Notwithstanding that China produces 95% of the world’s rare earth minerals, they are home to only 37% of the world’s reserves. Considerable deposits are in the United States, Canada, India, Australia and Brazil.
Let’s focus on mining possibilities in North America, shall we?
In an alarmed response to the recent embargo, countries like Canada and the United States are dashing to develop new mines and renovate old ones.
But according to experts, any new production efforts are five years away at best. Not to mention that it will take an environmental cost calculus of its own – mountaintop removal mining is one example.
“In China, rare earth mines have scarred valleys by stripping topsoil and pumping thousands of gallons of acid into streambeds.”
Reported Keith Bradsher of the New York Times.
The only rare earth metal mine in America, the Molycorp complex at Mountain Pass, California, was once the world’s leading producer. This was before when in the late 1990s it leaked radioactive fluid into the neighboring desert, causing an expensive cleanup.
By the time of Molycorp’s closing in 2002, low Chinese prices made the mine less practicable.
Now, after raising money in a public stock offering last summer, the firm is hoping to re-establish the mine with higher environmental and safety standards.
The metal mines of southern China are free of thorium and have rare earths easily separated from the clay by dumping the ore in acid. Though, this relatively easy process, and financial burden on the world market is leading to the development of countless illegal mines, selling to organized crime syndicates who pay for rare earth concentrate with raw cash.
The Canadian firm, Avalon Rare Metals is developing $899m project in the Northwest Territories of Canada. According to the firm’s CEO, Don Bubar, Avalon is:
“Five years down a 10–year timeline toward getting its rare earth deposit into production.”
Other Canadian companies, like Great Western Minerals Group and Quest Rare Minerals also have domestic projects lined up. With about 70 rare earth exploration companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, there is now scouting happening everywhere from British Columbia to New Brunswick. Meanwhile, in the next three years, Great Western Minerals intends to start production utilizing minerals from a mine in South Africa.
Enjoy the showdown.