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Vol. 16, No. 26 Week of June 26, 2011
Providing coverage of Alaska and Northwest Canada's mineral industry

Mining News: Alaska DNR Commissioner Sullivan delivers critical minerals message to D.C.

Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan June 3 informed U.S. lawmakers of Alaska’s strategic mineral endowment and the role the Far North state can play in assisting the nation in overcoming its critical mineral challenges.

Sullivan’s testimony was delivered to the U.S. House Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee hearing on H.R. 2011, the “National Strategic and Critical Minerals Policy Act,” sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado; and H.R. 1314, the “Resource Assessment of Rare Earths Act of 2011,” sponsored by Rep. Henry “Hank” Johnson.

“We are eager to share with the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration that Alaska has the potential to deliver domestic sources of strategic minerals to the nation,” Commissioner Sullivan informed the lawmakers. “More specifically, we want to demonstrate to this committee and the rest of your colleagues in Congress the vital role Alaska can play in enhancing America’s long-term security, expanding American employment, and growing the economy by delivering domestically produced and processed strategic minerals to the U.S. marketplace.”

National mineral storehouse

In his statement to the House subcommittee, Sullivan touted the untapped mineral potential of Alaska.

“In 2010, the value of Alaska’s total mineral ore exports was US$1.3 billion, with exports to China, Japan, Canada, Korea and Spain. Over US$200 million was spent by companies exploring in Alaska,” he said.

Sullivan told the lawmakers that the state’s current production levels are only “the tip of the iceberg” when compared to speculation of the state’s un-mined mineral wealth.

According to Sullivan, Alaska is estimated to be a storehouse with:

• 17 percent of the world’s coal, ranking it as the second-largest coal jurisdiction on earth;

• 6 percent of the world’s copper, ranking it third;

• 2 percent of the world’s lead, ranking it sixth;

• 3 percent of the world’s gold, ranking it seventh;

• 3 percent of the world’s zinc, ranking it eighth

• 2 percent of the world’s silver, ranking it eighth; and,

• More than 150 REE occurrences.

“Alaska is by far the most under-explored U.S. state for mineral deposits and is considered highly prospective with regard to strategic and critical minerals needed for domestic use,” the DNR leader informed the Congress. “Our vast land base is thought to contain at least 70 known areas with documented potential to host REE deposits and over 40 million acres of high mineral potential lands.”

Aligned objectives

The DNR commissioner said many of the provisions of H.R. 2011 and H.R. 1314 are in line with goals of Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, including an assessment of REEs and other critical minerals on federal lands.

Parnell has appropriated funds for a comprehensive three-year project to determine the potential of REE deposits on state lands.

In a February letter, the Alaska governor urged President Obama to consider directing the U.S. Geological Survey to conduct a similar inventory and geological field work project on federal lands in the Far North state.

Parnell also prompted for better coordination in the federal permitting process, an issue considered by Lamborn’s legislation.

“The federal mine permitting system in the United States ranks as the least efficient or timely of 25 mining countries, with an average time frame of seven to 10 years to deliver a permit,” Parnell said. “This compares to Australia where permits are often issued in one to two years. In order to ensure an effective National Environmental Policy Act process, high ranking managers from federal agencies with decision making authority (particularly from the EPA) need to coordinate early and often with each other, permit applicants and state agencies.”

Sullivan suggested to lawmakers during his June 3 testimony that federal agencies consider adopting a regulatory system similar to the one used in Alaska.

“The State of Alaska has developed a coordinated permitting system that has evolved and worked well over the last 20 years,” the DNR commissioner explained. “Our system ensures that all state agencies are working well together throughout the lengthy and complex permitting processes for all large resource development projects in the state. The federal agencies have no analogous system. We therefore recommend that the federal agencies adopt a coordination model similar to Alaska’s.”

“A strong federal coordinator would not only ensure that the federal agencies are working well together during permitting, but would help establish an experienced permitting team within the federal agencies,” he added.

A particularly egregious example of federal permitting delays is the Kensington Gold Mine in Southeast Alaska, which took almost 20 years to permit. The State of Alaska successfully intervened in litigation to help secure the necessary permits for this mine.

In addition to throwing his support behind the critical mineral and REE bills being considered by the House, Sullivan said the Parnell Administration also endorses S. 1113, the “Critical Minerals Policy Act,” introduced to the Senate by Alaska Senior Senator Lisa Murkowski.

—Shane Lasley



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