Via the Arizona Geological Survey: The American Geosciences Institute (AGI) has just released Geoscience and Arizona regarding the impact of geoscience on the Arizona economy. You can download the fact sheet at: https://www.americangeosciences.org/sites/default/files/AZ_StateFactSheet_062817.pdf
The Arizona Geological Survey has just released another paper about Arizona mining: The History of the Silver Bell Mining District (AZGS Contributed Report CR-17-A). The paper is authored by geologist and mining historian David Briggs who has written about many of Arizona’s mining districts. The paper is available for free download (link).
The Silver Bell mine and the town of Silverbell are located about 36 miles northwest of Tucson, Arizona. It has produced copper and other metals since 1873 and silver since 1865. Prior to that, the Tohono O’odham Indians and/or their predecessors mined turquoise, hematite and clay, which were used for pottery, paint and decorative purposes.
The Silver Bell mine has had a colorful and sometimes contentious history. Briggs writes that “Over the past 150 years, the Silver Bell mining district evolved from a collection of small, intermittent, poorly financed and managed underground mining operations that struggled to make a profit from high-grade ores; to a small but profitable producer, deploying innovative mining practices and advancements in technology to successfully develop the district’s large, low-grade copper resource.”
Besides a detailed history of owners and operations, the report contains many historic photographs of the mining operations and the town.
Briggs: “Over past 130 years, the Silver Bell mining district yielded approximately 2.27 billion pounds of copper, 6.6 million pounds of molybdenum, 3.7 million pounds of lead, 40.8 million pounds of zinc, 2,100 ounces of gold, and 5.95 million ounces of silver.”
The mine now produces copper by leaching and electro-winning. Remaining reserves are reported to be 214.4 million tons, averaging 0.283% copper. Local geologists suspect there are more copper resources east and west of the active mining area, but that ground is effectively off-limits because it lies within Ironwood Forest National Monument. The monument was imposed over valid pre-existing mining claims. IFNM is one being reconsidered by the Trump administration.
Other papers by David Briggs:
Geologist David Briggs has written another interesting paper on the history of mining in Arizona. This 18-page paper, History of the Ajo Mining District, Pima County, Arizona, was just published by the Arizona Geological Survey and is available as a free download: http://repository.azgs.az.gov/uri_gin/azgs/dlio/1710
I was particularly interesting in the Ajo paper because as a geologist, I conducted exploration at the mine and in the district. Although the mine is now inactive, there is remaining mineralization that can be mined given the right economic conditions. The Ajo orebody is particularly interesting to geologists because paleomagnetic and geologic evidence indicates that the Ajo ore deposit has been tilted to the south a total of approximately 120 degrees in two separate tectonic events. (Source) There is also speculation that a detached piece of the original orebody lies hidden nearby.
Briggs begins his story as follows: “The hostile environment of southwestern Arizona’s low desert presented many challenges to those who sought to discover and exploit the mineral wealth
of the region. Ajo’s remote location combined with hot summer days and scarce water created a number of obstacles that needed to be overcome. Despite these impediments, the district’s wealth was mined by Native Americans long before the arrival of first Spanish explorers, who recognized its potential soon after establishing outposts in this region.”
The Ajo area has a long history. Prior to the arrival of the first Spanish explorers in the 1530’s, the native Tohono O’odham Indians and their ancestors mined hematite, an iron oxide, which they used as body paint. Establishment of Spanish missions in Southern Arizona provided bases from which prospectors combed the country.
With the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo at the end of the Mexican American War on February 2, 1848, and the subsequent Gadsden Purchase in June 1854, many prospectors tried their luck at Ajo.
Briggs provides great detail as he recounts the many lives of mining ventures in Ajo. Following is a very brief sketch of major events.
The first formal mining began in 1855 and a wagon road was constructed to the railroad at Gila Bend. Ore was also sent by wagon to San Diego and shipped to Swansea, Wales for smelting. High transportation costs eventually made the venture uneconomic.
Briggs recounts the era between 1898 and 1908 when the Ajo deposit saw many promotions and fraudulent mining schemes.
