American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
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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.