.
The Act also gives these reassurances:
Nothing in this Act:
(1) abridges the rights of any property owner (whether public or private), including the right to refrain from participating in any plan, project, program, or activity conducted within the National Heritage Area;
(2) requires any property owner to permit public access (including access by Federal, State, Tribal, or local agencies) to the property of the property owner, or to modify public access or use of property of the property owner under any other Federal, State, Tribal, or local law;
(3) alters any duly adopted land use regulation, approved land use plan, or other regulatory authority of any Federal, State, Tribal, or local agency, or conveys any land use or other regulatory authority to any local coordinating entity, including but not necessarily limited to development and management of energy, water, or water-related infrastructure;
(4) authorizes or implies the reservation or appropriation of water or water rights;
(5) diminishes the authority of the State to manage fish and wildlife, including the regulation of fishing and hunting within the National Heritage Area; or
(6) creates any liability, or affects any liability under any other law, of any private property owner with respect to any person injured on the private property.
That sounds good in theory, but experience with other National Heritage Areas is not so good.
The Heritage Foundation (link 5 below) opines:
There are three key reasons why Congress should not create any new NHAs and why existing NHAs should become financially independent of the federal government, as their enabling legislation requires.
1) NHAs divert NPS resources from core responsibilities. NPS advocates and staff have long complained about the limited resources that Congress provides in comparison to its extensive responsibilities. Both the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Congressional Research Service estimate that the cost of NPS’s maintenance back-log exceeds several billion dollars and is rising despite increased annual appropriations.
2) Federal costs for NHAs are increasing at a rapid rate.
3) NHAs threaten private property rights. On the surface, most of the legislation designating an NHA, and the subsequent management plans that guide them, include explicit provisions prohibiting the NPS or the management entity from using eminent domain to acquire property. They also prohibit the use of federal funds to acquire private property by way of a voluntary transaction with a willing seller.
Nonetheless, NHAs pose a threat to private property rights through the exercise of restrictive zoning that may severely limit the extent to which property owners can develop or use their property. Termed “regulatory takings,” such zoning abuses are the most common form of property rights abuse today. They are also the most pernicious because they do not require any compensation to owners whose property values are reduced by the new zoning. (Read full article for details.)
The American Policy Center (link 4 below) opines:
Specifically, what is a National Heritage Area? To put it bluntly, it is a pork barrel earmark that harms property rights and local governance. Let me explain why that is. Heritage Areas have boundaries. These are very definite boundaries, and they have very definite consequences for folks who reside within them. National historic significance, obviously, is a very arbitrary term; so anyone’s property can end up falling under those guidelines.
The managing entity sets up non-elected boards, councils and regional governments to oversee policy inside the Heritage Area.
In the mix of special interest groups you’re going to find all of the usual suspects: Environmental groups; planning groups; historic preservation groups; all with their own private agendas – all working behind the scenes, creating policy, hovering over the members of the non-elected boards (perhaps even assuring their own people make up the boards), and all collecting the Park Service funds to pressure local governments to install their agenda. In many cases, these groups actually form a compact with the Interior Department to determine the guidelines that make up the land use management plan and the boundaries of the Heritage Area itself.
Now, after the boundaries are drawn and after the management plan has been approved by the Park Service, the management entity and its special interest groups, are given the federal funds, typically a million dollars a year, or more, and told to spend that money getting the management plan enacted at the local level.
Here’s how they operate with those funds. They go to local boards and local legislators and they say, Congress just passed this Heritage Area. “You are within the boundaries. We have identified these properties as those we deem significant. We have identified these businesses that we deem insignificant and a harm to these properties and a harm to the Heritage Area. We don’t have the power to make laws but you do. And here is some federal money. Now use whatever tools, whatever laws, whatever regulatory procedures you already have to make this management plan come into fruition.”
This sweeping mandate ensures that virtually every square inch of land within the boundaries is subject to the scrutiny of Park Service bureaucrats and their managing partners. That is the way it works. It’s done behind the scenes – out of the way of public input.
True private property ownership lies in one’s ability to do with his property as he wishes. Zoning and land-use policies are local decisions that have traditionally been the purview of locally elected officials who are directly accountable to the citizens that they represent.
But National Heritage Areas corrupt this inherently local process by adding federal dollars, federal mandates, and federal oversight to the mix. Along with an army of special interest carpet baggers who call themselves Stake Holders. (See the article for much more.)
1) P.A. Pearthree and F.M. Conway, 2019, Preliminary evaluation of mineral resources
of the Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area, Arizona, Arizona Geological Survey, Open-file Report OFR-19-03 (link)
2) Southwestern Minerals Exploration Association (SMEA), 2001, Mineral Potential of Eastern Pima County, Arizona, Arizona Geological Survey Contributed Report 01-B (link) (Note: I am one of the co-authors of this report.)
