A mining project on a mountain ridge on Alaska's Prince of Wales Island may unlock a motherlode of rare earth resources, which are important components of many of today's electric drive vehicles.

Between the Bokan Mountain deposit, owned by Canada's Ucore Rare Metals, and the nearby city of Ketchikan, Alaska, the potential exists in Alaska to build a lucrative rare earth mining and processing industry, with explorers set to exploit 70 sites identified as "promising" by state geologists. Luisa Moreno, an analyst at Jacob Securities in Toronto, claims rare earths might be Alaska's saving grace:
Alaska has a serious unemployment issue and it is getting worse. Rare earths seem to be their one chance - they really want to capture this opportunity and make it happen.
Nearly all (estimated at 90 percent) of the world's rare earth supply comes from China, where export restrictions frequently lead to soaring prices. That's why Alaskan and Canadian exploration companies want to seize the opportunity to capture a sizable chunk of the industry.

But Alaska' rare earth industry won't form overnight. Ucore estimates it will cost $100 million to get the Alaska mine operating and at least an additional $50 million to construct a rare earth processing facility in Ketchikan. Additionally, it's expected to take up to three years to get permits to extract rare earths from Alaska's virgin land. Alaska's natural resources commissioner, Dan Sullivan, says "It just takes too damn long to permit a mine."

Best-case scenario? Alaska will be pumping out up to 2,300 tons of rare earth metals a year from the Bokan Mountain site by 2015. Worst-case scenario? Alaska's pristine environment will be forever devastated by vast mining operations. Is it worth the risk?


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  • 35 Comments
      Larz Larzen
      • 3 Years Ago
      You don't have to worry much about rare earths from Mt. Pass, CA - there's nothing much there except vast wasteland, and the mine on Prince of Wales Island isn't going to pollute much of Alaska, either. There are plenty of old mining sites in the desert of California where there hasn't been a new footprint in 50 years. Mine it, clean it up, cover it, and plant CO2 absorbing trees over it when you're done. What's the problem?
      sirvixisvexed
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'm a bit ignorant here, are these "hole in the side of a mountain where we extract swaths of the interior" mines? or "rock quarry strip many square miles of land" mines? Does this island have any significant trees/wildlife living on it? Its probably is more likely to be barren, being an island, but just my guess.
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 3 Years Ago
      NEVs are useless, they can't travel all city roads. Who wants to do 25-35 on a 45mph road? Yeah motorcycles are great but they don't shield you from the elements. That's a problem. There needs to be a good middle ground... tort reform? sounds good to me.
      EVnerdGene
      • 3 Years Ago
      @2 Wheeled Menace "but the reality is that modern cars use a crapton of power to do what they do... " LOL --- learn something new, even here ! A crap ton equals 4 shiit loads.
      PhilipJ
      • 3 Years Ago
      yes, it sucks because the environment will probably take a hit, but we've become so accustomed to having all these things in our lives that require (for now) rare earths. there's really now way around it at the moment, because lets face it we're not going to change our consumption habits.
      Actionable Mango
      • 3 Years Ago
      Mining it cleanly in the US is better than "exporting" wanton environmental destruction by sourcing from mines in China. (Yes the wanton pun was intended.)
      Spec
      • 3 Years Ago
      Dig, baby, dig. Do it responsibly . . . but rare Earth metals are needed and we can't rely up on China.
        Marco Polo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Spec
        However, in Australia, rare earth deposits are conveniently located in waste desert land! Our idiot leftist government of stumble-bums, has just attempted to sell the rights for rare earth mining to the PRC. Fortunately, the State governments kicked up a storm and the issue died down for now. In retaliation, the PRC threatened to dump rare earth on the market to make any Australian mining venture uneconomic. The response from the Australian Federal Government to this outrageous bullying, was a robust squeak, followed by a series of grovels by the manderin speaking foreign embarassment ,(Minister) Kevin Rudd...
          Letstakeawalk
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Marco Polo
          Don't forget about the ridiculous amount of surfing and snorkeling - darn those Aussies!
          EZEE
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Marco Polo
          Kylie sings Waltzing Matilda... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXlBN_mAwLE&feature=youtube_gdata_player
          Marco Polo
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Marco Polo
          @ Ezee, your tickets in the mail. Beer's in the fridge. Bedroom on the right, Girls up the pub, you're very welcome!
          EZEE
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Marco Polo
          Would rather be beholden to the Aussies than the Chinese. I could hear us (Americans) complaining, 'darn those Aussies! What, with their thick steaks, tall beers, Crocodile Dundee spying on women, kangaroo loving, parties on the beach, v8 car driving....wait of that sounds that bad.'
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 3 Years Ago
      rotflmao!
      Edge
      • 3 Years Ago
      > Worst-case scenario? Alaska's pristine environment will be forever devastated by vast mining operations. Is it worth the risk? Baiting the comment section. Come everyone, lets get a big debate going.
        EVnerdGene
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Edge
        the earth will be here long after we're gone
        Edge
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Edge
        Sorry, but just calling into question the exaggeration used, "vast mining operations". Alaska is huge, 660,000 square miles, so I don't think a few mines are going to effect that much.
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 3 Years Ago
      Employment problem? blow up some mountains. Best mentality ever. :D If they could do this in a way that wouldn't destroy the local water supplies and land, that would be great. But let me guess.... such a peachy outcome is impossible.
      Chris M
      • 3 Years Ago
      It is preferable to address the environmental concerns before mining begins, rather than to try and fix the problems later on.
      EZEE
      • 3 Years Ago
      Drilling for oil is bad, due to the drilling thing, the oil, and the c02. Corn based ethanol is bad, but to all the water used, the land, and, burning food. Rare earth mines? Like all mines (or most) they are bad as well. Even though they produce things that we all want (stuff for electric cars). Fracking - bad. Nuclear? Well, no c02, but the whole meltdown thing and nuclear waste. Solar power plants? Huge tracks of land covered. Wind? Intermittent power and the death of 100's of thousands of birds (and, every last one is rare). As the token radical right wing extremist, my question is, is there anything that is not awful that will result in some sort of screaming?
        Spec
        • 3 Years Ago
        @EZEE
        Everything has pros & cons. But some sources are more benign than others. The solar and wind cons you listed are ridiculous. Solar . . . land covered? So what? Put them up on houses & buildings that are already covering land. Wind . . . birds . . . more birds will be killed by housecats today than will be killed by every wind turbine working all year long. Buildings & cars kill birds. The bird issue is a red herring.
          EZEE
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spec
          A house cat can t bring down a condor. I was being a bit humorous (can't you people ever smile?) but it really does seem like some people will complain about everything. Even dan has been smiling lately...
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 3 Years Ago
        @EZEE
        There is only less awful. Here's the big question; why have we almost written into law that most people need to pilot a 3000+ pound steel bubble everywhere... our cities are designed around it... and you're forbidden from riding something on 4 wheels that is much smaller and more efficient because of 'safety'. You can switch the energy source from gas to electric to hydrogen... but the reality is that modern cars use a crapton of power to do what they do... can you go out and buy an aptera or assemble your own similar car and legally drive it on the highway? i didn't think so.. Our energy demands are grotesque and that needs to change.
        EZEE
        • 3 Years Ago
        @EZEE
        Oh wait...that Japanese poop car....
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