American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • 2020 Mineral Commodity Summaries:  Domestic Mineral Resource Production Increases While Foreign Dependencies Continue

    Last week, USGS released its 43rd Mineral Commodity Summaries – a comprehensive snapshot of global mineral production which gives us a window into where we stand as a nation in terms of mineral resource security.  

    Perhaps most instructive from an ARPN perspective is the chart depicting U.S. Net Import Reliance — previously casually referred to as “Page 6,” on our blog, but now moved to “Page 7.”  Maybe we’ll just call it the Blue Wall of Dependency, based on the many blue bars showing 100% import-dependence — which is down one from 2019 (a quick look into the footnotes of our favorite chart reveals that this is owed to Thorium being added to the category of metals and minerals for which “not enough information is available to calculate the exact percentage of import reliance”), but still totals 17.

    As followers of ARPN know, we have seen some incremental progress towards reducing our mineral resource dependencies, and particularly our over-reliance on metals and minerals from China, over the past two years. However, meaningful changes will take time. 

    There is a slight overall decrease in the number of metals and minerals for which we are 50% or more than 50% import-dependent — an area where we are down from 49 to 47. However, this drop, too, must be taken with a grain of NaCl.  For example, whereas in previous reports, iron oxide pigments were separated into two separate categories (natural and synthetic), these were combined into one category for the 2020 report.  Arguably significant drops can be noted for our dependencies for foreign supplies of Lithium and Aluminum (to >25% for Lithium and 22% for Aluminum).  And while our import reliance for Nickel has dropped to 47%, we are now dependent at a rate greater than 50% for Magnesium compounds.   Also notable, our reliance for Cobalt — a critical component of Electric Vehicle battery technology — has gone up from 61% to 78%.

    Once more, our favorite chart underscores that much remains to be done to reduce our mineral resource dependencies.  China continues to be the elephant in the data room, and is listed 25 times as one of the major import sources of metals and minerals for which our net import reliance is 50% or greater.

    On a positive note, the 2020 Mineral Commodity Summaries notes that domestic metal mine production has increased to $28.1 billion, which is almost $500 million higher than in 2018.  Perhaps most encouraging, a significant increase in domestic production has occurred in the Rare Earth mineral concentrates segment, where USGS notes that “the domestic production of critical rare-earth mineral concentrates increased by 8,000 metric tons (over 44%) in 2019 to 26,000 metric tons, making the U.S. the largest producer of rare-earth mineral concentrates outside of China.”  Yet all of the U.S.-produced rare earths concentrate was exported to China for separation into individual rare earth elements, since that portion of the supply chain doesn’t exist in the U.S.

    Hopefully, these findings provide fresh impetus for mineral resource policy reform, for which we have seen incremental progress since 2018. 

    To read the full USGS report, click here.

    For previous iterations, click here.

  • Merely Passing “C” Grade in New Study Spells Trouble for Military Readiness

    The long-awaited October 2018 Defense Industrial Base Report served as a wake-up call for many regarding our nation’s military readiness and associated mineral resource supply challenges. The “first governmentwide assessment of America’s manufacturing and military industrial base (…)” identified almost three hundred areas of concern with regards to material supply chains and sounded the alarm on China dominating production of a troubling number of critical minerals underpinning military technology.

    While some important steps have been taken since then, much remains to be done to alleviate our mineral resource vulnerabilities, and — with policy makers embroiled in partisan politics — perhaps another wake-up call is in order.

    It comes to us via the the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), which has piloted a new annual “Vital Signs” report project to, as the authors write, “fill a gap” left by the October 2018 report.

    NDIA explains: 

    “Despite its high-resolution snapshot of the defense industrial base’s present challenges, the report does not provide the public and the defense policy community either an unclassified summary measurement of the health and readiness of the defense industrial base or a simple way of tracking such a measurement over time.”

    To do so, NDIA has sought to standardize and integrate “different elements of both the defense sector and the business environment that shapes its performance.”

    Overall, Vital Signs 2020 assigns a “passing C grade but with a worrying downward trend” to the U.S. defense industrial base, reflecting “a business environment characterized by highly contrasting areas of concern and confidence. Deteriorating conditions for industrial security and for the availability and cost of skilled labor and materials emerge from our analysis as areas of clear concern.” 

