UGS Circular 129, Critical Minerals of Utah
by Stephanie E. Mills and Andrew Rupke
Mark Milligan, Geologist, Utah Geological Survey, (801) 537-3326 – MarkMilligan@utah.gov
PRESS RELEASE: 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
Salt Lake City (July 6, 2020) – When it comes to the most vital mineral resources in the United States, Utah hosts 28 and actively produces six of the nation’s 35 “critical minerals.” Critical minerals are essential to our security and economy, but vulnerable to supply disruptions due in part to a reliance on imports.
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.
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 ten 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.
Highlights of Utah’s critical mineral production include:
Global beryllium 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.
Domestic magnesium-metal production leader: 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.
Domestic high-value potash production leader: Utah is the only domestic producer of high-value potash, and one of two domestic producers of common potash, which is in part sourced from state trust lands. Potash is a key ingredient in fertilizer.
New production of helium: 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, 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: 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, Utah, 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.mapstore.utah.gov.
Circular 129 was made possible with support from a U.S. Geological Survey National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program grant. Miscellaneous Publication 174 was produced as a collaboration between the Utah Trust Lands Administration and UGS.
The Utah Geological Survey, a division of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, provides timely scientific information about Utah’s geologic environment, resources, and hazards.