“Mining is critical to the U.S. economy. The vitality of the U.S. economy depends on key mineral resources. In the course of a lifetime, each American will use 3.5 million pounds of minerals, metals, and fuels. Every year, 46,000 pounds of new minerals including 7,500 pounds of coal energy must be provided for every person in the U.S. to maintain our standard of living. Low-cost coal is used to generate a large portion of the nation's electricity supply, helping to keep U.S. electricity costs among the lowest in the world and thereby enhancing the competitiveness of U.S. industry. The contribution that the mining industry has made to the economic health, well-being, and security of the U.S. throughout its history is unquestioned.” - Energy and Environmental Profile of the U.S. Mining Industry
In the United States, the General Mining Law of 1872 (as amended) opened public lands to prospecting and mineral acquisition by location (staking a claim) and the annual maintenance of the claim. Mineral deposits, as defined by the Mining Law are referred to as “locatable minerals”. Locatable minerals include metallic metals such as gold, silver, copper, nicke,l and zinc as well as non-metallic metals such as mica, gypsum, fluorspar, barite, and certain limestone. Locatable minerals also other heavy minerals in placer form as well as gemstones.
In the United States, the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administers more than 258 million acres of public lands and 700 million acres of subsurface minerals on federal public lands. The majority of all mining activity in the United States, both commercial and recreational, is conducted on government owned lands.
The government has issued two types of mining claims, patented and non-patented. A patented mining claim in one in which the U.S. government has transferred title to the claimant, making it private land and granting exclusive rights to any and all locatable minerals and in most cases, the surface rights. A non-patented claim gives the claimant the right to mine the claim but does not transfer title of ownership. New applications for a patented claim have been prohibited by Acts of Congress since October 1, 1994, during the Clinton Administration. The moratorium rejecting patent applications has been renewed each year through various United States Department of the Interior Acts.
The Current State Of Mining In America
In 2015, more than 158,000 workers maintained employment in the United States $109.6 billion dollar mining industry. The United States is blessed with a massive reserve of mineral resources. The main metals mined in the United States are gold, silver, copper, iron, zinc, and lead. Industrial minerals mined in the U.S. include borates, limestone, phosphate, crushed rock, and coal, a mined fossil fuel.
Top commodities mined in the United States in 2015 include:
- Coal $31.3 Billion
- Crushed Rock $13.8 Billion
- Cement $9.8 Billion
- Industrial Gravels $8.3 Billion
- Copper $7.6 Billion
- Gold $7.6 Billion
- Construction Sand $7.2 Billion
- Iron Ore $3.8 Billion
In the United States, coal mining is a major industry with coal being mined in 25 states. More than 40 percent of these mines are situated on public lands. Coal production peaked in the United States with a record high of 1.06 Gt (1.17 billion short tons). By 2015, coal production in the United States dwindled to 986 million short tons. The outlook for the coal industry does not look hopeful. From 2015 to 2016, four U.S. publicly traded companies declared bankruptcy, including the United States largest producer, Peabody Energy.
The coal mining industry peaked in 1923. At that time there were more than 863,000 working coal miners. Mechanization and automation maximize production and increase productivity while at the same time reducing the numbers of workers required. By 2015, the number of coal mining employees plummeted to 65,400.
Although world production of gold showed a slight increase, gold production in the United States during 2015 equaled approximately 200 tons, five percent less than the previous year. With value estimated at $7.6 billion, gold was recovered from fewer than 45 lode mines, mainly in Alaska with 29 of the lode mines accountable for 90 percent of production. Commercial-grade gold was produced at 25 United States refineries. The average gold price in 2015 was eight percent less than the average price in 2014: down by 30 percent from the record-high annual price in 2012.
In the United States, more than 140 tons of scrap and old gold was recycled in 2015, a number slightly less than the amount consumed. Following the drop in the price of gold, both the domestic and global supply of gold gleaned from recycling continued its slide downward from a high in 2011.
The reduction in domestic mine production is attributed to lower ore grades at the two of the nation’s leading gold mines, Cortez and Goldstrike, as well as the closure of several smaller scale mines in Nevada as a result of declining gold prices. Another major U.S. mine, the Bingham Canyon Mine in Utah also had a reduction in production due to operational delays incurred due to an ongoing clean-up of the east pit wall that was damaged due to a landslide in 2013.
