Followers of ARPN may already have a hunch of what we’re referring to, as every year around this time we await its release with somewhat bated breath: The USGS’s updated Mineral Commodity Summaries report.
Let’s start with the good news: On the whole, the estimated value of total nonfuel mineral production increased slightly in 2016 (spurred by increased infrastructure-related and residential construction activity resulting in greater production of industrial minerals). Whereas in 2015, the estimated value of nonfuel mineral production stood at $73.4 billion, that number increased to $74.6 billion last year.
Beyond that slight increase, there were some troubling developments for metal production, according to USGS:
“Decreased production of most metals produced in the United States, however, contributed to an overall decline in the value of metal production. Several U.S. metal mines and processing facilities were idled or closed permanently in 2016, including iron ore mines in Michigan and Minnesota; three primary aluminum smelters in Indiana, Missouri, and Washington; one secondary zinc smelter in North Carolina; a titanium sponge facility in Utah, the only such facility in the United States; and titanium mineral operations in Virginia.”
Perhaps the most instructive part of the report for us at ARPN has always been Page 6 – a chart depicting U.S. net import reliance for the metals and minerals we consume as well as major import sources. Here, too, we see a troublesome trend developing:
The number of metals and minerals for which the United States is 100% import dependent went up by one and 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. (In last year’s report, China was listed only 21 times as a major import source for materials for which we are more than 50% import-dependent.
The closure of the above-referenced aluminum smelters has increased our reliance on aluminum imports by 12 percentage points, and again – China has become a major source of supply.
These are just some top-line findings from our first glimpse at the report. Rest assured we will take a closer look.
As we have previously pointed out, the current trend towards reduced exploration spending and increased time required for the mining permitting process is sending production of key metals and minerals overseas. Manufacturing tends to follow and set up where the metals are.
Our ongoing failure to devise policies aimed at better harnessing our domestic resource potential continues to deepen 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.
Here’s hoping that this year’s Mineral Commodity Summaries report will provide the impetus for policy makers to finally tackle these issues in a comprehensive manner.