In 1911, the Calumet and Arizona Mining Company, which was operating mines in Bisbee, became interested in the Ajo properties and acquired the New Cornelia Copper Company which owned Ajo at the time. Calumet began an extensive drilling program which confirmed the presence of a large sulfide body of mineralization. They began open pit mining in 1915.
In 1931, Phelps Dodge merged with Calumet and Arizona Mining Company and continued to operate the mine which they did until 1985 when a combination of low copper prices and stricter regulations for smelter air quality caused the company to close the mine.
The Ajo property is now owned by Freeport-McMoRan, Inc. through its merger with Phelps Dodge. According to Briggs, “Freeport continues to periodically assess the economic feasibility of returning the Ajo project to production. As of December 31, 2015, this project is estimated to contain a sulfide resource of 482 million short tons, averaging 0.40% copper, 0.010% molybdenum, 0.002 oz. of gold/ton and 0.023 oz. of silver/ton.”
Other papers by David Briggs, published by the Arizona Geological Survey:
The U.S. Geological Survey has just released their annual summary of non-fuel mineral production in the U.S. for 2016. They estimate that the value of all non-fuel minerals produced from U.S. mines was $74.6 billion, a slight increase over production in 2015. “ Domestic raw materials and domestically recycled materials were used to process mineral materials worth $675 billion. These mineral materials were, in turn, consumed by downstream industries with an estimated value of $2.78 trillion in 2016.”
Principal contributors to the total value of metal mine production in 2016 were gold (37%), copper (29%), iron ore (15%), and zinc (7%). The estimated value of U.S. industrial minerals production in 2016 was $51.6 billion which was dominated by crushed stone (31%), cement (18%), and construction sand and gravel (17%).
Nevada was ranked first with a total mineral production value of $7.65 billion, mainly from gold. Arizona came in second in total production with a value of $5.56 billion and first in U.S. copper production. Texas, California, Minnesota, Florida, Alaska, Michigan, Wyoming, Missouri, and Utah, in that order, were next in value of production.
“In 2016, U.S. production of 13 mineral commodities was valued at more than $1 billion each. These were, in decreasing order of value, crushed stone, cement, construction sand and gravel, gold, copper, industrial sand and gravel, iron ore (shipped), lime, phosphate rock, salt, soda ash, zinc, and clays (all types).” Does that order surprise you?
Most of the material mined (stone, sand, lime, clay) is used in construction of our infrastructure.
Gold is used as coinage and to manufacture jewelry. Because gold does not corrode, it is used in solid state electronic devices that use very low voltages and currents which are easily interrupted by corrosion or tarnish at the contact points.
Copper is used mainly to generate and transmit electricity and it occurs in all our electronic devices.
Zinc is used for galvanizing to prevent corrosion and, combined with copper to make brass. Zinc is also combined with other metals to form materials that are used in automobiles, electrical components, and household fixtures. Zinc oxide is used in the manufacture of rubber and as a skin ointment.
Iron is used mainly to make steel.
Phosphate rock is used mainly as a fertilizer and also as a nutritional supplement for animals and humans.
Soda ash (sodium carbonate) is an essential raw material used in the manufacturing of glass, detergents chemicals, softening water, making baking soda, and used in many industrial products.
“U.S. mine production of copper in 2016 increased slightly, to about 1.41 million tons, and was valued at about $6.8 billion. Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Montana, and Michigan, in descending order of production, accounted for more than 99% of domestic mine production; copper also was recovered in Missouri. Twenty-four mines recovered copper, 17 of which accounted for about 99% of production.”
A note on reserves and resources:
Reserves data are dynamic. They may be reduced as ore is mined and (or) the feasibility of extraction diminishes, or more commonly, they may continue to increase as additional deposits (known or recently discovered) are developed, or currently exploited deposits are more thoroughly explored and (or) new technology or economic variables improve their economic feasibility. Reserves may be considered a working inventory of mining companies’ supplies of an economically extractable mineral commodity. As such, the magnitude of that inventory is necessarily limited by many considerations, including cost of drilling, taxes, price of the mineral commodity being mined, and the demand for it. Reserves will be developed to the point of business needs and geologic limitations of economic ore grade and tonnage. For example, in 1970, identified and undiscovered world copper resources were estimated to contain 1.6 billion metric tons of copper, with reserves of about 280 million tons of copper. Since then, more than 500 million tons of copper have been produced worldwide, but world copper reserves in 2016 were estimated to be 720 million tons of copper, more than double those of 1970, despite the depletion by mining of almost double the original estimated reserves.
