07.10.14

Treasure for the Taking: America Gives Away Billions’ Worth of Hardrock Minerals

Treasure for the Taking

America Gives Away Billions’ Worth of Hardrock Minerals

Mining companies, many of them foreign-owned, take billions of dollars’ worth of gold, silver and other hardrock minerals from America’s public lands every year—free of charge. They are able to do this because of the anachronistic General Mining Act of 1872, which was originally passed to help settle the West. The law allows companies to freely prospect for hardrock minerals across almost 500 million acres of federal “public domain” lands,[1] stake unlimited claims for deposits, and mine their claims without paying royalties to the American people.

If existing hardrock mines on these lands were charged a 4 percent royalty rate, as proposed in new legislation introduced by Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the federal government over 2012 and 2013 would have collected an estimated $384 million from the owners of 46 of the nation’s top-producing hardrock mines, according to calculations performed for this report (see Tables 1 and 2). This number understates the total royalties that would have been collected in those years—possibly by a significant amount—because there was inadequate data to assess at least 26 other top-producing mines on public domain lands.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which administers the General Mining Act, does not require mining companies to report data on the hardrock minerals they extract from federal public domain lands. Ranking Member DeFazio therefore requested this report to provide a better sense of what is being taken and the amount that could be collected if the federal government charged royalties for hardrock minerals.

Table 1:  2013 hardrock production, sales value and foregone royalties from 46 mines

Hardrock

Minerala

Total amount produced

Total sales value

Estimated amount produced from federal public domain lands

Estimated sales value from federal public domain lands

Estimated royalties that would have been collected under DeFazio legislation

Gold

5.85 million oz.

$8.76 billion

2.54 million oz.

$3.8 billion

$152.07 million

Silverb

18.13 million oz.

$536.15 million

6.56 million oz.

$194.09 million

$7.76 million

Copper b

2.07 billion lbs.

$6.99 billion

20.7 million lbs.

$69.9 million

$2.80 million

Molybdenum

67.99 million lbs.

$643.80 million c

2.04 million lbs.

$19.31 million

$.77 million

Platinum Group (Palladium and Platinum)

524,000 oz.

$478.9 million

524,000 oz.

$478.9 million

$19.16 million

Total

$17.41 billion

$4.56 billion

$182.56 million

Source: Natural Resources Committee Democratic staff analysis of production and sales data from SEC filings of 20 leading mining companies

Negligible amounts of zinc also were produced. The six minerals listed in the table account for the vast majority of the sales value for minerals produced from the 46 mines looked at for this report.

Total amounts do not include ASARCO’s Ray mine or Revett Minerals Inc.’s Troy mine for 2013.

c Total sales value does not include Kennecott Utah Copper Corporation’s Bingham Canyon Mine.

   

  Table 2:  2012 hardrock production, sales value and foregone royalties from 46 mines

Hardrock

Mineral a

Total amount produced

Total sales value

Estimated amount produced from federal public domain lands

Estimated sales value from federal public domain lands

Estimated royalties that would have been collected under DeFazio legislation

Gold

6.07 million oz.

$9.95 billion

2.63 million oz.

$4.32 billion

$172.73 million

Silver b

15.53 million oz.

$519.01 million

5.62 million oz.

$187.88 million

$7.52 million

Copper

2.16 billion lbs.

$8.02 billion

21.6 million lbs.

$80.20 million

$3.21 million

Molybdenum

75.49 million lbs.

$961.48 million

2.26 million lbs.

$28.84 million

$1.15 million

Platinum Group (Palladium and Platinum)

514,000 oz.

$424.77 million

514,000 oz.

$424.77 million

$16.99 million

Total

$19.88 billion

$5.04 billion

$201.60 million

Source: Natural Resources Committee Democratic staff analysis of production and sales data from SEC filings of 20 leading mining companies

Negligible amounts of zinc also were produced. The six minerals listed in the table account for the vast majority of the sales value for minerals produced from the 46 mines looked at for this report.

b Hecla Mining Co.’s Lucky Friday mine was offline in 2012.

The Natural Resources Committee’s Democratic staff began by identifying the nation’s 100 top-producing mines of commonly mined hardrock minerals,[2] including gold, copper, silver, palladium, platinum, and molybdenum (used for steel alloys),[3] which account for the vast majority of U.S. hardrock production on public domain lands.[4] We excluded 54 of these mines from our examination because: (a) they are not located on federal public domain lands, even in part[5] (20 mines); (b) they are located on federal public domain lands but are owned by privately held companies that do not file with the Securities and Exchange Commission (16 mines); (c) they are located on federal public domain lands but are missing production data in company SEC filings (10 mines); or (d) information is inadequate to determine whether they are located on federal public domain lands (eight mines).