3) Text of House version of establishing legislation: H.R. 6522 (115th): Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area Act (link)
4) Tom DeWeese, American Policy Center, 2012, National Heritage Areas: the Land Grabs Continue (link)
5) Cheryl Chumley and Ronald Utt, 2007, National Heritage Areas: Costly Economic Development Schemes that Threaten Property Rights, The Heritage Foundation (link)
The Arizona Geological Survey has just published a geological evaluation on the new Santa Cruz Valley Natural Heritage area in southern Arizona. Here is the introduction from AZGS:
The newly designated Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area includes ~ 3,600 square miles (9,378 square kilometers; 2,304,000 acres) and hundreds of mines distributed in 20 mining districts in Pima and Santa Cruz Counties. AZGS just released a preliminary evaluation of metallic and industrial minerals of America’s newest National Heritage Area.
The report is accompanied by six figures, two tables and citations for more than 50 published geologic reports and maps from the AZGS and the US Geological Survey. All of which are available as free PDF downloads.
Citation: Pearthree, P.A. and Conway, F.M., 2019, Preliminary evaluation of mineral resources of the proposed Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area, Arizona. Arizona Geological Survey Open-File Report OFR-18-03<http://repository.azgs.az.gov/uri_gin/azgs/dlio/1911>;, 7 p.
My comment: It is yet to be determined if designation of a heritage area will have any detrimental effects on mining and mineral exploration. Mining has long been a part of the heritage of this area.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) has updated its assessment of volcanic hazard threats in the United States. Most volcanoes occur along the Pacific coast of the U.S., within the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, and on certain other Pacific islands such as Hawaii. The USGS lists 161 volcanos as dangerous, of which, 18 are considered to have a “very high” threat for damage.
Kilauea volcano in Hawaii, which erupted last year, ranks number 1 as the most hazardous volcano. Mount St. Helens in Washington comes in at number 2. It last erupted in 1980.
Yellowstone caldera in Wyoming comes in at 21, a “high” threat. The San Francisco Volcanic Field near Flagstaff, AZ comes in at 80, a “moderate” threat.
According to the USGS:
The United States is one of Earth’s most volcanically active countries, having within its territory more than 10 percent of the known active and potentially active volcanoes. The geographic footprint of U.S. volcanoes is large, extending from arctic Alaska in the north to tropical American Samoa south of the Equator, and from Colorado in the east to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in the western Pacific. Since 1980, there have been 120 eruptions and 52 episodes of notable volcanic unrest (increased seismicity, observed ground deformation, and (or) gas emission) at 44 U.S. volcanoes.
Volcanoes produce many kinds of destructive phenomena. In the United States over the past 38 years, communities have been overrun by lava flows in Hawaii and in Washington State, a powerful explosion has devastated huge tracts of forest and killed people tens of miles from the volcanic source, and debris avalanches and mudflows have choked major river ways, destroyed bridges, and swept people to their deaths. In California, noxious gas emissions have resulted in fatalities, and in Hawaii, given rise to widespread respiratory ailments. Airborne ash clouds have caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to aircraft and nearly brought down passenger jets in flight in U.S. and international airspace, and ash falls have caused agricultural losses and disrupted the lives and businesses of hundreds of thousands of people in Washington State and Alaska. The growing risk of such severe threats to communities, property, and infrastructure downstream and downwind of volcanoes drives the need to decipher past eruptive behavior, monitor the current activity, and mitigate damaging effects of these forces of nature.
When one thinks of earthquakes in the U.S., we often think of the west coast. But, on a U.S. earthquake hazards map, there is a big bull’s eye in the Midwest along the Mississippi River, centered on the town of New Madrid, Missouri. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) this area, the New Madrid seismic zone has “ repeatedly produced sequences of major earthquakes, including several of magnitude 7 to 8, over the past 4,500 years.”
The most famous New Madrid earthquakes occurred from December 16, 1811, through February 7, 1812. The three main earthquakes measured 7.3-7.5 on the Richter scale. Aftershocks persisted through 1813.
According to the USGS:
1811, December 16, 08:15 UTC Northeast Arkansas – the first main shock
2:15 am local time
This powerful earthquake was felt widely over the entire eastern United States. People were awakened by the shaking in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Charleston, South Carolina. Perceptible ground shaking was in the range of one to three minutes depending upon the observers location. The ground motions were described as most alarming and frightening in places like Nashville, Tennessee, and Louisville, Kentucky. Reports also describe houses and other structures being severely shaken with many chimneys knocked down. In the epicentral area the ground surface was described as in great convulsion with sand and water ejected tens of feet into the air liquefaction).
During the February 7 earthquake, “Large waves (seiches) were generated on the Mississippi River by seismically-induced ground motions deforming the riverbed. Local uplifts of the ground and water waves moving upstream gave the illusion that the river was flowing upstream. Ponds of water also were agitated noticeably.”
The New Madrid seismic zone is underlain by the Reelfoot Rift, a large fault zone with mainly horizontal movement. It is speculated that this rift was formed about 750 million years ago during the breakup of the supercontinent Rodinia. The Reelfoot Rift failed to split the continent, but remains a weak area in Earth’s crust. From time to time, pressure from the movement of tectonic plates causes movement on this weak area resulting in earthquakes.
