Mining our national parks for the US war-machine

Written By: - Date published: 12:01 pm, March 23rd, 2010 - 22 comments
Categories: afghanistan, International, iraq, military, Mining, war - Tags: , , ,

Even though there are no rare earth metals in the first wave of protected conservation areas that Brownlee wants to open for mining, he can’t help but go on about them. Take the first conclusion from the minerals stocktake:

‘A key conclusion from this stocktake is that New Zealand is a mineral rich country with considerable untapped potential. This potential extends beyond minerals that have a long history of development in New Zealand, such as gold, and includes many minerals of great importance to modern economies which few New Zealanders are likely aware exist in New Zealand. Our mineral potential includes so-called ‘rare earth elements’, which are considered globally to be minerals of strategic importance, given very limited players in the global market. They include dysprosium, terbium, erbium and ytterbium, which are critical to technologies such as hybrid and electric cars, wind turbines, computer disk drives, fibreoptic telecommunication cables, low-energy light bulbs and military equipment.’

Why the obsession? Well, check out the last item on his list – military equipment. And note the reference to ‘strategic importance’.

As Brownlee is fond of noting, most of the world’s supply of some of the key rare earths comes from China, which is getting less and less keen on exporting them unprocessed. That’s no big deal for consumer electronics. It just means the manufacture has to take place in China rather than, say, Japan or Korea. We can still get our gadgets. But it is a problem for large consumers of high-tech military equipment. Especially ones engaged in two wars where they’re going through smart bombs and drones like crazy.

Consider too that many US military planners see conflict with China as inevitable.

The last thing the US wants is to be dependent on the world’s other superpower, and potential adversary, for its supply of military hardware. That’s where the “strategic importance” comes from.

I think that Brownlee wants us to be a good ally in the Western Alliance and open up Rakiura National Park in Stewart Island, and eventually Kahurangi, so the US military can get the materials it needs for its sophisticated weaponry.

And in return for helping supply the US war machine, why we might just get that free trade deal we’ve been hankering after.

PS. Oh and if you thought gold mining is a dirty, polluting business with its cyanide-laced tailing ponds, you should see what chemicals they have to use to leach out rare earths.

22 comments on “Mining our national parks for the US war-machine”

  1. Lanthanide 1

    Note that the US used to be the main supplier for rare earths, but they shut down their mines and refineries because China could supply them cheaper. Now that China are driving the price up, US companies are investigating opening the old mines and refineries. That’s the free market in action.

    America might like to have additional supplies from other friendly countries, but anything NZ produces in this area will be a drop in the bucket compared to what the US itself has access to. I think the argument here is being overblown, especially when you consider any such mining operations will take at least 5 years to start up in NZ so it won’t help ingratiate us with the US in the short term.

    captcha: technologys

    • freedom 1.1

      why would you want to ingratiate yourself with a country that is passing laws to indefinetely detain its own citizens without charges, trials,or even representation.

    • Bright Red 1.2

      the USGS reckons the US has 13% of the world’s reserves but little of it is ready for production or in economic quantities.

      They don’t seem to have much going on in the way of the heavy rare earths. Those are the ones that are increasingly important and they’re the ones that Brownlee says are in Stewart Island and Kahurangi.

      • Lanthanide 1.2.1

        And NZ has what % of the world’s rare earth elements, how ready for production are they, and are they in economic quantities?

        According to Wikipedia, Australia is opening up a couple of mines, and Canada has potential to supply 10% of USA’s requirements from one mine.

        I seriously doubt NZ has any substantive quantity of these elements available at cheap prices, if we did I’m sure it would have been investigated before now. It’s also unlikely we would build any of the refinery plants here, so the raw ore would need to be shipped overseas, further increasing the price and diminishing the attractiveness of them.

        This whole post frames the reason for digging up these elements is to provide them to the US military, which is really quite ludicrous if you do even a small amount of research into the issue. Sure, if it turns out we have really rich seams that are really cheap to produce, then it’s plausible, but otherwise it’s just pointless alarmism that makes Eddie look like a loony.

        • Bright Red

          well, Brownlee is obsessed with rare earths for some reason, eh?

          • Lanthanide

            Yes. Perhaps he just wants to bamboozle the NZ population into thinking we have something special and rare that is worth a lot of money, therefore we should dig our country up so we can sell it and make megabucks.

            Sounds a bit more exotic than boring old gold and silver, right?

  2. Bored 2

    The elements are (I think, let the chemists out there correct me) lanthanides….toxic, rare and difficult to extract. In China they are found mainly in extensive clay deposits (weathered fine ground rock particles)….here in NZ who knows but likely in rock seams which means extraction could be extremely high energy intensive work (its easier to mine surface clay). The extraction process for these from ore is also highly energy based and highy toxic.

    I lost an environmental battle years ago that turned into a minor victory when the costs of development had to be paid for by the users. In this case in NZ my hopes and wishes are for a similar result i.e that the miners are made before proceeding to bear the true cost not only of the extraction but also of the clean up.

    On top of that as oil prices reach high levels again (as they will) the cost may hopefully become prohibative.

    One wonders that these elements would not have been mined already if it was economic? I suspect that is the case, which begs the question “are the government going to subsidise the extraction, and by giving away what, and to whom amongst their mates?”