Gold, with its high conductivity and low corrosion, make it an integral component in the ever-evolving market for electronics and other components of advancing technology. Although the majority of the world’s gold is utilized in the production of jewelry, the world of technology is fast absorbing a much larger portion of production.
The United States has been actively mining copper since the discovery of the northern Michigan Copper District in 1840. The United States produced 1.37 million metric tons of copper in 2014 valued at $9.7 billion. The majority of production was from mines in Arizona, Michigan, Montana, Utah, and Nevada. 2015 production fell to a production value of $7.6 billion. The United States has approximately 35 million tons of known remaining copper reserves, the fifth largest reserve after Chili, Peru, Australia, and Mexico.
Copper, known for its high degree of conductivity coupled with relatively low cost, stands positioned to expand its market. Advancing technology utilizes copper in integrated circuits and high-efficiency motors. As this market grows, so will the demand for copper.
In the United States, there are three active copper smelter operations.
- ASARCO, Hayden, Arizona
- Phelps-Dodge, Miami, Arizona
- Kennecott Utah Copper, Garfield, Utah
The United States continues to maintain its position as a net exporter of copper ore and copper concentrate. In 2015, out of more than 1.25 million metric tons of recoverable copper metal extracted from U.S. mines, 320,000 tons of were exported in the form of ore and concentrate, to be smelted and refined outside the United States.
United States Mining Production Concerns
The high demand for precious and base metals has driven exploration, growth, expansion, and production for metals and minerals worldwide, yet the United States mining industry devotes only seven percent of its energies and expenditures to exploration. Currently, the United States is reliant upon a declining population of mature mines with depleted reserves. While the United States leads the world in the design, development, and manufacture of many of the latest defense, medical, energy, electronics, and transportation technologies, we trail behind in the production of the minerals required to produce them.
As the demand for metals and minerals increases, so will the requirement to mine and process them at competitive costs. To do so requires mining companies to continually search for better methods, processes and technologies to improve and maintain safety while mining these commodities in an environmentally sound manner while permitting the production of more lower-cost commodities.
Mineral And Metals Market Predictions
Extraordinary advances in mining exploration, extractions, and processing technology are creating exciting new markets for precious metals, coal, and industrial minerals. Zinc is but one example of an increase in demand created by advancing technology. Mining industry analysts predict that copper, due to its high degree of conductivity and relatively low production cost, is likely to see an expansion of its market in both the United States and abroad. The market for lead is also likely to increase as the demand for battery-driven vehicles impacts the transportation industry. For many years the use of zinc was in decline. Now, due to an increased demand for lightweight alloy, zinc is in favor. There is also a high demand for zinc as an anti-corrosive coating for other metals.
Mining is a dangerous job in the most arduous of conditions, perhaps one of the most hazardous jobs in the world. During the late 1800 and early 1900s, tens of thousands of miners died, were physically disabled or suffered incapacitating lung illnesses that shortened their lives. The worst disaster in United States mining history, the Monongah, Virginia Mining Disaster of December 6th, 1907 in which there were 362 fatalities, prompted the establishment of the U.S. Bureau of Mines. The bureau, created in 1910, was tasked with investigating mine disasters, conducting safety research and classes, and advising the mining industry on accident prevention, mine rescue, and first-aid response.
Over the past several decades, mine safety and security improved dramatically, and injuries and deaths from mining accidents plummeted. The United States Department of Labor Mine Safety and Health Administration reports 28 miners perished in 2015; the lowest number ever.
Joseph A. Main, an assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, advises, “While coal mine closures had some effect on the historic low number of mining deaths, actions by MSHA and the mining industry to improve mine safety have been a major factor.”
Recreational Gold Prospecting Reaches All-Time High
The dictionary defines mining as "the extraction, beneficiation, and processing of solid minerals from the earth and that's just what Americans have been doing since Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock. However, mining did not develop into a major industry until the 19th-century "gold" rushes saw vast fortunes made and lost and America’s interest in the mining industry spiked to an all-time high.
