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How Mine Permitting Delays Impact the Transition to a Green Economy

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The following content is sponsored by Northern Dynasty

Mine Permitting Delays and the Transition to a Green Economy

Minerals are essential components in many of our daily-use products, such as cell phones, laptops, and cars.

In fact, every American uses nearly 40,000 pounds of newly mined materials each year.

In the United States, however, the current permitting process makes it difficult for businesses to invest in the extraction and processing of minerals, such as copper.

This graphic by Northern Dynasty explores the untapped potential of mineral resources in America.

Copper, a Critical Material

In 2023 the U.S. Department of Energy officially added copper to its critical materials list, following the examples of the European Union, Japan, India, Canada, and China.

Copper is a highly efficient conductor of electricity and is considered vital for clean energy technologies such as solar, wind energy, and electric vehicles.

Green energy-related copper demand is expected to increase by nearly 600% by 2030. In this scenario, the copper market could see an annual deficit of up to about 1.5 million tonnes by 2035.

Copper demand, per year, from green sectors

Despite having more than 53 million tons of copper reserves, the U.S. imports 45% of its copper from other countries.

This is the highest level of import reliance in over 30 years. One of the biggest reasons for this is the country’s mine permitting process.

A Rigorous Mine Permitting Process

Mines are large-scale projects that demand extensive research and policies. As a result, mining projects can take 16 years, or more, to start production.

Currently, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management—which regulates land use in the country—has a permitting backlog of more than 280 mining projects.

In addition, environmental activists have adopted a “not in my backyard” stance towards domestic mining. As a result, companies have often had to resort to litigation to make any progress in the permitting process.

“Activists have weaponized the government bodies that are essential to the safe and responsible development of domestic mines,” says Michael Westerlund, VP Investor Relations at Northern Dynasty Minerals.

The company owns the largest undeveloped copper deposit in the world, named Pebble, in Alaska. Pebble and other five major copper projects totaling over 11 billion tonnes in copper resources have been delayed because of the Federal permitting process.

The Largest Undeveloped Copper Deposit in the World

The Pebble Project has been through a roller coaster of regulatory activity for the past 15 years.

Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the depositing of mining waste near the mining project in Alaska, citing potential harm to the local sockeye salmon industry.

However, the veto directly contradicts findings from the Federal government that concluded that mining and fishing could coexist in the region.

“Alaska does resource development better than any other place on the planet, and our opportunities to show the world a better way to extract our resources should not be unfairly preempted by the Federal Government”
–Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy

Projects like Pebble can provide significant economic benefits and support the U.S. transition to a greener future. With the current regulatory uncertainty for U.S. developers, where the much-needed supply of copper will come from is unknown.

Click here to learn more about Pebble.

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Energy Shift

Visualizing the Rise of the U.S. as Top Crude Oil Producer

Over the last decade, the U.S. has surpassed Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s top producer of crude oil.

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Line chart showing how the U.S. has surpassed Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world's top producer of crude oil.

Visualizing the Rise of the U.S. as Top Crude Oil Producer

Over the last decade, the United States has established itself as the world’s top producer of crude oil, surpassing Saudi Arabia and Russia.

This infographic illustrates the rise of the U.S. as the biggest oil producer, based on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

U.S. Takes Lead in 2018

Over the last three decades, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Russia have alternated as the top crude producers, but always by small margins.

During the 1990s, Saudi Arabia dominated crude production, taking advantage of its extensive oil reserves. The petroleum sector accounts for roughly 42% of the country’s GDP, 87% of its budget revenues, and 90% of export earnings.

However, during the 2000s, Russia surpassed Saudi Arabia in production during some years, following strategic investments in expanding its oil infrastructure. The majority of Russia’s oil goes to OECD Europe (60%), with around 20% going to China.

Crude Oil Production United StatesSaudi ArabiaRussia
199211.93%13.97%12.74%
199311.50%13.68%11.35%
199410.96%13.32%10.50%
199510.60%13.17%9.96%
199610.21%12.87%9.49%
19979.84%12.73%9.29%
19989.39%12.58%9.05%
19999.06%11.99%9.33%
20008.67%12.33%9.64%
20018.65%11.89%10.45%
20028.63%11.49%11.53%
20038.05%12.92%12.10%
20047.46%12.74%12.67%
20057.00%13.21%12.82%
20066.85%13.00%12.90%
20076.84%12.38%13.29%
20086.71%12.44%12.56%
20097.32%11.28%12.98%
20107.37%11.31%13.03%
20117.55%12.81%13.02%
20128.50%13.04%12.94%
20139.76%12.86%13.10%
201411.18%12.60%12.86%
201511.67%12.77%12.66%
201610.92%13.12%13.02%
201711.53%12.68%13.05%
201813.21%12.77%12.96%
201914.90%12.15%13.20%
202014.87%12.37%12.97%
202114.59%12.06%13.10%
202214.73%13.17%12.76%

Over the 2010s, the U.S. witnessed an increase in domestic production, much of it attributable to hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in the shale formations ranging from Texas to North Dakota. It became the world’s largest oil producer in 2018, outproducing Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. accounted for 14.7% of crude oil production worldwide in 2022, compared to 13.1% for Saudi Arabia and 12.7% for Russia.

Despite leading petroleum production, the U.S. still trails seven countries in remaining proven reserves underground, with 55,251 million barrels.

Venezuela has the biggest reserves with 303,221 million barrels. Saudi Arabia, with 267,192 million barrels, occupies the second spot, while Russia is seventh with 80,000 million barrels.

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Energy Shift

Visualizing All the Nuclear Waste in the World

Despite concerns about nuclear waste, high-level radioactive waste constitutes less than 0.25% of all radioactive waste ever generated.

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Graphic cubes illustrating the global volume of nuclear waste and its disposal methods.

Visualizing All the Nuclear Waste in the World

Originally posted on the Decarbonization Channel. Subscribe to the free mailing list to be the first to receive decarbonization-related visualizations, with a focus on the U.S. power sector.

Nuclear power is among the safest and cleanest sources of electricity, making it a critical part of the clean energy transition.

However, nuclear waste, an inevitable byproduct, is often misunderstood.

In collaboration with the National Public Utilities Council, this graphic shows the volume of all existing nuclear waste, categorized by its level of hazardousness and disposal requirements, based on data from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Storage and Disposal

Nuclear provides about 10% of global electricity generation.

Nuclear waste, produced as a result of this, can be divided into four different types:

  • Very low-level waste: Waste suitable for near-surface landfills, requiring lower containment and isolation.
  • Low-level waste: Waste needing robust containment for up to a few hundred years, suitable for disposal in engineered near-surface facilities.
  • Intermediate-level waste: Waste that requires a greater degree of containment and isolation than that provided by near-surface disposal.
  • High-level waste: Waste is disposed of in deep, stable geological formations, typically several hundred meters below the surface.

Despite safety concerns, high-level radioactive waste constitutes less than 0.25% of total radioactive waste reported to the IAEA.

Waste ClassDisposed (cubic meters)Stored (cubic meters)Total (cubic meters)
Very low-level waste758,802313,8821,072,684
Low-level waste1,825,558204,8582,030,416
Intermediate level waste671,097201,893872,990
High-level waste3,9605,3239,283

Stored and disposed radioactive waste reported to the IAEA under the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management. Data is from the last reporting year which varies by reporting country, 2019-2023.

The amount of waste produced by the nuclear power industry is small compared to other industrial activities.

While flammable liquids comprise 82% of the hazardous materials shipped annually in the U.S., radioactive waste accounts for only 0.01%.

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