An Analysis of the Minerals Situation
United States: 1989-2040
A supporting technical document for the 1989 RPA Assessment
Minerals are important forest and rangeland resources. There are approximately 2,400
minerals, of which 100 are of worldwide economic importance. For this report, three groups
of minerals were analyzed: energy minerals (e.g. coal, oil and gas, oil shale, uranium,
and geothermal resources), metallic minerals (e.g. lead, copper, cobalt, gold, iron,
aluminum, chromium, molybdenum, and silver) and industrial minerals (minerals used in
construction, agriculture, and personal adornment, including sand, gravel, clay,
limestone, and gemstones). Thirteen minerals were selected as an
"indicator minerals" for more in-depth reporting: oil, natural gas, coal,
geothermal resources, uranium, copper, lead, molybdenum, gold, silver, phosphate rock,
limestone, sand, and gravel.
Minerals are essential to modern life. They are important to the
national economy, and to the economy of many individual states. Some minerals are of
strategic importance, and essential to national economic and military security.
Minerals are different from other forest and rangeland resources covered
in the RPA Assessment. They are nonrenewable, and are more difficult to find, inventory,
and develop. Mineral development is governed by a complex set of laws, and administered by
a number of federal agencies.
The U.S. is rich in many of the minerals it requires, but there is
uncertainty about the extent of the mineral resource. While minerals are distributed
widely around the nation, coal is concentrated in the Allegheny Plateau, the Ohio River
Valley, and the Great Plains; oil is found mostly in the southwest and south; and many
metallic minerals occur predominantly in the upper Lake States and the mountains and
valleys of the West.
Ownership of the nation's minerals is complex and there is little
information on the quantities of minerals in public and private ownership. The quantity of
recoverable oil is uncertain over the long-term, but the nation has abundant coal
reserves, oil shale and tar sands, uranium, and the potential for greater use of
geothermal resources. The U.S. possesses large quantities of many metallic minerals,
although they may not be economical to develop at current prices or with current
technology. Large quantities exist nationwide of minerals materials used in construction,
although urban development threatens their availability in some areas.
Trends in the Consumption of Minerals and Projected Demand
- The U.S. is among the world's leaders in mineral consumption.
- Energy use peaked in 1979, then decreased dramatically. Since 1983,
energy use has increased at a moderate rate. Demand for energy minerals is expected to
increase moderately in the future. Oil use is expected to decrease, while coal use is
expected to increase.
- Demand patterns for metallic minerals vary by mineral, but there has been
a general decline since 1970. Some consumers have switched to cheaper, non-metal
substitutes. Demand for individual metallic minerals is volatile, but expected to increase
at a modest rate through 2040. High demand growth is expected for scarce and costly
specialty metals, such as the platinum-group metals.
- Although the U.S. is a mineral-rich nation, it imports significant
quantities of some minerals - especially petroleum. The trend is toward the increase of
oil imports, although the U.S. has abundant supplies of coal that could substitute for
foreign oil. Some experts say there are significant untapped domestic supplies of oil that
could be exploited if prices were favorable.
The Minerals Supply Situation
While world production of oil currently is in excess of demand,
increased consumption by OPEC nations and political factors could reduce the amount of
foreign oil available for purchase by the U.S.
- There are abundant supplies of metallic minerals worldwide, but their
cost and security of supply raise questions about their availability. A number of minerals
critical to the U.S. economy or military are controlled by unstable or unfriendly
governments and vulnerable to regional conflict.
- Supplies of some minerals can be extended through more efficient use,
conservation, and recycling. The U.S. currently recycles a relatively small proportion of
the minerals it consumes. However, in the case of a few minerals, recycled material is an
important domestic source (e.g. tin and lead).
Comparison of Supply and Demand:
- Domestic consumption of minerals of all kinds will increase.
- The U.S. has sufficient supplies of many of the minerals it requires,
although it will continue to rely on foreign sources for some minerals of economic and
strategic importance. Where the U.S. gets the energy and metallic minerals it consumes
depends to a large degree on the cost of domestic exploration and recovery versus overseas
- While the demand for metallic minerals will increase overall, new
technologies will stimulate the demand for some minerals and reduce consumption of others.
Social, Economic, and Environmental Implications:
- There is likely to be increased domestic production to satisfy demand,
although the U.S. will continue to import significant amounts of minerals.
- The national economy will benefit from increased domestic minerals
production through reduced imports and the mining industry's increased contribution to the
nation's gross national product.
- Greater domestic production will have both positive and negative regional
and local economic and social impacts. Positive effects include increased jobs and higher
incomes. Negative effects include the need for government investment in facilities and
services, some shortages (probably short-term) in services and housing; and changes in the
social and political structure, and culture of small rural communities.
- Potential environmental impacts include changes in lands and soils,
aesthetic degradation; and adverse impacts to water quality and fish and wildlife habitat.
Opportunities for Meeting the Nation's Minerals Needs
- Domestic minerals needs can be satisfied by increased domestic production
and imports, extended supplies, and materials substitution.
- Opportunities for increased domestic exploration and production can be
enhanced by improving the business climate, encouraging minerals production on private
lands, facilitating minerals development on federal lands, and by improving information on
domestic minerals location, quantity, and quality.
- Opportunities to increase imports can be improved by tax and trade
measures and bi-lateral agreements with foreign nations.
- Supplies can be extended though more efficient recovery in mining and
processing, more efficient use in manufacturing and consumption, and recycling. There are
also opportunities to substitute non-mineral materials, abundant minerals, and technology
for scarce minerals.
Constraints to Opportunities
- Profitability uncertainty deters investment in minerals exploration and
development. Poor information on mineral resources adds to the uncertainty.
- There are perceived conflicts between minerals development and other
social, economic, and environmental objectives.
- Laws, policies, and staff shortages inhibit development of minerals on
- Cost and perceived inconvenience discourage efficient use, consumer
conservation, and recycling to extend supplies.
USDA Forest Service. 1989. An analysis of the minerals situation in the
United States: 1989-2040. General Technical Report RM-179. Fort Collins, CO: U.S.
Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment
Station. 38 p.