Gold is the primary precious metal mined both commercially and recreationally. Recent increases in the price of gold and a diverse array of contemporary television and print media productions fuel the quest for the elusive metal. When the price of gold hit a record high in 2012, America witnesses a second “gold rush” as recreational prospectors set out in search of the elusive metal with the hope of finding a nugget or two.
Federal public lands are open to the filing of mining claims under the Mining Law of 1872. There are currently 19 states where you can stake a mining claim. Unfortunately, in historical gold-producing areas, the most promising public lands are likely already under claim. No mining activity is allowed without the claim holder’s permission. “Claim Jumping” is a criminal offense. Before prospecting on public lands, contact the BLM to determine if the site is already claimed.
Today’s modern-day prospector is required to be knowledgeable of where prospecting is allowed and be attentive to the rules and regulations under which he/she is permitted to search for gold, gemstones or other valuable minerals or metals. The BLM has stewardship over and manages more than 12,500 million mining claims. Determining land location, ownership, and contact with the claim owner is often a lengthy and frustrating task, but one that is a necessary requirement.
National parks and other designated BLM-managed lands are closed to mineral entry, which means no prospecting or mining allowed. Designated lands managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS) are open to prospecting. However a strict set of regulations and rules govern entry.
The United States Department of the Interior states, “There are still areas where you may prospect, and if a discovery of a valuable, locatable mineral is made, you may stake a claim. These areas are mainly in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Such areas are mainly unreserved, unappropriated Federal public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of the U.S. Department of the Interior and in national forests administered by the Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Public land records in the proper BLM State Office will show you which lands are closed to mineral entry under the mining laws.”
Filing A Mineral Claim
Any citizen of the United States, or any individual who has declared an intention to become a U.S. citizen with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, may stake and hold a mining claim. Any corporation, duly organized under State law, is considered a “citizen” and may stake (locate) and hold a mining claim.
If you are fortunate enough to locate a tract of land that is not claimed or on private property, and you find gold or other valuable metals or minerals, you can stake a mining claim. A mining claim is described as a parcel of public land, defined by corner markers or stakes driven into the ground. The claim can be filed in either the name of a mining company or an individual. A mining claim may be from 20 to 160 acres (20 acres per individual claimant listed on the mining claim form).
There are two types of mining claims, lode, and placer. According to government rules, to constitute a valid discovery upon a lode claim requires several essential ingredients. A lode or vein of quartz or other rock must be in place, and the quartz out-cropping or rock-in-place must carry gold or valuable minerals. These two elements considered together, must be such to justify a prudent man in the expenditure of time and money required to develop a valuable mine. When it comes to placer claims, in addition to proof of discovery of a pay streak, each addition ten acres must be shown to be of similar mineral-in-character with the reasonable expectation that further exploration under these lands would show evidence of a mineral reserve.
The claim paperwork should be notarized and filed with the appropriate offices of local government, recorded with the county clerk and recorder’s office of the county in which the claim is filed, and the recorded documents filled with the BLM. The Bureau of Land Management maintains responsibility for the subsurface minerals on both public lands and United States Forest Service lands. A fee of $135 per claim, payable to the BLM, plus fees for local filings grants the claimant the right to mine the minerals and metals; a right that supersedes all other potential use of said public land.
Acquiring a mining claim does not provide the claimant (holder) with the right to use the land for any other purpose other than milling or mining. A claim does not provide you with a place to live. However, the claim does allow the claimant utilization of as much as the surface land on the claim as is reasonably needed for mining and milling purposes.
Working Your Claim
The holder of the claim may test and work the claim with non-mechanized equipment such as a pick, shovel, metal detector, a gold pan and sluice box without special written permission from the BLM. To use any form of mechanized equipment, the claimant must file a Plan of Operations (POP) and post a bond to cover damages and reclamation. To hold the claim requires annual fees and the filing of certain documents with state agencies as well as the BLM.
Panning For Gold In The United States
"Permitting, Economic Value and Mining in the United States." http://mineralsmakelife.org/assets/images/content/resource
Metals - Overview - EY - United States
United States Geological Survey – Gold
Energy and Environmental Profile of the U.S. Mining Industry