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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Happy Independence Day! We’re Free, Yet So Dependent

    stephanie-mccabe-24620Happy Birthday, America! Another trip around the sun, and we’re back on the eve of the 4th of July gearing up for parades, barbecues and fireworks in honor of the men and women who have fought, and continue to safeguard our freedom today.

    Last year, we used this opportunity to point out that while we cherish the freedom we are blessed with in so many ways, we must not become complacent, as there are areas where we’re increasingly becoming less independent.  Of course, since we are who we are, ARPN looked at U.S. mineral resource policy as a case in point.  We feel our post is still very timely, and perhaps even more so today, as some of our mineral resource dependencies have deepened even further since last year.  Take a look:

    “As our friends at the National Mining Association have aptly pointed out in their latest email message to their supporters (subscription only),  ‘minerals make possible much of the technology that enables national defense’ and  ‘keep our nation and our troops safe and fuel innovations that improve veterans’ quality of life.’

    Recognizing the importance of critical metals and minerals, the United States began placing an emphasis on securing access to these materials in the 1950s.   However, a recent USGS analysis paints a troubling picture.  An analysis of data collected between 1954 and 2014 shows that our 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. As we previously pointed out:

    ‘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.’

    What’s more, there has been a drastic shift in provider countries:

    ‘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.’

    ARPN followers know that much of our over-reliance on foreign minerals is largely self-inflicted.  Most recently, using the example of Copper, we’ve pointed this out as part of our ‘Through the Gateway’ informational campaign on Gateway Metals and their Co-Products, arguing that:

    ‘With our own reserves and at mining projects ready to come online, the U.S. would not only be able to become self-sufficient with regards to meeting Copper needs, but could even position itself to be a Copper net exporter.  A similar scenario is feasible for a number of other critical metals and minerals, where we could, at a minimum, significantly reduce foreign import dependencies by harnessing our domestic mineral potential.’

    James Madison, one of the Founding Fathers of the very nation the birthday of which we’re about to celebrate, once said:

    ‘I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.’

    USGS has alerted us to one of those gradual and silent encroachments.  They come in the form of decreased exploration spending and an increase in the time it takes for domestic mineral resource extraction projects to come online courtesy of a rigid and outdated permitting process.

    As indicated above, since last year, our mineral resource dependencies have deepened even further:  According to this year’s USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries, the number of metals and minerals for which the United States is 100% is now pegged at 20. Meanwhile, there are now a whopping 50 metals and minerals for which we are more than 50% import dependent – compared to 43 in 2015.

    For those 50, China, which is known to play politics with its resource supplies, is listed 28 times as a major import source — up from 21 times in the previous year.

    Our ongoing failure to devise policies aimed at better harnessing our domestic resource potential has deepened our mineral resource dependencies – with real risks and implications for U.S. national security, the resurgence of American manufacturing and our competitiveness in 21st Century high tech innovation.

    On a positive note, and in contrast to previous years, it appears that this year’s Mineral Commodity Summaries and the trends it shows have garnered more attention in both media and academia.   Perhaps more national exposure for these issues will help generate some much-needed momentum for the formulation of a comprehensive mineral strategy.  Hopefully, in the midst of our national birthday celebrations, our policy makers are taking note.

    Photo credit:
    Stephanie McCabe

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  • USGS Highlights U.S. Mineral Resource Dependence and Associated Risks

    At ARPN, we have long argued that our over-reliance on foreign minerals is problematic – particularly in light of the fact that the United States itself is home to vast mineral resources.

    Recognizing the importance of the issue, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which has long been a formidable source of relevant data and statistics (such as the annual Mineral Commodity Summaries reports), has recently begun placing a greater emphasis on U.S. mineral resource dependence.

    Case in point: A new write-up on the issue entitled Risk and Reliance: The U.S. Economy and Mineral Resources” and released on April 21, 2017, in which analysts outline the challenge of net import reliance, defined as “the percentage of a mineral commodity used by the United States that must be imported from another country.”

    According to USGS, the fact that “in 2016, the United States was 100 percent dependent on foreign sources for 20 of the 90 mineral commodities that USGS tracks,” matters for the following reasons:

    “The overall net import reliance of the United States for mineral commodities is important, because it affects the risk of the supply of these minerals for the U.S. economy and national security. The path by which these minerals reach the United States ranges from production and extraction, through refining, to shipping and transport. An interruption at any of those points can affect the supply.

