Rare earth shortage sparks international concern

Geologist Adrian VanRythoven (right) discussing the focus of the Bull Hill area of the Bearlodge with senior geologist Richard Larsen of Rare Element Resources. Larsen stated, “We will develop a reliable domestic rare element source and will always be compliant with mining and environmental laws. We will be good neighbors.” (Curt Moberg photo)

Wyoming to step up the search for new potential sources

 

By Sarah Pridgeon

As the United States, in collaboration with the European Union and Japan, challenge the World Trade Organization against export restrictions on rare earth minerals from China, the Wyoming Geological Survey prepares to scope the state in the search for more deposits at home.

President Obama announced last week that the challenge is intended to force China to lift export limits on rare earth minerals, of which it at present produces 97 percent of the world’s total.

“We want our companies building those products right here in America,” said Obama in a statement at the White House. “But, to do that, American manufacturers need to have access to rare earth materials, which China supplies.”

According to Obama, Chinese policies are preventing the market from working on its own, which goes against the rules that China agreed to follow. The issue, said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, is about uniform rules for all, a consideration with particular importance as China continues to increase its standing as an economic power.

According to the European Union, China has been gradually reducing the quota of rare earth materials available for export, while simultaneously increasing export taxes. China will have ten days to respond and will be obligated to hold talks with the other parties within two months.

A bill passed during Wyoming’s recent legislative session will meanwhile provide funding for the Wyoming Geological Survey to follow up on surveys taken half a century ago, seeking more deposits of rare earth elements within the state. Various instances of rare earths were noted during these surveys, but the minerals were not considered significant at the time.

An appropriation budget of $200,000 per year will now be available to the Geological Survey in the hunt for rare earths. The search will focus on following up these older leads and making any resulting discoveries publicly available, allowing private companies to continue investigations at potential new sites.