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.

  • 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.


  • Critical mineral Cobalt to become even more indispensable?

    New research from Swiss scientists indicates that Cobalt’s applications in solar technology may spark a surge in demand. While it is certainly not as visible in the news as the oft-discussed Rare Earths, the fact that Cobalt has to be considered a critical mineral is not a secret. In 2011, it was one of only [...]
  • Too little, too late? The West’s response to China’s REE stranglehold

    In an effort to challenge China’s near-total supply monopoly and the geopolitical power play that came with it, countries around the world have taken steps to seek alternative sources of supply. With new production coming online in the U.S. and Australia in recent years, along with small-scale production in India, U.S. Geological Survey figures document [...]
  • Tellurium – a critical mineral to be watched

    In her latest piece for ProEdgeWire, Robin Bromby suggests that Tellurium may well be the newest critical metal. Citing two “throwaway lines” from recent reports and media reporting which indicate increased demand for the metal, Bromby goes on to give reasons why Tellurium should be placed on observers’ critical metals watch lists: “Tellurium is vital [...]
  • Parnell Administration makes strides to implement resource strategy for Alaska

    Alaska Attorney General Daniel S. Sullivan gives an account of the state of the Parnell Administration’s five-part strategy to support the mining industry in a column for Petroleum News. This strategy, which was unveiled at the September 2011 Strategic and Critical Minerals Summit, comprises the following components: Undertaking a statewide assessment of strategic minerals; Providing [...]
  • Waiting for DoD: What does the Pentagon think of our rare earths vulnerability?

    Inquiring Congressional minds want to know — or at least the Congressional mind belonging to Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), co-chair (with Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman) of the newly-formed Rare Earths Caucus. During Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s House Armed testimony this week, Cong. Johnson seized the opportunity to ask where things stood with the Pentagon’s report [...]
  • New USGS grants award $260,000 towards domestic mineral research

    The United States Geological Survey announced that it has granted more than $260,000 for “new research on mineral resources important to [US] economy, national security, and land-use decisions,” including rare earths, niobium, and tantalum.
  • A look at tungsten shows why broad focus is needed for critical mineral strategy

    With this week’s WTO ruling on China’s raw materials exports (visit RareMetalBlog for our very own Daniel McGroarty’s take) all eyes are once again on rare earths – and for good reasons, as these critical elements are the poster child of the challenges associated with resource dependency. However, a broader focus is needed, and tungsten [...]
  • China to cut export quotas for antimony, tungsten and other specialty metals

    Bearing testimony to the fact that China’s geopolitical power play stretches beyond rare earths elements, around which its restrictive export policies were centered in recent months, China has announced it is going to cut export quotas for other specialty metals as well.   According to Nasdaq, Beijing’s China Daily News and the Rare Earths industry journal have [...]