Mineral development, like all development in Minnesota in the 21st century, will occur within the principles of sustainable development. However those principles are not entirely applicable to the extractive-minerals industry inasmuch as mining depends on the utilization of nonrenewable resources. Because mineral deposits once mined are gone forever, sustainable development in mining can be achieved and through continuous replacement of the commodity consumed. The rate at which many mineral resources must be replaced can be reduced by careful conservation measure and by the use of substitutes. Recycling contributes to our current supplies or most metals, but recycling alone cannot meet all of our societal demands for metal products. Thus for mineral resources, "replacement" to a large extent means discovering new mineral deposits. Minnesota has had a long history of metal mining extending back to 1884 when iron ore was first shipped from the Vermilion range. Since then, Minnesota has produced nearly 3.5 billion tons of iron ore for the United States steel industry. Iron mining will continue to be of considerable importance in the foreseeable future. The Mesabi range contains more than 170 billion tons of crude or 36 billion tons of iron-ore concentrate that will be recoverable for more than 200 years using current open-pit mining methods. Geologic studies also show that a vast, but low-grade copper-nickel resource consisting of 4.1 billion tons of material that has an average copper value of 0.7 percent and a copper to nickel ratio of 3.33 to 1. Other commodities, including low-value, laree-volume industrial materials also are important to the state's economy. Industrial materials mined and used include construction aggregate (sand and gravel or crushed stone) dimension stone, clay, silica sand, and peat. Geologic studies started in the mid-sixties have defined a modern conceptual framework that has established that the state has a large economic potential for a variety of commodities including gold, zinc, copper, nickel, and uranium. Many technical problems stand in the way of a discovery, but Minnesota has considerable potential for future mineral development. Therefore given enough effort, the probability of finding a new mineral deposit is fairly large. The discovery of a mineral deposit of sufficient size and grade is the first step toward developing a mine, but a discovery will not in itself lead to mining. For a mineral deposit to be mined requires that the commodity can be extracted profitably with existing technology and under current economic conditions. Thus in the end, the decision to develop a deposit turns on economic and public policy factors. Economic decisions depend on specific factors such as taxes, royalties, environmental costs, and interest rates, as well as on less specific questions regarding potential impacts on the quality of life. In the end, a program leading from discovery to mine depends on a strong working relationship between the public and private sectors. The partnership like all partnerships require confidence based on mutual respect and understanding. Each sector has a role to play and each must freely contribute to the process. Mineral development like sustainable develop in general will occur only when we take a long-term view. Mineral development from discovery to mine typically takes a long time and involves large sums of money. It is the public sector's responsibility to provide geologic maps at regional and intermediate-scales and other kinds of geologic information that will support the exploration process. It is the private sector's responsibility to explore and develop diligently. In the final analysis, both sectors must recognize that a mining company profits today must provide the capital for tomorrow's exploration ventures.
Previously Published Citation
Morey, G.B., 1998, Mineral Development in Minnesota: Past History, Present Trends, and Future Possibilities, Minnesota Geological Survey, Report of Investigations, no. 52
RI-52 Mineral Development in Minnesota: Past History, Present Trends, and Future Possibilities.
Minnesota Geological Survey.
Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy,