strategic minerals

US now 100% dependent on other countries for 19 critical minerals

A new report from the United States Geological Survey shows that US mineral production dropped in 2015 and left us more dependent on foreign sources for much of our mineral needs.

The USGS report is summarized by Andrew Topf at Mining.com:

Concerns have been raised for years that the United States is too dependent on other countries, namely China, for rare earth elements deemed essential for its aerospace and electronics industries, leading to suggestions that the U.S. create a strategic minerals reserve. However that plan was scotched with the closure of the only rare earths mine last year in the United States, Molycorp’s Mountain Pass facility in California. The mine operated in the red for years and was finally felled by low rare earth prices.

Around 95 percent of rare earths are produced in China and according to the USGS the situation has only gotten worse. In 2015 the United States was 100%-dependent on other countries for 19 minerals commodities including manganese, bauxite and graphite. A map from the report shows Canada and China as the countries the U.S. is most reliant on, followed by South Africa. The U.S. is also over 50 percent dependent on Australia, Brazil, Ukraine, Russia, UK, India, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Mexico for between 4 and 6 commodities.

Metal mines were worst hit, with a 15 percent fall in values, or $26.6 billion, compared to 2014.The USGS blamed declining demand for metals especially in China as well as a global supply glut for several commodities. It also notes the closure of a number of U.S. metals mines including Mountain Pass. The value of processed mineral materials was also lowered from $659 billion in 2014 to $630 billion last year – a 4 percent drop. Read more at Mining.com.

National Security and productivity depend on access to minerals

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.

See also:

How NEPA crushes productivity

Mining and the bureaucracy

Importance of domestic mining to manufacturing

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:

 NMA_Mining_Infographic_FINAL-page-001

Rosemont Copper: An Argument for Reforming the Process

This post is a guest opinion by David F. Briggs.  David F. Briggs is a resident of Pima county and a geologist, who has intermittently worked on the Rosemont Copper project since 2006.  He can be contacted at geomineinfo@aol.com.

Rosemont Copper:  An Argument for Reforming the Process

Used to Permit Mining Projects

 by David F. Briggs

Last week two events made the news, whose ultimate outcome will potentially impact the citizens of southeastern Arizona.  One was disappointing, while the other offered hope.  On Monday, September 16, the Coronado National Forest announced its decision to delay the controversial Rosemont Copper project for another six months.  Although this was disappointing to Rosemont Copper’s supporters and Arizonans, who will benefit from this important project, there appears to be light at the end of tunnel.  Under new Forest Service regulations (36 CFR 218), once the Draft Record of Decision is released with the Final Environment Impact Statement in November, the Forest Service is required under law to issue a final decision in 120 days.  This procedural change also makes it less likely for the courts to issue an injunction as a result of litigation that will undoubtedly follow any decision that allows this project to move forward.

The other news event occurred on Wednesday, September 18, when the U. S. House of Representatives passed the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013 (H. R. 761). This bill is designed to restore our ability to supply the minerals we require for our economic and national security needs while maintaining the protections provided under our nation’s environmental laws.  In light of the numerous delays experienced by the Rosemont Copper project over the last six years, this is very encouraging news, because it establishes a statutory limit of thirty months on the period required to permit a mining project under the National Environmental Policy Act.  It also places time limits on filing civil suits that challenge the actions by federal agencies, eliminates reimbursement of legal expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act and encourages the courts to deal with these cases in a expeditious manner.

The necessity to modify the current permitting process becomes apparent when one considers the impact repeated delays have had on our ability to supply the minerals we require to ensure our national security and to maintain and improve our infrastructure and standard of living.  Permitting mining projects has become so cumbersome, it threatens our ability to attract the investment capital required to find and develop the natural resources required to fulfill the needs of present and future generations of Americans.

Unnecessary costs resulting from our open-ended permitting process  significantly reduce the U. S. mining industry’s ability to compete in the international marketplace.  It also wastes valuable resources, which could be better used to create productive employment opportunities for America’s workers.

Today, less than half of the minerals used by the U. S. manufacturing sector are derived from domestic sources.  This dependence on foreign sources for minerals has left our national security needs vulnerable to decisions made by foreign governments.  It has also contributed to our nation’s large trade deficits, needlessly sending billions of dollars abroad, which could have been invested in our economic future.

As this legislation moves through the U. S. Senate over the coming months, I urge our elected representatives to put aside partisan differences and take a serious look at this bill’s potential to reduce our nation’s reliance on foreign sources for the minerals we use, revitalize our domestic minerals supply chain and create incentives for investment and employment opportunities throughout the natural resource and manufacturing sectors of our nation’s economy.

Copyrighted by David F. Briggs. Reprint is permitted provided the credit of authorship is provided and linked back to the source.

Sierrita Mine is only U.S. source of Rhenium

Freeport McMoRan’s Sierrita mine south of Tucson is the only U.S. source of Rhenium, a metal used in high-temperature super-alloy turbine blades for jet aircraft and other land-based turbines. About 6% rhenium in the jet turbine blades allow the engines to develop much more thrust. Rhenium is also used, with platinum, as a catalyst to make high-octane hydrocarbons which are used in lead-free gasoline. Other uses, mainly as alloys with tungsten or molybdenum, include electrical contact points, flashbulbs, heating elements, metallic coatings, thermocouples, and x-ray tubes.

Rhenium occurs in the mineral molybdenite (molybdenum sulfide), a by-product of some porphyry copper mines. When the molybdenite concentrate is roasted, rhenium is recovered from the stack gases. Currently, the Sierrita plant is the only one in the U.S. equipped to recover rhenium. Rhenium is sold as powdered metal and as ammonium perrhenate for about $10,000 per kilogram. In 2008 (the latest figures available from the USGS), Sierrita produced almost 8,000 kilograms.

Sierrita’s production represents about 15% of our total consumption. Our major imports of rhenium metal come from Chile, Germany, and the Netherlands. Rhenium as ammonium perrhenate is imported from Chile, China, Germany, and Kazakhstan.

Possible future sources of rhenium involve recycling turbine blades from older decommissioned jet turbine blades which contain 3% rhenium. However, the technology does not yet exist. Another possible source would be to equip more molybdenum plants with the equipment to recover rhenium.

Data source: United States Geological Survey