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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 national outlet has taken note – and it may be good timing, as our growing reliance on foreign mineral resources spell trouble.

Earlier this month, John Moody, Executive Vice President, Executive Editor for Fox News, raised the specter of the President and his administration having to face the “very real possibility that China could cut off U.S. access to 17 rare materials vital to our advanced aircraft and guided missile systems,” as China has a near-total supply monopoly for Rare Earths.

In a new piece for Fox News, Moody, citing the latest USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries report, highlights the United States’ 100 percent import dependency for at least 20 metals and minerals, and the fact that China is the most common source for many of these and other metals and minerals listed in the USGS report. According to Moody, this is a serious threat to our future military security – a threat which albeit acknowledged, has so far largely been ignored.

Moody quotes REE expert and mining industry veteran George Byers, who confirms:

“That 2017 USGS report is not fake news, (…). You have 29 or 30 studies on critical materials, including rare earths that go back to the early ‘90s. The outcome of each study is to declare ‘we have a crisis, let’s do something about it.’ But all they do about it, is to ask for another study.”

Pointing to a legislative effort to be spearheaded by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R, Calif.), which seeks to mandate that the U.S. military obtain Rare Earths sourced domestically – even if this would mean subsidizing those industries – Moody explains the underlying challenge:

“The problem, these analysts note, is that U.S. production capacity in this area has been allowed to wither to almost nothing, due to plentiful supplies from China that can be produced at a lower price than U.S. made rare earths.

Even more perilous, China’s own rapacious demand for rare earths is outstripping its ability to supply domestic consumers as well as the U.S., meaning it may be unable to ship goods to the U.S. even if it wants to.

 In addition to rare earths, which are vital components of high-grade permanent magnets used in military aircraft and missile systems, the United States, according to the USGS report, is now 100 percent reliant on foreign countries for supplies of manganese, which is used to make impact resistant steel, among other things. Though readily available in mines in Arizona, Arkansas and Minnesota, it can be imported more cheaply. The USGS study lists American production of manganese last year as: zero.”

Indeed, Rare Earths – though of critical importance for our domestic manufacturers and our military, are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and with trade issues looming and the global race for mineral resources heating up, our failure to respond to these supply challenges may soon come to haunt us.  Perhaps more national exposure for these issues will help generate some much-needed momentum for the formulation of a comprehensive mineral strategy this year.