As can be seen in the table above, there was a decline in the production of coal, probably due to the rise in natural gas production. Metal production also decreased. According to the USGS, “Several U.S. metal mines and processing facilities were idled or closed permanently in 2016, including iron ore mines in Michigan and Minnesota; three primary aluminum smelters in Indiana, Missouri, and Washington; one secondary zinc smelter in North Carolina; a titanium sponge facility in Utah, the only such facility in the United States; and titanium mineral operations in Virginia.” In 2016, imports made up more than one-half of the U.S. apparent consumption of 50 non-fuel mineral commodities, and the United States was 100% import reliant for 20 of those.
The 200-page report gives detailed information for each commodity.
The full report is available online here: https://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/mcs/2017/mcs2017.pdf
The Arizona Geological Survey has just released a new report “History of the Warren (Bisbee) Mining District” located near the town of Bisbee in Southern Arizona. The author is economic geologist David Briggs. This well-illustrated,10-page report may be downloaded as a free PDF file (7.7Mb): http://repository.azgs.az.gov/sites/default/files/dlio/files/nid1648/cr-15-b_v1.0.pdf
Over the life of the Warren mining district (1880-2013), 3,961,479 tons of copper, 162,128 tons of lead, 177,524 tons of zinc, 14,000 tons of manganese, 2,792,000 ounces of gold and 102,215,000 ounces of silver were recovered from the area’s mines. It was Arizona’s seventh largest copper producer, top producer of lead, second largest producer of zinc, fourth largest manganese producer, largest gold producer and second largest silver producer.
Citation: Briggs, D. F., 2015, “History of the Warren (Bisbee) Mining District, Arizona Geological Survey, Contributed Report CR-15-B.
A new report commissioned by the National Mining Association finds that our current convoluted mine permitting process can cause a mine to lose a third of its value as it waits for the numerous permits needed to begin production. These delays, combined with other risks and costs, cut the expected value of a mine in half. This often makes minerals projects economically unviable and jeopardizes an important feedstock of the manufacturing industry while discouraging investment in the U.S.
The report, produced by SNL Metals & Mining of London, can be downloaded here.
The report begins:
“Of all the developed nations, unexpected and often unnecessary delays in obtaining mining permits afflict the U.S. most severely. Despite being blessed with a vast reserve of mineral resources, the U.S. accounts for only 7 percent of world-wide spending on mineral exploration
and production is currently reliant on a population of mature mining projects. The average remaining life of active mines in the U.S. and the share of projects in advance development have also fallen in recent years. Meanwhile, the demand for minerals to supply the defense, advanced energy, high-tech electronics, medical, and transportation industries is rising. The U.S., while leading on the manufacturing of these technologies, is lagging in the production of the minerals needed to make them.”
It also notes:
“In the U.S., the requirement for multiple permits and multiple agency involvement is the norm, as is the involvement of other stakeholders, including local indigenous groups, the general public and non-governmental organizations. As a consequence of the country’s inefficient permitting system, it takes on average seven to 10 years to secure the permits needed to commence operations in the U.S. To put that into perspective, in Canada and Australia, countries with similarly stringent environmental regulations, the average permitting period is two years.”
Three examples cited by the report are examined in detail:
The Rosemont Copper
project in Arizona continues in its attempts to secure permits, five years after the originally planned start date of 2010. Over this period, the value of the project has fallen from $18 billion to $15 billion despite much higher copper prices.
The Kensington gold mine
in Alaska was plagued by permitting issues during development. It commenced production in 2010, nearly 20 years after the originally planned start date of 1993. By the time the mine opened, the capital cost of building the mine had increased by 49 percent, and the company had reduced planned gold production by nearly a third, to focus mining operations on the most profitable part of the deposit only.