The USGS “concludes that the New Madrid Seismic zone is at significant risk for damaging earthquakes that must be accounted for in urban planning and development. A fundamental problem is the lack of knowledge concerning the physical processes that govern earthquake recurrence in the Central US, and whether large earthquakes will continue to occur at the same intervals as the previous three clusters of events. ”
To read more, including eyewitness accounts, and a summary of 1811-1812 New Madrid earthquakes sequence, go to:
The Arizona Geological Survey has made available for free download an new report on alluvial fans near the Phoenix area. The report shows how development on the fans fared.
The full report may be downloaded here. The report contains many photos from pre-development through developed stage.
Here is a summary from AZGS:
Flooding issues and drainage problems associated with historical development on four active alluvial fan study sites in central Arizona were examined to document the effectiveness of engineered flood protection measures and floodplain management policies. The study sites are located in the metropolitan Phoenix area and include (1) Ahwatukee-City of Phoenix, (2) Pima Canyon-City of Phoenix/Guadalupe, (3) Reata Pass-Scottsdale, and (4) Lost Dog-Scottsdale. The four study sites have experienced different types of urbanization, including master-planned communities, single lot residential development, public transportation and utility networks, and major engineered drainage structures such as channels, detention basins, culverts, and dams. The engineered drainage systems at the four historical alluvial fan study sites have performed adequately during the 30-year period of record, at least with respect to controlling the flow path uncertainty and sedimentation normally associated with active alluvial fans. Significantly, no homes have been damaged by alluvial fan flooding at any of the study sites, and no avulsions* have occurred in the developed portions of the alluvial fans. Two floods exceeding the 100-year design storm occurred on two of the fans, but many of the flood control measures on the other fan sites remain untested by large floods. The absence of flood damages is likely due to lack of debris flow potential at any of the sites, low rates of sediment yield at the fan sites, channelization and encroachment that increase sediment transport off the fan surface, and to some degree, the relatively short period of record since development first occurred.
*Avulsions: An abrupt change in the course of a stream that forms the boundary between two parcels of land resulting in the loss of part of the land of one landowner and a consequent increase in the land of another.
Check the Article Index page for more stories of Arizona geology.
Organic nitrogen compounds such as ammonia (NH3) act as plant fertilizers. Robust plant growth consumes more atmospheric carbon dioxide during the process of photosynthesis. However, atmospheric nitrogen (N2) is relatively inert. It is converted to organic nitrogen compounds by bacteria in the top soil layers. (See nitrogen fixation) Climate models have assumed that the atmosphere is the only source of nitrogen and have therefore underestimated its fertilization effect and also underestimated the capability of plants to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. New studies show that much nitrogen comes from rocks, some already in useable organic form. Weathering of rocks releases this organic nitrogen.
“A considerable amount of the nitrogen in igneous and sedimentary rocks exists as ammonium ions held within the lattice structures of silicate minerals. In sedimentary rocks, the ammonium is held by secondary silicate minerals; in igneous rocks, the ammonium is contained largely within potassium-bearing primary minerals. Analyses indicated that most of the nitrogen in igneous rocks, and from one-tenth to two-thirds of that in sedimentary rocks (shales) occurred as fixed ammonium.” (Source)
Nitrate deposits in arid and semi-arid regions provide another source of nitrogen.
“Nitrogen bearing rocks are globally distributed and comprise a potentially large pool of nitrogen in nutrient cycling that is frequently neglected because of a lack of routine analytical methods for quantification. Nitrogen in rock originates as organically bound nitrogen associated with sediment, or in thermal waters representing a mixture of sedimentary, mantle, and meteoric sources of nitrogen.” (Source)
A new study, reported by Science Daily, concerns research conducted by University of California – Davis published April 6, 2018.
“For centuries, the prevailing science has indicated that all of the nitrogen on Earth available to plants comes from the atmosphere. But a study from the University of California, Davis, indicates that more than a quarter comes from Earth’s bedrock.”
“The discovery could greatly improve climate change projections, which rely on understanding the carbon cycle. This newly identified source of nitrogen could also feed the carbon cycle on land, allowing ecosystems to pull more emissions out of the atmosphere, the authors said.”
“Geology might have a huge control over which systems can take up carbon dioxide and which ones don’t.”
“While there were hints that plants could use rock-derived nitrogen, this discovery shatters the paradigm that the ultimate source of available nitrogen is the atmosphere. Nitrogen is both the most important limiting nutrient on Earth and a dangerous pollutant, so it is important to understand the natural controls on its supply and demand. Humanity currently depends on atmospheric nitrogen to produce enough fertilizer to maintain world food supply. A discovery of this magnitude will open up a new era of research on this essential nutrient.”
Study citation: B. Z. Houlton, S. L. Morford, R. A. Dahlgren. Convergent evidence for widespread rock nitrogen sources in Earth’s surface environment. Science, 2018; 360 (6384): 58 DOI: 10.1126/science.aan4399.
Looks like “climate science” is still not settled. For instance, a 2003 study published in the same Science journal claimed, “there will not be enough nitrogen available to sustain the high carbon uptake scenarios.” Investor’s Business Daily opines: “with more nitrogen available, plant life might be able to absorb more CO2 than climate scientists have been estimating, which means the planet won’t warm as much, despite mankind’s pumping CO2 into the atmosphere.”