    With regards to mineral resource supply chains, the report’s methodology arguably appears to place less of an emphasis on underlying geopolitical risk factors as well as resource dependencies and associated potential supply disruptions than the 2018 government report, and focuses more on resource cost.

    However, overall, in particular with regards to the military’s “surge capacity,” the report points out that “[p]resently 27.3 percent of critical defense supplier industries (3 of 11) would likely experience shortages in the event of a surge in demand for combat-essential defense programs equivalent to the Carter-Reagan buildup of the late-1970s through the mid-1980s.”

    And, as ARPN followers well know, the materials underpinning 21st Century high-tech military applications don’t just appear out of thin air, and securing mineral resource supply chains both on the upstream and downstream levels should be prioritized.

    An overall mediocre “C” grade — merely passing “with a worrying downward trend” — for the United States’ defense industrial base is cause for concern, and policy makers would be well advised to take another comprehensive look at our defense industrial base and all underlying inputs.

    To read the full report, click here.

    And for a refresher on the 2018 Defense Industrial Base Review click here and here.

    Image source: creative commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0), flickr photo by GPA Photo Archive.

  • Addressing a Piece of the Mineral Resource Puzzle – Federal Land Withdrawals

    As followers of ARPN know, the United States has finally embarked on a quest to look for ways to reduce its over-reliance on foreign mineral resources, and in doing so, reduce the leverage it has yielded to nations like China over our national security. In a new series for the Capital Research Center, geologist and [...]
  • U.S.-Canadian Critical Minerals Collaboration Moves Into Next Round

    It’s official. On January 9, 2020, the governments of the United States and Canada formally announced the finalization of the Canada-U.S. Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration to advance “our mutual interest in securing supply chains for the critical minerals needed for important manufacturing sectors, including communication technology, aerospace and defence, and clean technology.” [...]
  • 2020 – A Twofold Watershed Year for Rare Earths?

    Against the backdrop of the recently-signed memorandum of understanding (MOU) for critical materials between the U.S. and Canada to reduce U.S. reliance on Chinese Rare Earths supplies, and the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which  “has expanded its recognition of the critical importance of the rare earths” … “2020 looks to be a [...]
  • A Mineral Resource Policy for 2020 – New Year’s Resolutions for Resource Policy Stakeholders

    We realize that New Year’s resolutions are somewhat controversial.  Some say, they‘re not worth the paper they’re written on – but we feel that whether or not we implement all of them, they offer a good opportunity to both step back to reflect and set goals as we look at the big picture ahead. And that [...]
  • 2019 in Review – Towards an “All-Of-The-Above” Approach in Mineral Resource Policy?

    We blinked, and 2020 is knocking on our doors. It’s been a busy year on many levels, and mineral resource policy is no exception. So without further ado, here’s our ARPN Year in Review. Where we began: In last year’s annual recap, we had labeled 2018 as a year of incremental progress, which had set [...]
  • Trade Publication Zeroes in on Over-Reliance on Critical Minerals, Cites ARPN’s McGroarty

    Against the backdrop of the upcoming two-year anniversary of the Presidential Executive Order on Critical Minerals, trade publication Industry Week discusses the issue of U.S. over-reliance on foreign mineral resources in its latest issue. Recounting some of the key steps taken by the federal government in recent months – i.e. last year’s  Department of the Interior [...]
  • Tomorrow, Tuesday, Dec. 10 – U.S. House Committee to Hold Hearing on “Research and Innovation to Address the Critical Materials Challenge”

    On Tuesday, December 10 — close to the two-year anniversary of the White House’s executive order “to develop a federal strategy to ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals” the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on “Research and Innovation to Address the Critical Materials Challenge.” The hearing comes against the backdrop of increased [...]
  • U.S. and Australia Formalize Critical Minerals Partnership

    The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has signed a project agreement with its Australian counterpart, GeoScience Australia, to jointly develop a “better understanding of both countries’ critical mineral reserves.”  The agreement is the result of ongoing agency-level talks between the United States and Australia and the recent announcement of a forthcoming formal roll out of an “action [...]