    Some minerals that the United States depends on are produced in, or must pass through, areas that have political stability issues. In addition, some minerals that the United States relies on are produced in areas that have historically opposed the United States in other political arenas.

    In addition, some minerals are not produced or used in large supplies, so an interruption in the flow of that mineral, no matter how small, can have an immediate effect.”

    Providing further context and offering a visualization of the issue, USGS recently discussed the sourcing of materials used in smartphones:

    A World of Minerals in Your Mobile Device

    (Graphic created by USGS)

    According to the April 4, 2017 release, smartphones truly are global devices because of their worldwide communication ability and their multinational ingredient list. However, as USGS’s Larry Meinert points out, “with minerals being sourced from all over the world, the possibility of supply disruption is more critical than ever.”

    As resource supply issues have far-reaching implications for our nation’s economy and national security, the need for a comprehensive mineral resource strategy should be pretty obvious. However, so far, stakeholders have so far failed to devise a policy framework conducive to harnessing our mineral resource potential and reducing foreign dependencies. Here’s hoping that USGS’s stronger emphasis on the issue will help pave the way for overdue reforms in this area.

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  • USGS Report Bellwether for National Security Crisis?

    For over two decades, the United States Geological Survey has released its Mineral Commodity Summaries report.  And while ARPN followers will know how important this publication is, as it provides a snapshot of our nation’s mineral resource dependencies, in most years its release has gone largely unnoticed beyond the circles of mineral resource wonks. This year, a [...]
  • As Resource Dependence Deepens, Miners Pivot Back to U.S. For Exploration

    Against the backdrop of market prices recovering and supply woes looming, mining companies are expected to increase spending on exploration for the first time in five years, reports news agency Reuters. In what may spell good news for the United States, analysts anticipate the biggest expenditure increases to occur in the United States, Canada and Australia, all [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Rhodium – Not Just Another Platinum Group Metal

    A rare, silvery white, hard and corrosion-resistant metal, Rhodium is not only one of Palladium’s fellow members of the Platinum Group Metals (PGMs); it, too, happens to be a Nickel co-product.  And, as is the case with Palladium, one of Rhodium’s main uses is in catalytic converters to reduce automobile emissions, as well as in industrial catalysts. Alloyed with [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Nickel – “The Metal that Brought You Cheap Flights”

    “It made the age of cheap foreign holidays possible, and for years it was what made margarine spreadable. Nickel may not be the flashiest metal but modern life would be very different without it.”  We couldn’t have introduced our next Gateway Metal any better than the BBC did in a feature story on Nickel and [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Germanium – Semiconductor of the Future?

    Our first Zinc co-product, Germanium, is a silvery metalloid.  According to USGS, “in nature, it never exists as the native metal in nature” and “is rarely found in commercial quantities in the few minerals in which it is an essential component.” That said, the “most commercially important germanium-bearing ore deposits are zinc or lead-zinc deposits formed at low temperature.” Discovered [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Vanadium – Next-Gen Uses Drive Co-Product Challenge

    As we continue our look “Through the Gateway,” one thing has become abundantly clear already:  Beyond their traditional uses, both Gateway Metals and their Co-Products have become building blocks of our renewable energy future.  This held true for Copper and its Co-Products, but it is also equally true for Aluminum and its Co-Products. While Gallium’s [...]
  • Through the Gateway: Aluminum – Fueling the Renaissance of American Manufacturing

    Aluminum is not only one of the most sustainable materials these days, it is also making headlines – most recently during the North American Leaders Summit, also dubbed “Three Amigos Summit” held at the end of June in Ottawa, Canada.  Invoking challenges associated with China’s trade policy, President Obama called for the North American countries to [...]
  • Independence Day – A Time To Celebrate Our Freedom, Yet Be Mindful of Growing Dependencies

    It’s that time of the year again. We’re filling our shopping carts with food and drinks, making sure we have enough gas for the grill, and buying some fireworks. The 4th of July, and with that, Independence Day, has arrived. But our country’s 240th birthday is more than a good reason to throw a barbecue in honor [...]

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