Statement for the Record of the U.S. Department of the Interior before the House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Energy and Minerals on H.R. 981, March 21, 2013
Statement for the Record
U.S. Department of the Interior
House Natural Resources Committee,
Subcommittee on Energy and Minerals
March 21, 2013
Thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on H.R. 981, directing the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), to conduct a global assessment of rare earth element resources. The Department supports the goals of this bill, although we note that the activities called for in H.R. 981 are within the scope of existing Department of the Interior authorities.
The USGS is responsible for conducting research and collecting data on a wide variety of fuel and nonfuel mineral resources, including rare earth elements (REE). For nonfuel minerals, research is conducted to understand the geologic processes of concentrated known mineral resources at specific localities in the Earth’s crust and to estimate (or assess) quantities, qualities, and areas of undiscovered mineral resources, or potential future supply. USGS scientists also conduct research on the interactions of mineral resources with the environment, both natural and as a result of resource extraction, to better predict the degree of impact that resource development may have on human and ecosystem health. USGS mineral commodity specialists collect, analyze, and disseminate data and information that document current production and consumption for about 100 mineral commodities, both domestically and internationally for 180 countries. This full spectrum of mineral resource science allows for a comprehensive understanding of the complete life cycle of mineral resources and materials – resource formation, discovery, production, consumption, use, recycling, and reuse – and allows for an understanding of environmental issues of concern throughout the life cycle.
Global demand for critical mineral commodities is on the rise with increasing applications in consumer products, computers, automobiles, aircraft, and other advanced technology products. Much of this demand growth is driven by new technologies that increase energy efficiency and decrease reliance on fossil fuels. In 2010, the USGS completed an inventory of known domestic rare-earth reserves and resources (Long and others, 2010). The report documents 28 deposits and includes information on the location, exploration status, past production, and estimated resources. The report also includes an overview of known global rare-earth resources and discusses the reliability of alternative foreign sources of rare earths. Known U.S. deposits of REE comprise about 13 percent of the global reserve of REE and are located on a mix of public (BLM and USFS) and private lands in 14 States. The primary U.S. source for REE is the Mountain Pass mine in California, operated by Molycorp Minerals, a Colorado-based company. Advanced exploration projects for new REE deposits are underway at Bokan Mountain, AK and Bear Lodge, WY. In 2011, USGS released two additional REE reports, “China’s Rare-Earth Industry” (Tse, 2011) and “Rare Earth Elements – End Use and Recyclability” (Goonan, 2011).
The logical next steps are to (1) update a global inventory of rare earth resources published by the USGS in 2002 (Orris and Grauch, 2002), (2) review principal REE deposits outside of China and evaluate their geologic, economic, and development potential, and (3) conduct a comprehensive assessment of undiscovered REE resources. H.R. 981, the RARE Act of 2013, outlines a reasonable approach to properly assess the global endowment of REE resources, to identify potential future supplies of REE resources, and to better understand future potential sources of REE needed for United States industry.
The USGS maintains a workforce of geoscientists (geologists, geochemist, geophysicists, and resource specialists) with expertise in critical minerals and materials, including REE. The USGS continuously collects, analyzes, and disseminates data and information on domestic and global REE reserves and resources, production, consumption, and use. This information is published annually in the USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries (USGS, 2013) and includes a description of current events, trends, and issues related to REE supply and demand.
The USGS stands ready to fulfill its role as the sole federal provider of unbiased mineral resource research on known REE resources, assessment of undiscovered REE resources, and information on domestic and global production and consumption of REE resources for use in global REE supply chain analysis. We note, however, that the activities called for in H.R. 981 are already authorized by existing authorities. Any study conducted to fulfill the objectives of the bill will require substantial resources that, without additional support, would significantly impact other program mission activities.
Thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department on H.R. 981.
Goonan, T.G., 2011, Rare earth elements—End use and recyclability: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2011-5094, 15 p., available only at http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2011/5094/.
Long, K.R., Van Gosen, B.S., Foley, N.K., and Cordier, Daniel, 2010, The principal rare earth elements deposits of the United States—A summary of domestic deposits and a global perspective: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5220, 96 p. Available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2010/5220/
Orris, G.J., and Rauch, R.I., 2002, Rare earth element mines, deposits, and occurrences: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2002-0189, 174 p. Available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2002/of02-189/
Tse, Pui-Kwan. (2011) China’s Rare-Earth Industry. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2011-2042.
USGS, 2013, Mineral Commodity Summaries 2013, p. 128-129