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Through The Gateway – We Have the Reserves, So Why Aren’t We A Copper Net Exporter?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve taken you on a journey “Through the Gateway.” We have looked at some of the key properties and supply and demand picture for Copper, as well as Copper’s co-products TelluriumSeleniumRhenium and Molybdenum.*

It has become abundantly clear that Copper is a critical mineral, not just as a stand-alone traditional mainstay metal, but also as a gateway to the (mostly) rare tech metals it unlocks.

In spite of the fact that, as we’ve pointed out, the United States is home to vast mineral riches, including Copper, we are still relying on foreign imports to meet our domestic industries’ Copper demand.  With our own reserves and at mining projects ready to come online, the U.S. would not only be able to become self-sufficient with regards to meeting Copper needs, but could even position itself to be a Copper net exporter.  A similar scenario is feasible for a number of other critical metals and minerals, where we could, at a minimum, significantly reduce foreign import dependencies by harnessing our domestic mineral potential.

Standing in the way of such a development, however, is a combination of decreased exploration spending and an increase in the time it takes for domestic mineral resource extraction projects to come online courtesy of a rigid and outdated permitting process.

At present, it takes roughly seven to ten years to get a mining project permitted in the United States.   Without compromising environmental standards, that very process is wrapped up in one to two years in Australia, and three to five years in Canada.

With that said, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel.

In a rare show of bipartisanship, the United States Senate has passed legislation that may represent a first step at addressing the United States’ over-reliance on foreign mineral resources. For the first time in years, a set of provisions aimed at improving our near worst-in-the-world permitting process included in Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) energy bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), may actually stand a chance of making it to the President’s desk.  However, only weeks before the summer recess, the path towards reconciling Senate and House versions of the legislation has yet to be cleared.

At the executive branch level, efforts are also underway.

Several initiatives, such as the Defense Logistic Agency’s work to overhaul the defense stockpile to appropriately address today’s critical mineral needs, the White House’s Materials Genome Initiative, and the Critical Materials Institute operating under the auspices of the Department of Energy come to mind.

However, much more must be done.

As ARPN’s Dan McGroarty told Congress earlier this year:

I don’t think there’s another nation in the world that can match American ingenuity. We can pioneer the ideas behind wind and solar and so much else – but where will the materials that make these new energy sources real – where will they come from?

How we answer that question will determine to a large extent whether the U.S. can regain its manufacturing might… Whether America will lead the alternative energy revolution… And whether the U.S. will have the metals and minerals we need to provide the modern military technology we depend on.”

Having concluded our feature month for Copper and its co-products, we will now move on to discussing our next gateway metal after the 4th of July break. Stay tuned.

* While the Copper refinement process on occasion also yields access to some Rare Earth Elements (REEs), these quantities are very limited. As ARPN readers will find plenty of REE coverage on our blog, REEs will not receive separate treatment as part of this series.