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Clear Your Holiday Reading List – USGS Releases “Critical Materials of the United States”

Too much family? Too much rockin’ around the Christmas tree? If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the holidays and sit down with a good book, look no further – USGS has you covered.

The agency has just released a new study entitled “Critical Minerals of the United States“ which discusses 23 mineral commodities USGS deems critical to the United States’ national security and economic wellbeing.

Weighing in at a hefty 852 pages, the metals and minerals covered include:

antimony (Sb), barite (barium, Ba), beryllium (Be), cobalt (Co), fluorite or fluorspar (fluorine, F), gallium (Ga), germanium (Ge), graphite (carbon, C), hafnium (Hf), indium (In), lithium (Li), manganese (Mn), niobium (Nb), platinum-group elements (PGE), rare-earth elements (REE), rhenium (Re), selenium (Se), tantalum (Ta), tellurium (Te), tin (Sn), titanium (Ti), vanadium (V), and zirconium (Zr).

The study is effectively an update to a widely-used USGS publication from 1973. As ARPN followers know, the ongoing revolution in materials science – and the applications it has spawned; the computer revolution, the Internet, cell phones to smart phones, electric cars, solar and wind power, hydro-carbon fracking (1973 was the peak of the Oil Crisis) — has drastically altered and expanded the ways in which we use metals and minerals, while technological advances have transformed and improved extraction methods. As such, today’s supply and demand picture differs greatly from the one in the 1970s for virtually all metals and minerals.

For example, according to USGS:

“[I]n the 1970s, rare-earth elements had few uses outside of some specialty fields, and were produced mostly in the United States. Today, rare-earth elements are integral to nearly all high-end electronics and are produced almost entirely in China.

Since 1973, there has also been a significant increase in knowledge about geologic and environmental issues related to production and use. This report addresses the sustainable development of each mineral commodity in order that the current needs of the Nation can be met without limiting the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

The report comes at a critical juncture. At a time when our mineral resource dependencies are alarmingly high, we are finally seeing some positive developments that could help pave the way for long-overdue reforms.

Acknowledging the seriousness of the issue of mineral resource dependence, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said:

“I commend the team of scientists at USGS for the extensive work put into the report, but the findings are shocking. (…) The fact that previous administrations allowed the United States to become reliant on foreign nations, including our competitors and adversaries, for minerals that are so strategically important to our security and economy is deeply troubling. As both a former military commander and geologist, I know the very real national security risk of relying on foreign nations for what the military needs to keep our soldiers and our homeland safe.” 

Hopefully the report can help carry the momentum over into the new year and help policy makers and other stakeholders develop a comprehensive mineral resource strategy our nation has been sorely lacking.

***With the report hot off the press, we at ARPN have not yet had the opportunity to fully review the report, but we will do so, and will discuss the findings in greater detail in the new year, so stay tuned for our updates.***