Two new reports highlight Utah’s diverse resources of critical minerals that are vital to the nation’s security and economic prosperity, but vulnerable to supply disruptions: “Circular 129 — Critical Minerals of Utah” and “Miscellaneous Publication 174—Proven and Hypothetical Helium Resources in Utah.”
When it comes to the most vital mineral resources in the United States, Utah hosts 28 of them and actively produces six of the nation’s 35 critical minerals. Critical minerals are essential to the state’s security and economy, but vulnerable to supply disruptions due in part to a reliance on imports, according to the Utah Department of Natural Resources.
This import dependency creates a strategic vulnerability to foreign governments, natural disasters, and other events like the COVID-19 pandemic. A recently released report by the Utah Geological Survey (UGS) highlights Utah’s current and potential critical mineral production, and a second report provides in-depth detail on helium, said DNR in an email.
The minerals that are deemed critical change with time, dependent upon supply vulnerability and societal needs. Today, many critical minerals are used in clean-energy technologies and high-tech devices, including smartphones, tablets and a multitude of other electronics.
As one of the top 10 states for mineral production value for the past decade and the second most favorable mining jurisdiction in the contiguous United States in 2019, Utah is poised for further development of domestic critical mineral resources, according to DNR.
Highlights of Utah’s
critical mineral production
Global beryllium is the production leader: The Spor Mountain mine, which includes state trust lands in central Juab County is responsible for 65-70% of global beryllium production. Beryllium, one of the lightest and stiffest metals, is used in aerospace, defense, automobile, computer, medical, telecommunications and other products.
Utah is the only domestic producer of magnesium metal. Magnesium, the lightest structural metal, is widely used for alloys in aerospace, automotive and electronic products. It is also used in the production of iron, steel and titanium.
Utah is the only domestic producer of high-value potash, and one of two domestic producers of common potash, which is partly sourced from state trust lands. Potash is a key ingredient in fertilizer.
Significant helium resources are often found with natural gas in east-central Utah. In 2019, the Lisbon Valley natural gas plant in San Juan County resumed separating and purifying helium from natural gas produced from nearby fields. The high value of helium may offset the economic impact of continuing low natural gas prices and high operational costs for Utah operators.
Helium has uses far beyond balloons and blimps, including cooling in medical MRI scanners, production of computer chips, inflation of automotive airbags, the manufacture of fiber optic cables, and many others. UGS Miscellaneous Publication 174 provides a detailed examination of Utah’s helium resources and production history.
Bingham Canyon platinum, palladium, and rhenium production is a global leader. The world-class Bingham Canyon mine (Kennecott Copper) produces minor amounts of platinum, palladium and rhenium as byproducts of its mining and refining operations.
Past and potential future uranium and vanadium production: Utah is the third largest uranium-producing state historically and has several uranium-vanadium projects prepared for active mining. Blanding, in San Juan County, hosts the only operating conventional uranium and vanadium mill in the United States. Vanadium is commonly used in steel alloys, and uranium is fuel for nuclear power.
Additional advanced critical mineral projects: Defined resources of indium, aluminum, fluorite, and lithium across the state.
Prolific historic critical mineral production: Utah has historically been a major domestic producer of bismuth and has produced notable arsenic, antimony, barite, germanium, gallium, manganese, tellurium and tungsten.
Rare earth element and lithium byproduct potential: Investigations are being conducted into the potential to produce rare earth elements as a byproduct of beryllium waste rock and lithium as a byproduct of magnesium processing.
UGS Circular 129, Critical Minerals of Utah, is available (PDF) for free from the UGS website at https://ugspub.nr.utah.gov/publications/circular/c-129.pdf. UGS
Miscellaneous Publication 174, Proven and Hypothetical Helium Resources in Utah, is available (PDF) for free from the UGS website at https://ugspub.nr.utah.gov/publications/misc_pubs/mp-174/mp-174.pdf. Print-on-demand copies of both are available for purchase from the Natural Resources Map & Bookstore, 1-888-UTAHMAP, www.map store.utah.gov.