The remaining 46 top-producing mines are located at least partly on federal public domain lands and are owned by 20 publicly traded companies. Democratic staff used these companies’ 2013 and 2012 SEC filings to compile data on the type, amount and sales value of hard rock minerals being extracted from each of the 46 mines. Two of these mines are located completely on federal public domain lands and account for virtually all of U.S. production of platinum group minerals (palladium and platinum, which are mined together). The remaining 44 mines, which produce mostly gold, copper, silver and molybdenum, span both federal public domain lands and private or state lands.

In most cases, the private land occupied by these mines was previously public domain land but was “patented” by companies under the General Mining Act and converted to private land, in a process that has been blocked annually by Congress since 1995. Democratic staff was able to determine for each mine the number of acres located on public domain land and the number located on private or state land (see Table 7). These numbers can be deceiving, however, because typically more hardrock production occurs on the private patented land—this land was patented for a reason—even if the mine’s footprint is mostly on public domain land. The public domain land often is used as dumping ground for tailings and rock waste from mining that occurs on adjacent patented land.

Unfortunately, the Interior Department has not taken advantage of its authority to collect more detailed information on how public domain land is used and mined.[6] Nor do company SEC filings break down a mine’s production by public domain land and private land; only a mine’s total production is provided. Without knowing how much of a mine’s production is from public domain land, it is impossible to estimate the amount of royalties that would have been collected from the mine owner. So while we were able to calculate the royalties that would have been paid for each of the two mines that are located completely on federal public domain lands, we were unable to calculate mine-by-mine royalty estimates for the other 44 mines. Instead, we calculated aggregate and mineral-by-mineral royalty estimates for these mines, as follows.

The Interior Department last estimated the share of hardrock mineral production on federal public domain lands in 1993, the year before Congress stopped allowing companies to patent mining claims on public domain lands. The department at the time estimated that 15 percent of total hardrock production came from public domain lands, but it also found a great deal of variance by individual mineral. In particular, the department estimated that 43 percent of gold, 36 percent of silver, and 100 percent of platinum group minerals were produced from federal public domain lands while just 1 percent of copper and 3 percent of molybdenum came from public domain lands (see Table 3).

Table 3: DOI’s 1993 estimates of mineral production from federal public domain lands

Hardrock

mineral

Sales value of U.S. domestic production

Production from federal claims

Share of total production from federal claims

Beryllium

$400,000

$400,000

100%

Copper

$3.60 billion

$36.0 million

1%

Gold

$3.36 billion

$1.46 billion

43.4%

Molybdenum

$281.2 million

$8.4 million

3%

Platinum Group (Palladium and Platinum)

$26.9 million

$26.9 million

100%

Silver

$157.4 million

$57.0 million

36.2%

Zinc

$169 million

$70,000

0.0%

 

     Source: U.S. Department of the Interior, “Economic Implications of a Royalty System for Hardrock Minerals,” 1993.

It seems reasonable to assume that a greater share of hardrock production comes from public domain lands today, 20 years after the moratorium on patented claims. Democratic staff nonetheless relied on Interior’s 1993 percentages for this report’s calculations. Specifically, we added up the total amount of each top mineral produced from the 46 mines in 2013 and 2012; then we applied Interior’s percentages to estimate the share of that total production that came from federal public domain lands.[7]

Ranking Member DeFazio’s legislation would institute an 8 percent royalty rate for new mines on public domain lands and a 4 percent royalty rate for existing mines. Democratic staff used this 4 percent royalty rate to calculate the royalties that would have been collected in 2013 and 2012 for the hardrock minerals that, according to our estimates, were produced from federal public domain lands by the 46 mines.

Based on the data and assumptions described above, we estimate that:

  • The 46 mines in 2013 produced more than $4.56 billion worth of royalty-free hardrock minerals from federal public domain lands. This included almost 2.54 million ounces of gold sold for more than $3.8 billion; 524,000 ounces of platinum group metals sold for $478.9 million; 6.56 million ounces of silver sold for $194.09 million; 20.7 million pounds of copper sold for $69.9 million; and 2.04 million pounds of molybdenum sold for $19.31 million.
  • The 46 mines in 2012 produced more than $5.04 billion worth of royalty-free hardrock minerals from federal public domain lands. This included almost 2.63 million ounces of gold sold for more than $4.32 billion; 514,000 ounces of platinum group metals sold for $424.77 million; 5.62 million ounces of silver sold for $187.88 million; 21.6 million pounds of copper sold for $80.20 million; and 2.26 million pounds of molybdenum sold for $28.84 million.

