by Andrew Topf, Rare Earth Investing News
June 10, 2013 (TSR) – A state better known for the mining of coal than of rare earth elements could in future be digging up more rare metals if the results of a new study are acted upon.
Wyoming, home of the Powder River Basin where 90 percent of US producing coal mines are located, recently investigated the potential for Wyoming to expand into rare earths.
In addition to coal, Wyoming also has substantial uranium reserves; the state produces 1.6 million pounds of uranium annually, about a third of all US production.
A report from the Wyoming State Geological Survey summarized the findings of 289 samples from known or potential rare earths host rocks that were analyzed in a lab, together with 67 previously collected samples.
WSGS said that while while REEs indeed occur “in a variety of geologic settings across Wyoming,” rare earths in general are unlikely to be found in concentrations that would suggest rare earth mines.
“Although rare earth elements are relatively abundant in the earth’s crust, they are rarely concentrated into mineable ore deposits,” said Wayne Sutherland, WSGS gems and minerals geologist.
Rather, REEs are better described as “pathfinder” elements that may lead to other minerals, said Sutherland.
“Certain concentrations of elements can be clues that other economic deposits exist in the same area. For example, an abundance of arsenic in some geological settings is considered a pathfinder for gold.”
WSGS director Tom Drean however did not rule out the possibility of REE deposits being found in Wyoming that could one day prove economical: “If rare earth elements are found in high enough quantities in Wyoming, mining could be economically feasible in the future, placing the United States once again in the competitive global market for the production of rare earth materials,” he said.
There was one clue that could point to the possibility of new rare earth deposits in Wyoming. According to WSGS, 20 sites showed at least five times the average crustal abundance of REEs, which could suggest the potential for further exploration.
The main rare earths junior currently operating in Wyoming is Rare Element Resources (TSX:RES) which has the Bear Lodge property. According to the company, Bear Lodge contains “one of the largest disseminated rare-earth element (REE) deposits in North America (US Geological Survey Professional Paper 1049D) as well as extensive gold occurrences.” The project has advanced to the prefeasibility stage, and in May Rare Element Resources put out a new resource estimate that increased its total contained rare earth oxide resource by 65 percent, from 571 million to 944 million pounds.
According to the US Geological Survey, ore-bearing rare earths can be found in California, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, New York, Alaska, and Wyoming. Molycorp, (NYSE:MCP) whose Mountain Pass mine in California was restarted in 2012, is currently the only producing rare earths mine in the United States and the only facility in the Western Hemisphere to produce the metals that are used in everything from renewable energy applications to cell phones, televisions and rechargeable batteries. Most (95 percent) rare earths are mined and processed in China, which is also the leading rare earths consumer, buying 70 percent of the materials.
The strategic nature of rare earths — they are used in military applications like missile guidance systems and are integral to the growth of a clean energy economy — has prompted calls for the US government to establish a strategic reserve of certain critical rare earth metals, alloys and magnets.
In January it was announced that the US Department of Energy will allocate up to $120 million for the creation of a rare earths research facility aimed at decreasing the country’s dependence on rare earth elements from China.
The new research center will be called the Critical Materials Institute (CMI) and will bring together leading researchers from academia, the private sector and four DOE national laboratories, Rare Earth Investing News reported.
China has already said it will allocate close to a billion dollars for a program that will purchase mainly heavy rare earths for its national stockpile, Mineweb reported last summer.
Securities Disclosure: I, Andrew Topf, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
Originally published in Rare Earth Investing News.