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Mining in USA

Mining in the USA - A State of the Industry Review

The United States is a major contributor to the global mining industry. In this review of the USA's mining industry, we have compiled information about the state of the industry and how it affects the country and its people.

State of the Industry Review

Written by Wade Barnes - May 2006

Country Analyst Vince Peckham
Table of Contents

Political Map of USA: Click Here to Enlarge
The United States produces a wide variety of commodities from gold to coal.  It has a land area of over 9.6 million square kilometers, 19,924 kilometers of coastline, and a population of over 298 million people. It uses 25% of the world’s energy reserves and spends more on maintaining its military might than most other country's entire GDP. It is the world's second largest producer of copper and gold, exports over US$26 billion worth of minerals and material produced from minerals each year and its mining industry employs over 3 million people directly and indirectly.

Additional information, statistics, and economic data are collated on the U.S. Government Official Web Portal under Facts about the United States.

Mining History

The US has a long history of mining that even pre-dates the country's split from Britain.  The coal industry, for instance, dates back to 1,000 AD when the Hopi Indians, living in what is now Arizona, used coal to bake pottery made from clay. The history of coal is summarized in a timeline produced by the American Coal Foundation. Other important dates in US mining history include:

  • 1705 - the first copper mine was opened in Branby, Connecticut.
  • 1748 - the first recorded commercial US coal production in the Manakin area, what is now Richmond, Virginia
  • 1844 - iron ore was "discovered" in Negaunee, Michigan. Mining commenced in 1846, grew steadily, and has continued to the present time.
  • 1848 the California Gold Rush began.
  • 1859 oil production began in northwestern Pennsylvania.
  • 1870's gold was first discovered in Southeast Alaska. Alaskas first big gold strike came in Juneau in 1880.
  • 1879, 1887 - the first oil wells were drilled in California and Texas respectively

The geology of the US is split up into 10 provinces: Pacific Mountain System; Columbia Plateau; Basin and Range; Colorado Plateau; Rocky Mountain System; Laurentian Upland; Interior Plains; Interior Highlands; Appalachian Highlands; and Atlantic Plain. Each province has its own geologic history and unique features. The USGS website provides more descriptive information about the geological provinces of the US. These ten geological provinces host numerous deposit types hosting an  array of commodities. The Basin and Range province hosts several gold mines and exploration properties including Barrick Gold Corporation’s Goldstrike mine. The Rocky Mountain System is host to the Powder River Basin, which is the largest source of coal mined in the US. The region is also host to some major uranium deposits. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Pacific Mountain System, Interior Plains Province and the Atlantic Plain Province host oil and natural gas deposits that supply three-fifths of the US needs. Most of the onshore and offshore deposits are located in California, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. The Energy Information Administration provides more statistical information on the oil and natural gas industry for the US. The USGS supplies more geological information on the United States Energy resources.

Mining Laws and Acts
There are laws and acts that pertain to all aspects of the mining and exploration industry. Most of these are set up for the land acquisition, exploitation and environmental control. An overview of the regulations pertaining to these three topics is included below.

Land Acquisition and Exploitation
There are several mining laws and acts that need to be followed in the acquisition and exploitation of land for exploration, mining and reclamation. There are separate laws and acts depending upon the material being extracted from the ground. The Mining Law of 1872 only covers hardrock ores such as gold and copper. The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 is used for leases for the development of deposits of industrial minerals such as coal and potash. The surface mining of coal is governed by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA).

The preservation of the land in the US is a major concern when it comes to mining. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) requires that the public lands be managed in a manner that protects the quality of scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air, atmospheric, water, and archeological resources. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) authorizes the President to respond to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances into the environment. The primary emphasis is the cleanup of hazardous substance releases. Other important acts to follow include The Endangered Species Act and The National Historic Preservation Act.

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