Table 4: Uses of commonly mined hardrock minerals

Hardrock mineral

Common uses

Gold

Jewelry and arts; dental; electrical and electronics; and other

Copper

Construction; electric and electronic products; transportation equipment; consumer and general products; and industrial machinery and equipment

Molybdenum

Iron, steel, and superalloy production

Silver

Coins and medals, electrical and electronics, jewelry and silverware, and photography

Palladium

Emission reduction catalysts in motor vehicles; chemical manufacturing; special silicones; petroleum refining; and laboratory equipment.

Platinum

Catalysts to decrease emissions in motor vehicles; catalysts for chemical manufacturing; special silicones; petroleum refining; and laboratory equipment.

 

Table 5: Changes in total U.S. hardrock production and mineral prices

Hardrock mineral

Percent change

in U.S. production, 2008-2012

Percent change

in price, 2008-2012

Percent change in U.S. production, 2012-2013

Percent change in price, 2012-2013

Gold

-1%

49%

-3%

-15%

Copper

-14%

14%

4%

-7%

Molybdenum

2%

-116%

1%

-19%

Silver

-19%

50%

3%

-24%

Palladium

2%

45%

2%

13%

Platinum

3%

-0.1%

1%

-3%

 

Source: Committee Democratic staff analysis of data found in U.S. Geological Survey, “Mineral Commodity Summaries 2013,” Jan. 24, 2013, available athttp://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/mcs/2013/mcs2013.pdf and U.S. Geological Survey, “Mineral Commodity Summaries 2014,” Feb. 28, 2014, available athttp://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/mcs/2014/mcs2014.pdf.

  • The owners of these mines would have paid royalties of $182.56 million in 2013 and almost $202 million in 2012 if the DeFazio legislation had been law.[8] Royalties would have been higher in 2012 than previous years because of a general rise in hardrock mineral prices. The price of gold, the number one hardrock mineral taken from federal public domain lands, increased 49 percent between 2008-2012; the price of silver and palladium increased by 50 percent and 45 percent, respectively; and the price of copper increased 14 percent. Hardrock mineral prices mostly declined from 2012 to 2013—palladium had the only price increase among minerals we looked at—but remained high compared to earlier years (see Table 5).
  • Eleven foreign-owned companies operate 21 of the largest mines located at least partly on federal public domain lands. As explained earlier, the 46 mines examined for this report are owned by 20 companies. Eleven of these companies are foreign-owned, including nine Canadian companies, a Mexican company, and a British company. These companies, which own 21 of the 46 mines, took more high-priced gold than American companies and consequently may have paid more in royalties had the DeFazio legislation been law. The 21 mines owned by these foreign companies produced about $18.85 billion in 2013 and 2012 combined.[9] This production figure includes both private land and federal public domain lands. We chose not to estimate public-domain-land production and foregone royalties for these 21 mines because of the data limitations described above.
  • The two mines located completely on public domain lands would have paid $36.15 million in royalties over the last two years if the DeFazio legislation had been law. These mines produced $903.67 million worth of platinum group minerals over the last two years, all from public domain land. One, the Stillwater mine located in Montana, would have paid $13.26 million in royalties in 2013 and $12.54 million in royalties in 2012. The other, the East Boulder mine also located in Montana, would have paid $5.9 million in royalties in 2013 and $4.45 million in royalties in 2012.

 

*                   *                    *

Hardrock mining companies have extracted hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of minerals from federal lands over the last 150 years without compensating the American people. This preferential system was put in place to encourage mineral development on formerly unsettled land in the western United States. But unlike prospectors in the 19th century, hardrock producers today are large multi-national corporations—some of which are owned by foreign governments—that do not need or deserve government favors. The original intent of the law has been achieved. Congress should enact the DeFazio legislation and end this hardrock handout.

Table 6: Hardrock production and sales value from 46 mines by company, 2012 & 2013 a

Mining Company

Company’s home country

Sales value

of minerals, 2012

Sales value of minerals, 2013

Minerals Produced b

Allied Nevada Gold Corp.