Twin Metals Minnesota
is still in a relatively early stage of the permitting process, completing a prefeasibility study in 2014. The developers have acknowledged that the delay in receiving permits, or the possibility of denial, could be a significant business risk to the project.
Another article from NMA, contains comments by Harry Moser, founder and president of the Reshoring Initiative, a program committed to bringing manufacturing back to American soil to accelerate job growth and support a stronger economy here at home.
“Every manufacturing operation in the U.S. uses minerals—either as the material that they’re producing or the tools they use to produce the material.” As the U.S. manufacturing sector grows, so does the demand for more minerals, and to keep American manufacturing growing it’s important that the U.S. has a secure, stable and reliable mineral supply in place so manufacturers can obtain the minerals they need when they need them.
“My goal is to balance the trade deficit,” Moser adds, “To bring back $500 to $600 billion dollars a year worth of manufacturing. That will increase U.S. manufacturing by 30 percent, which will require about 30 percent more minerals.”
The House Committee on Natural Resources is holding hearings on the “National Strategic Critical Minerals Production Act of 2015.” This bill aims to modernize the current U.S. mine permitting process by improving access to the trillions of dollars worth of mineral reserves, which will boost domestic manufacturing and the American economy.
It’s about time.
And, by David Briggs:
Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, points out in an editorial in The Hill that “The U.S. Department of Defense uses 750,000 tons of minerals each year in technologies that protect the very troops that protect our nation. Metals such as copper, lead and nickel are used in military gear, weapon systems and other defense technologies. Additionally, the mineral beryllium is used to reduce weight and improve guidance performance in fighter jets and NASA technologies such as the mirrors on the James Webb Space Telescope. But despite the strategic importance of minerals and metals to our national security, the United States ranks behind China, Russia, Chile and South Africa in terms of production. Furthermore, we remain completely import-dependent for 19 key minerals resources and more than 50 percent import-dependent for an additional 24 mineral commodities, which subjects supply chains to geopolitical instability and supply disruption.”
The US is blessed with abundant mineral resources but politics are, in many cases blocking to delaying productive use of those resources.
Quinn laments that “duplicative, inefficient permitting process wraps our domestic mineral development in endless red tape, stifling investment in new and existing mines in the United States.” Much of this delay is due to lawsuits by radical environmentalists. In the US, mining permits can take upwards of seven to 10 years, compared with countries such as Canada and Australia, whose modern minerals policies enable them to complete the process in two to three years, giving them a decided advantage over the United States.
The National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2015 introduced in the House of Representatives and the American Mineral Security Act of 2015 introduced in the Senate aim to remedy the situation and “modernize the current U.S. mining permitting process and allow for access to the trillions of dollars worth of resources we have here at home.”
These bills deserve bipartisan support.
Here is a new infographic from the National Mining Association. It shows the many uses of silver. Six states, Alaska, Texas, Colorado, Montana, Idaho, and Nevada mine most of US silver. Below the graphic are links to other NMA infographics, all of which can be used as teaching resources in the classroom.
Other NMA Inforgraphics:
Minerals vital to modern life – a short video
More than 90 percent of phosphate and potash production is used to fertilize soil, increasing America’s crop yields in a sustainable manner. The United States produced $3.6 billion worth of phosphate and potash in 2013, supporting nearly 4,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs. Altogether, industries utilized all minerals to add more than $2.4 trillion to the U.S. GDP in 2013.
Below is an infographic from the National Mining Association which gives the basics for potash and phosphate.
I notice that the map in the infographic shows no production from Arizona. That may soon change. Recent discovery of potash in the Holbrook Basin has inferred reserves of 66 million metric tons of contained potash (K2O). See my post here.
The National Mining Association has just released a new survey of more than 400 senior level executives in the manufacturing industry. The survey revealed significant concern among business leaders that current mining policy presents a challenge to their supply chain and that reform is necessary.
The issue of minerals and metals supply is a growing concern among U.S. businesses, as U.S. manufacturers currently rely on foreign countries for more than half of the minerals and metals they use. Without a stable domestic supply chain, their access to critical and strategic minerals and metals is susceptible to disruption.
Results of the survey are shown on the info-graphic below: