Resource Depletion Alarm Sounded

Colorado’s state geologist warned the world is depleting its natural resources as the United States and growing economies scramble for precious metals, oil and gas.

Vince Matthews
Vince Matthews

“We’re depleting natural resources all over the world,” said Vince Matthews, director of the Colorado Geological Survey and the state’s geologist, who spoke recently at the annual 3-D Seismic Symposium in Denver.

Matthews’ talk was filled with warnings, including his assessment that the United States has a failed mineral policy – and how those factors have and will continue to impact commodities in the Rocky Mountain region.

“The supply of conventional fuels like coal, uranium, oil and natural gas that provide 94 percent of the nation’s energy will become much more difficult for America to obtain during the next decade because of increased global competition for scarce supplies,” he said.

Also, Matthews said the world is depleting its natural resources at an exponential rate. In fact, a total of 50 percent of all copper mined and 50 percent of all oil consumed has taken place since 1985.

“Americans will suffer from natural resource driven inflation,” he continued.“We may see increasing shortages of critical raw materials … Conflict may arise with multi-national corporations operating in America.”

The result – and the need – he said, is that the United States must begin a realistic education effort about the existing state of global natural resources and look at viable options to deal with looming shortages.

Outside Influences

Most of the world’s economies are increasing their use of energy and minerals and are therefore contributing to the situation, but Matthews said China’s unparalleled economic growth is a major driver in the increased consumption of natural resources.

In fact, China’s need for a continuing supply of natural resources threatens America’s future ability to obtain the raw materials it needs, he added.

“The pressure to develop America’s remaining natural resources will probably increase dramatically as global supplies tighten,” he said.

For example, Matthews said that between 1990 to 2009 electricity growth increased by 70 percent worldwide, and over half of that – some 56 percent – came just from the United States, China and India.

China also is now the number one copper consumer in the world (the United States is the second largest consumer), and it ranks number three in copper production.

“Copper is important to solar technologies and other alternative energies, like wind,” Matthews said.

Meanwhile, the price of copper increased a staggering 457 percent from 2003-08. Although the price dropped, it recently has come roaring back.

In fact, spot prices of minerals and mineral fuels escalated more than the price of crude oil between 2003-08, he said.

Matthews also warned about the impact of coal-buying strategies involving China and India, where“they had to build a new deep water port to bring it in.”

Just two years ago the price of coal was $17 a ton. At present the average price of coal in Colorado is $48 a ton.

Together, the United States and China consume 62 percent of the world’s coal.

“The problem is these U.S. reserves are being bought as fast as they can,” he said.“We’ll wake up one day and find that we don’t own them anymore.”


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