U.S

$214.56 million

$267.90 million

Gold, silver

ASARCO LLC

Mexico

$875.07 million

No data c

Copper, silver

Atna Resources Ltd.

Canada

$59.4 million

$31.7 million

Gold

Barrick Gold Corp.

Canada

$5.15 billion

$4.40 billion

Gold

Coeur d’Alene Mines Corp.

U.S.

$242.40 million

$268.01 million

Gold, silver

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.

U.S.

$5.14 billion

$4.87 billion

Copper, molybdenum

Goldcorp Inc.

Canada

$160 million

$151 million

Gold

Hecla Mining Co.

U.S

$320.81 million

$403.47 million

Gold, silver

Kennecott Utah Copper Corp.

U.K.

$2.49 billion

$2.10 billion

Copper, gold, molybdenum

Kinross Gold Corp.

Canada

$577.3 million

$443.1 million

Gold

Lisbon Valley Mining Co. LLC

U.S.

$40.7 million

$70.3 million

Copper

Mercator Minerals Ltd.

Canada

$262.59 million

$215.30 million

Copper, molybdenum, silver

New Gold Inc.

Canada

$190.70 million

$113.70 million

Gold

Newmont Mining Corp.d

U.S.

$2.51 billion

$2.41 billion

Gold

Quadra FNX Mining Ltd.

Canada

$642.5 million

$503.8 million

Copper, gold

Revett Minerals Inc.

U.S.

$59.21 million

No data e

Copper, silver

Stillwater Mining Company

U.S.

$424.77 million

$478.90 million

Palladium, platinum

Thompson Creek Metals Co. Inc.

U.S.

$280.03 million

$319.4 million

Molybdenum

U.S. Silver Corp.

Canada

$68.81 million

$64.2 million

Silver

Veris Gold

Canada

$160.56 million

$187.90 million

Gold

Total

$20.12 billion

$17.53 billion

 

Source: Data from SEC filings. Totals may not add due to rounding.

a This table shows total sales value, including sales of minerals from private land occupied by the mine as well as federal public domain land occupied by the mine.

b Minerals Produced includes only the commonly mined minerals that are used for this report’s calculations.

c Sales data for ASARCO’s Ray Mine was not available for 2013.

d Total sales values for 2012 and 2013 only includes eight gold mining operations in Nevada.

e Mining at Revett Minerals’ Troy Mine was suspended in 2013.

Table 7: Owner, location and acreage breakdown for 46 mines

Mine

Owner

Location

Total acres occupied by mine a

% of total acres located on federal lands b

Hycroft

Allied Nevada Gold Corp.

Nevada

61,389 acres

97%

Ray

ASARCO LLC.

Arizona

13,000 acres

84%

Briggs

Atna Resources Ltd.

California

4,480 acres

100%

Bald Mountain

Barrick Gold Corp.

Nevada

150,000 acres

95%

Cortez c

Barrick Gold Corp.

Nevada

248,491 acres

75%

Golden Sunlight

Barrick Gold Corp.

Montana

4,942 acres

19%

Goldstrike d

Barrick Gold Corp.

Nevada

10,371 acres

22%

Ruby Hill

Barrick Gold Corp.

Nevada

28,854 acres

26%

Marigold

Barrick Gold Corp.

Nevada

18,496 acres

55%

Turquoise Ridge

Barrick Gold Corp.

Nevada

42,929 acres

50%

Kensington

Coeur d’Alene Mines Corp.

Alaska

12,400 acres

45%

Rochester

Coeur d’Alene Mines Corp.

Nevada

10,800 acres

85%

Bagdad

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.

Arizona

21,826 acres

11%

Morenci

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.

Arizona

64,750 acres

3%

Sierrita

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.

Arizona

37,650 acres

88%

Chino

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.

New Mexico

118,600 acres

50%

Miami

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.

Arizona

9,100 acres

22%

Safford

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.

Arizona

25,000 acres

16%

Tyrone

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.

New Mexico

35,200 acres

47%

Marigold

Gold Corp. Inc.

Nevada

18,496 acres

55%

Greens Creek

Hecla Mining Co.

Alaska

17,280 acres

75%

Lucky Friday

Hecla Mining Co.

Idaho

1,245 acres

43%

Bingham Canyon

Kennecott Utah Copper Corp.

Utah

27,000 acres

3%

Kettle River-Buckhorn

Kinross Gold Corp.

Washington

7,598 acres

40%

Smoky Valley Common

Kinross Gold Corp.

