Minerals Surround Us
At the desk or table in front of you, the chair you’re sitting in, the device you’re using to read this page... At some point, you can be sure that at least some of the materials required to manufacture them came out of the ground. Because if something can’t be grown, it has to be mined.
Mined and extracted materials literally surround us — the gypsum in sheetrock walls, the nails and screws that hold those walls together, the copper or aluminum wires that carry electricity through them, air ducts, light fixtures, the carpet.
Mined materials are in the rivets of your jeans, the buckle on your belt and the machines that create the majority of clothes sold today. They’re in your smartphone, your not-so-smart phone, your sunglasses, your contact lenses, your pocket knife...
Look around you, pick an item, and ask yourself:
Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral?
Whatever it is, think a bit about how it was made. Could it have been made without the use of metals or minerals?
From time to time, “Energy Independence” becomes an important topic in the news—mostly when gasoline prices are up and Americans are feeling the pinch at the pump. That’s a shame, because it’s an important subject no matter what the price of oil is on a given day. The notion is sound—the less our country relies on outside sources of energy, the more control we have over our destiny. We often talk about “reducing our dependence on foreign oil,” but rarely seem to talk about reducing our dependence on foreign copper or iron or molybdenum. Why is that?
We should, because according to the U.S. Geological Survey, America imports nearly 50% of the copper it needs from foreign sources. And some of the major foreign producers of copper and other mineral resources are also the fastest growing consumers.
Countries like China and India have revved up their industrial economies. Their national demand for mineral resources is growing, making the market for those resources more competitive. In short, in the future they may not be able to sell us the copper that we need, because their own domestic demand is so high.
According to supply and demand projections, we will continue to need copper more than ever in the coming years. Because as you’ll see, copper plays an important role in America’s push for Energy Independence. Green energy technologies like wind farms, solar panels, and electric cars all rely heavily on copper, and if we’re going to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, these alternative energy sources will be key.
Fortunately, the 80 billion pounds of copper estimated in the Pebble Deposit has the potential to meet approximately 33% of U.S. annual copper needs for many years. That’s one reason that the Pebble Deposit is of such interest — it’s one of the largest deposits of its kind in the world.
It’s such a simple fact that we often overlook it, but here’s the thing: the difference between being a stone age culture and a post-stone age culture is metal. And around the world, copper was the first hard metal that people crafted for tools.
Like many ancient innovations, the discovery of metalworking happened at different times around the world. In Europe it seems to have been about 7,000 years ago. In the Middle East, maybe 5,000. We don’t know as much as we’d like about the early days of metallurgy, because, typically, cultures developed metalworking before they developed writing. It’s literally prehistoric science, and it seems as if somehow metalworking was required for all kinds of social and intellectual advances.
What is it about metallurgy that changes a culture?
The most common explanation is that metalworking technology is an economic catalyst, like steam power in the 19th century, or the Internet in the 21st century. It’s a game-changer. And as wide-scale metalworking helped cultures to make more things, grow more food, and control larger areas, they needed better methods of record keeping and communication.
Bureaucracy demands documentation, and when crude symbols and the spoken word weren’t getting the job done, richer systems of writing had to be developed. Once that happened, and complicated things could be written down, knowledge could be passed on and shared over long distances and across generations.
And not just passed on, but built upon, improved upon… You can still recognize traces of the ancient Phoenician alphabet in the Latin letters we write with today, 3000 years later.
It would be a stretch to claim that copper was directly responsible for Danté and da Vinci and Mozart and the moon landing — and yet, those all came out of a society that was built on and sustained by the use of metal and minerals. The discovery and application of metallurgy is as transformative an event in the story of humanity as is the development of agriculture, and almost every modern undertaking relies on it in one way or another.
Job creation alone isn’t a good reason to mine. Let’s get that out on the table right now. If there’s not a market for the minerals being extracted, or if it costs more to get the ore than a selling price, then that’s a make-work project, not a business.
Pebble is not a make-work project. It’s about helping America affordably meet its future demand for copper and other minerals. And yes, it’s also about doing it profitably, because that’s the role of private enterprise. A very happy side effect of that demand is that
Pebble would need more than 2,000 direct and indirect jobs for the first 20 years to realize the Deposit’s potential. Several thousand jobs will also be needed during the construction phase. Additionally, many jobs would continue for years after closure, through the final reclamation phase of site operation. Pebble is a world-class Deposit with the potential to employ generations.
We’ll talk about employment and the economy of the region elsewhere on the site, but suffice it to say that in Alaska, mining offers some of the best-paying jobs going. The kind of stable, long-term jobs with training and benefits that aren’t around much anymore. Careers, in fact, not just jobs. And Pebble has committed to filling as many positions as possible from within the region, to ensure that we’re more than just a good neighbor.