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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • U.S. Mineral Resource Dependency Continues to Spell Trouble

    For children, it’s the arrival of the first snow each year – for policy wonks, it’s the release of an annual study.  Whereas kids run to check the window multiple times a day once snow has been forecast, policy wonks continuously check for updates on the release of that study when it’s that time of the year again.

    While kids on the East Coast saw their wish for snow more than fulfilled, the release of the United States Geological Survey’s annual Mineral Commodity Summaries report this week was certainly less sensational.   A quick glimpse at the summary and one of the key charts reveals that aside from a now three-toned cover page, not too much has changed over last year.

    Not surprisingly, with the global commodities market slumping, the estimated value of total non-fuel mineral production in the U.S. decreased by 3% from that of 2014. Meanwhile, in terms of foreign resource dependence, which is something on which ARPN has kept tabs with the report, the number of minerals for which the U.S. is 100% import reliant has remained constant at 19.

    However, it is context and perspective that matters, and in that sense, another USGS study that is perhaps even more instructive than this year’s Mineral Commodity Summaries has gone largely unnoticed.   As the recently-released “Comparison of U.S. net import reliance for nonfuel mineral commodities—A 60-year retrospective” shows, 30 years ago, the U.S. was 100% foreign-dependent for 11 metals and minerals.  Today, that number has increased to 19. Meanwhile, we are more than 50% import-dependent for 47 minerals in all – nearly half of the naturally-occurring elements on the Periodic Table.

    As our very own Daniel McGroarty has argued in recent testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, “(…) the risks are real – with implications for the strength of the American economic recovery, for the revival of U.S. manufacturing might, and for the hoped-for dominance of U.S. ingenuity and enterprise in the advanced technology applications that we know are shaping the world of the 21s Century.” 

    The current trend towards reduced exploration spending and increased time required for the mining permitting process is already sending production of key metals and minerals overseas.  Manufacturing tends to follow and set up where the metals are.

    McGroarty’s conclusion:

    “I don’t think there’s another nation in the world that can match American ingenuity.  We can pioneer the ideas behind wind and solar and so much else – but where will the materials that make these new energy sources real – where will they come from?

    How we answer that question will determine to a large extent whether the U.S. can regain its manufacturing might…  Whether America will lead the alternative energy revolution…  And whether the U.S. will have the metals and minerals we need to provide the modern military technology we depend on.”  

    As children in Washington, DC, are finally returning to school after the historic snowfall, and Congress is back to business, one would hope that our policy makers have used their snow days to carefully review the challenges outlined by the latest USGS reports.

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  • USGS Rings Alarm Bell: United States’ Mineral Resource Dependencies Have Increased Drastically

    Without fanfare, and largely unnoticed at a time when all eyes in our nation’s political circles are on Iowa, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has released a report that should be required reading for all our policy makers.

    Analyzing data collected from 1954 through 2014 for more than 90 non-fuel mineral commodities from more than 180 countries, the study, entitled Comparison of U.S. net import reliance for nonfuel mineral commodities—A 60-year retrospective,” confirms what ARPN readers know and underscores the findings of our 2012 report “Reviewing Risk: Critical Metals & National Security”: The United States’ reliance on foreign non-fuel minerals has significantly increased over the examined 60-year time frame, both in terms of number and type, as well as percentage of import reliance.  Along with the rise in import dependency came a drastic shift in provider countries.

    The authors explain the relevance of their findings:

    “Mineral commodities are the fundamental building blocks of civilization. Along with energy, they form an essential foundation upon which modern economies and living standards rest. The changing patterns in net import reliance of nonfuel mineral commodities over the past 60 years are a clear indication that the United States has become increasingly dependent on other countries to supply nonfuel mineral commodities that are important for its economic well-being and national security.

    When determining mineral criticality, defining supply risk, and developing mitigation strategies, it is crucial to understand for which commodities a country is experiencing an increase in the [percentage of net import reliance] (NIR%) and to know the amount of the increase, as well as to be aware of shifts in commodity sources and supply chains.

    Furthermore, it is important to understand and measure the types, sources, and quantities of commodities imported by the United States compared with what can be competitively produced domestically.” 

    The data clearly shows that whereas the number of nonfuel mineral commodities for which the United States was greater than 50% net import-dependent was 28 in 1954, this number has increased to 47 in 2014.  And while the U.S. was 100% net import reliant for 8 of the non-fuel commodities analyzed in 1954, this total import reliance increased to 11 non-fuel minerals in 1984, and surged to 19 in 2014.

    These numbers alone paint a troublesome picture, but adding the supplier countries into the mix adds fuel to the fire: Whereas in 1954 the U.S. sourced metals and minerals largely from our trading partners, our diversified supply sources today also include a number of countries that are ranked as “unfree” and “less free” on various indices, thus raising the specter of supply disruptions given the volatility of geopolitical realities.

    Considering that much of our over-reliance on foreign minerals is largely self-inflicted, making the exploration and development of the vast mineral deposits we are fortunate to have beneath our own soil should be a key priority in Washington.  Hopefully, our policy makers and their staff can make time to take a break from politics to review USGS’s findings.

     

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  • Strategic Metals Flashback – or Flash Forward?

    Our Director of Research, Sandra Wirtz, unearthed this piece from the Time Magazine online archives  – “Strategic Metal: #1,” dateline October 13, 1941 – just weeks before Pearl Harbor.  It inspired me to do a little research on my own, with an eye toward our present-day approach to strategic metals. With war raging in Europe, [...]
  • Famine, food, and Rare Earths in Asia

    A sad, but not surprising, news story made its way across the wires this morning.  North Korea’s Kim Jong Il has approved a swap of sorts with its northern neighbor, China. The agreement will bring Chinese fertilizer and corn to his country’s famine-ravaged Hermit Kingdom in exchange for ceding to China rights to develop North [...]
  • Uranium find in India to reduce dependence on imports

    According to news reports, India has discovered what its government claims could be the world’s largest uranium reserves in a mine due to start operating by the end of the year.  The nation’s Department of Atomic Energy recently confirmed that the Tumalapalli mine in the southern state of Andrha Pradesh holds 49,000 metric tons of uranium, [...]
  • China’s Rare Earths attract Japanese Manufacturer

    In this story hitting the East Asia news wires, Showa Denko, a leading Japanese metals fabricator, announced it will be moving its Rare Earths manufacturing facility to China. This is an alarm bell for anyone who believes the U.S. must stake a leadership claim in the green-tech sector. Coupled with decreased Chinese exports, access to [...]
  • China’s Rare Earths reserves to be exhausted by 2025?

    Statistics show that rare earths reserves in China are down to 27 million tons and, at current production rates, may be exhausted as early as 2025. This data underscores the urgency of the rare earths crunch we have been discussing on this blog in recent weeks.  Having produced rare earths at rates exceeding 100,000 tons [...]
  • Peruvian Elections Raise Issue of Resource Dependency for U.S.

    The election victory of leftist Peruvian presidential candidate Ollanta Humala in this week’s runoff election has instilled fears of higher taxes and new restrictive policies in the mining sector.  Peru is a leading producer of precious metals, and the U.S. relies heavily on Peruvian imports of zinc, tin, gold, copper, and silver. (To see exactly [...]

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