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USGS Rings Alarm Bell: United States’ Mineral Resource Dependencies Have Increased Drastically

Without fanfare, and largely unnoticed at a time when all eyes in our nation’s political circles are on Iowa, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has released a report that should be required reading for all our policy makers.

Analyzing data collected from 1954 through 2014 for more than 90 non-fuel mineral commodities from more than 180 countries, the study, entitled Comparison of U.S. net import reliance for nonfuel mineral commodities—A 60-year retrospective,” confirms what ARPN readers know and underscores the findings of our 2012 report “Reviewing Risk: Critical Metals & National Security”: The United States’ reliance on foreign non-fuel minerals has significantly increased over the examined 60-year time frame, both in terms of number and type, as well as percentage of import reliance.  Along with the rise in import dependency came a drastic shift in provider countries.

The authors explain the relevance of their findings:

“Mineral commodities are the fundamental building blocks of civilization. Along with energy, they form an essential foundation upon which modern economies and living standards rest. The changing patterns in net import reliance of nonfuel mineral commodities over the past 60 years are a clear indication that the United States has become increasingly dependent on other countries to supply nonfuel mineral commodities that are important for its economic well-being and national security.

When determining mineral criticality, defining supply risk, and developing mitigation strategies, it is crucial to understand for which commodities a country is experiencing an increase in the [percentage of net import reliance] (NIR%) and to know the amount of the increase, as well as to be aware of shifts in commodity sources and supply chains.

Furthermore, it is important to understand and measure the types, sources, and quantities of commodities imported by the United States compared with what can be competitively produced domestically.” 

The data clearly shows that whereas the number of nonfuel mineral commodities for which the United States was greater than 50% net import-dependent was 28 in 1954, this number has increased to 47 in 2014.  And while the U.S. was 100% net import reliant for 8 of the non-fuel commodities analyzed in 1954, this total import reliance increased to 11 non-fuel minerals in 1984, and surged to 19 in 2014.

These numbers alone paint a troublesome picture, but adding the supplier countries into the mix adds fuel to the fire: Whereas in 1954 the U.S. sourced metals and minerals largely from our trading partners, our diversified supply sources today also include a number of countries that are ranked as “unfree” and “less free” on various indices, thus raising the specter of supply disruptions given the volatility of geopolitical realities.

Considering that much of our over-reliance on foreign minerals is largely self-inflicted, making the exploration and development of the vast mineral deposits we are fortunate to have beneath our own soil should be a key priority in Washington.  Hopefully, our policy makers and their staff can make time to take a break from politics to review USGS’s findings.