  3. Name 3

    Lordie, how conspiracy theorists see a world in a grain of sand. Brownlee is far too venial to see beyond the $16 billion someone’s told him this real estate is worth. All those noughts and a dollar sign on the same line are like a bitch in heat to a dog. Of course most of it will go off-shore in profits and the salaries of all the managerial and professional workers who will need to be imported on contract to provide the specialised mining skills New Zealand doesn’t have, tho’ they will need a few drivers, labourers and canteen staff, it’s true.

    Chinese mining operations are as likely to get the nod as US ones, and just as likely to disappear as soon as the cherries have been picked leaving the NZ taxpayer to clean up the mess in the best tradition of mining cos.

    • Draco T Bastard 3.1

      Wasn’t NZ sending people over to China to teach them modern mining techniques? I seem to recall reading something along those lines several years ago. Basically, I’m sure we know how to mine.

  4. tc 4

    Simple line of questioning in parlaiment….” what rare earth metals ?” ” proof of rare earth metals..” “…basis for claiming rare earth metals exist..”

    Show us the rare earth metals Gerry !……he’s so full of it.

  5. Bill 5

    Why present an argument that your opponent might use to justify their actions? Especially when the argument would have been a very hard to impossible sell for them?

    If you are right, you have merely broadened the debate and fudged, shifted or softened the focus somewhat.

    just saying.

  6. tc 6

    They already are using this ‘rare earth metals’ argument so how about some evidence/proof because if they already know they exist…how/where/how much/says who ?

    If they don’t know they exist then WTF are they banging on about…..shades of ACC funding crises strawman.

    I reckon it all helps strip away more layers of dishonesty and helps shows the opposition to be reasonable and in favor of a solid proposal so how about it Ger what’s up those massive sleeves of yours, share it with folk other than your mining buddies.

  7. walter 7

    It seems the US are looking for new suppliers of REEs:

    “Rare earth minerals critical U.S. national security issue”
    “Among the proposed solutions finding new overseas suppliers ‘
    “It is of great urgency that we protect our rare earth resources and establish our reserve system.”
    “It is a critical national security issue with potentially severe consequences.”
    ” . requires the Secretary of Defense to establish a national stockpile for rare earth materials.’

    So how surgical and clean is this mining?

    “But supplies of the rare earths that can be profitably mined aren’t distributed evenly across the globe. Partly, that’s the luck of the geologic draw. But mostly, it’s a function of the huge environmental costs of mining these rare earths. The traditional method has been to bore holes into promising rock formations, pump acid down the holes to dissolve some of the rare earths and then pump the slurry into holding ponds for extraction of the rare earths. That extraction leaves behind a lake of water mixed with acid and various and sundry dissolved minerals.

    It’s much, much cheaper if a company can get away with spending just about nothing on controlling and treating the resulting sludge. The world’s low-cost producers of rare-earth elements are not huge and efficient open-pit mines but small, completely unregulated mom-and-pop mining companies in China.’

  8. I wonder how many mining shares Ke,McCully,.Brownlee and co have tucked away in their trust funds. After Key’s inside trading over his Rail,shares it could be worth investigating ./

  9. Draco T Bastard 9

    minerals of strategic importance

    If they’re so important then we shouldn’t be looking at exporting them as we’ll likely need them ourselves. Develop the industry that uses them and then export the finished products – you get more income (unless everybody else does the same thing (rare earths aren’t) and, with productivity so high, is capable of supplying their own needs as well as others…).

    Bloody stupid NACTS, sell everything and then wonder why we’re poor.

  10. Zak Creedo 10

    This is no idle question: so I aint being rude here. But is this for mining or sluicing.? You know, like in the Amazon… illegal gold sluicers really do shaft their workplaces..

    Course, it could be both. but the aim of my question is to ascertain the resources likely gamed for whatever the goal turns out to be..

  11. mcflock 11


    TV3 report National as saying that minimg would be worth $18bil:

    but the Tourism Industry association reckon international visitors are worth $9bil p.a.

    So it seems to me that if one really DID want to reduce it to a monetary perspective and whore our landscape to the highest bidder we are mates with, that ACTUAL benefit would be $18bil – (whatever the hit in the tourist $9bil our whale-killing, national-park-mining, cattle-shit-laden waterways government causes) PER YEAR the mines are in operation, and take to recover their ecology after operation.

    Semi-pure, 100% for sale.

  12. LOL!!!!!

    Fear Fear FEAR.

    Without it, the left would be lost.

    • lprent 12.1

      Ummm be interesting considering what characterisation of the right of the sewer would be……

      Hate, Feer*, arrogant inadequacy, MORE HATE, MORE Feer

      * they have spelling issues as well…

  13. Rich 13

    The lanthanides aren’t especially rare – the term “rare earth” was basically a mistake by geochemists when they were first discovered.

    Have a diagram.

  14. Jum 14

    I knew China was stepping back from supplying the rare earth…but I didn’t realise how important it was to America’s war machine. Well, well.

    What will we have to lose in our country to feed NAct’s backers?

    I agree with the Pink Postman – what have these NAct …pause…people hiding in their so called blind trusts?

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