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Critical Minerals and the National Strategy for the Arctic Region

We’re “on a highway to climate hell.” The picture UN Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez is painting of current efforts in the climate fight is – expectedly – bleak. As such, it is no surprise that nations have been doubling down on their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the Biden Administration is no exception.

Followers of ARPN have long known that the path to net zero leads through the critical minerals sector, and U.S. stakeholders have begun to realize that there is no greening our energy future without vast amounts of rare earths, the “battery criticals” lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel, and manganese (as well as scores of other metals and minerals once considered mainstay or niche).   These “super-criticals” – the five battery materials, plus a sub-set of five rare earths required for permanent magnets (neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium, terbium and samarium) – comprise a group of 10 Criticals within the 50 Critical Minerals on the official U.S. Government list.

In an increasingly volatile geopolitical environment, critical mineral security is more than just a gateway to the green energy transition, it is also a national security imperative.  While the United States is fortunate to have vast mineral riches beneath our own soil, we have fallen behind in the global race to secure supply chains and have yielded much ground to adversary nations like China who have cornered many segments of the value chain.

First steps to decouple supply chains from China have been taken, but more must be done.

Tying into this context, the White House has explicitly acknowledged the importance of developing critical minerals and cutting greenhouse gas emissions while promoting Indigenous rights, national security and the environment in its recently-released National Strategy for the Arctic Region — a region rich in metals and minerals to which the United States stakes its claim via Alaska, which in turn is home to many of the materials deemed “critical” by the U.S. Government.

According to the National Strategy, U.S. Government agencies “will seek to strengthen the resilience of U.S. supply chains by exploring the potential for sustainable and responsible critical mineral production in Alaska while adhering to the highest environmental, labor, community engagement, and sustainability standards.” In the broader Arctic region, agencies “will work with our allies and partners—including through the potential use of relevant U.S. Government mechanisms and development programs, such as the Export-Import Bank, U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, and U.S. Trade and Development Agency—to expand private sector-led investment and pursue sustainable economic development in the Arctic, including in critical minerals.” 

While both U.S. Senators from Alaska lament that the National Strategy falls short (both point to the fact that recent Administration decisions regarding specific Alaska resource projects run counter to the expressed strategic goals), the fact that critical mineral security is considered a formal strategic objective, is a positive development on which stakeholders can build.

With geopolitical tensions rising and climate pressures mounting, the focus on the Arctic — a region in which Russia accounts for half of the landmass — is both unavoidable and highly warranted.  The United States Government would be well advised to follow through on the strategic objectives outlined in the strategy, and harness the vast mineral potential it can unleash in Alaska.

A case in point, as we recently outlined:

“Right now, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. is 100% import-dependent for graphite.  But that’s not for lack of known graphite resources.  As USGS noted in February 2022 in its updated U.S. Mineral Deposit Database, Graphite One’s Graphite Creek deposit near Nome, Alaska is America’s largest graphite deposit.  If U.S. Government efforts to develop an American-based EV and lithium-ion battery supply chain have any hope of succeeding, looking for ways to help projects like Graphite Creek down the path to production will be, in a word…. Critical.”

***To keep up with Alaska critical mineral developments, be sure to follow North of 60 Mining News’s Shane Lasley, whose work ARPN has featured frequently.***