Nevada

52,384 acres

93%

Table 7 continued on next page

 

Table 7 continued

Mine

Owner

Location

Total acres occupied by minea

% of total acres located on federal landsb

Lisbon Valley

Lisbon Valley Mining Co. LLC

Utah

875 acres

50%

Mineral Park

Mercator Minerals Ltd.

Arizona

6,237 acres

25%

Mesquite

New Gold Inc.

California

4,670 acres

35%

Carlin East

Newmont Mining Corp.

Nevada

2,760 acres

18%

Gold Quarry

Newmont Mining Corp.

Nevada

9,352 acres

31%

Leeville

Newmont Mining Corp.

Nevada

496 acres

92%

Midas

Newmont Mining Corp.

Nevada

4,417 acres

75%

North Lantern

Newmont Mining Corp.

Nevada

1,083 acres

5%

Pete

Newmont Mining Corp.

Nevada

3773 acres

10%

Phoenix

Newmont Mining Corp.

Nevada

8,125 acres

39%

Twin Creek

Newmont Mining Corp.

Nevada

13,270 acres

55%

Robinson

Quandra FNX Mining Ltd.

Nevada

22,466 acres

45%

Carlota

Quandra FNX Mining Ltd.

Arizona

920 acres

100%

Troy

Revett Minerals Inc.

Montana

1,206 acres

43%

East Boulder Mine

Stillwater Mining Company

Montana

969 acres

100%

Stillwater Mine

Stillwater Mining Company

Montana

2,613 acres

87%

Thompson Creek

Thompson Creek Metals Co. Inc.

Idaho

24,600 acres

77%

Galena

U.S. Silver Corp.

Idaho

10,931 acres

46%

Jerritt Canyon

Veris Gold

Nevada

24,715 acres

96%

Source: SEC filings and Committee Democratic staff analysis of other available sources.

a Total acres includes federal public domain land, private or patented land, and state land.

We estimated acres located on federal public domain land using a variety of publicly available sources, including mine site acreages reported in National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analyses, mine site acreages reported in company SEC filings or on company websites, and mine acreage descriptions from third-party mining industry clearing house websites. We also compared mine location maps against state digital land ownership maps.

Includes Cortez Hills and Cortez Pipeline Mines.

d Includes Storm Mine.



[1] Public domain lands are lands acquired by the United States through treaty, cession or purchase as part of the country’s general territory. The Mining Act does not cover “acquired” lands that the U.S. government has obtained from a state or private owner by purchase, gift or condemnation for particular federal purposes. Nor does the Act cover about 164 million acres of withdrawn lands such as national parks and wildlife refuges.

[2] We did this using U.S. Geological Survey, “2011 Minerals Yearbook: Mining and Quarrying Trends,” available at
http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/m&q/myb1-2011-mquar.pdf.

[3] Other commonly mined minerals we looked at were zinc, beryllium, magnesium, tungsten and iron. The 46 mines produced negligible amounts of zinc and no beryllium, magnesium, tungsten or iron.

[4] U.S. Department of the Interior, “Economic Implications of a Royalty System for Hardrock Minerals,” 1993. There is not a more recent assessment, but available data suggest these minerals still are the most heavily mined.

[5] Under the General Mining Law of 1872, mining companies may file a patent application to obtain legal title to surface and mineral rights and obtain relief from paying annual fees. Congress since 1995 has blocked patented claims from being issued.

[6] The National Materials and Minerals Policy, Research and Development Act of 1980 provides authority for “improved collection, analysis, and dissemination of scientific, technical, and economic materials information.” Using this authority, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) within the Interior Department conducts an annual voluntary survey to collect information from mining companies on the production and sales value of the minerals they extract. USGS could include questions in this survey related to minerals produced on federal land.

[7] It should be noted that Interior’s estimates were for all mines located on public domain lands while our estimates are for only the 46 mines that provided sufficient data in their SEC filings. Thus, it’s possible the percentages of public-domain-land production are different for these 46 mines than what the Interior Department found for all mines. Our estimates could be understated or overstated to the extent that this is true.

[8] These figures are calculated using a 4 percent royalty rate. As explained earlier, the DeFazio legislation would institute a 4 percent royalty rate for mining already occurring on hardrock claims on federal public domain lands. An 8 percent royalty rate would be applied to minerals from mines that begin operations after the date of enactment of the bill.

[9] This excludes 2013 sales by the Mexican company, ASARCO, which have not yet been reported to the SEC.

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