Utah contains a remarkable variety of nonfuel resources that include base and precious metals, as well as industrial minerals. Utah is home to Rio Tinto Kennecott, the second largest producer of copper in the U.S., which supplies between 18-25 percent of the country’s copper needs. In addition, Utah remains the only state in the nation to produce magnesium, beryllium, potash (as potassium sulfate), and gilsonite. In the 2014 Fraser Institute annual survey of mining companies, Utah ranks as the 14th most favorable state out of 122 international jurisdictions for overall investment attractiveness for mining.
- Utah ranks 5th in the U.S. for value of nonfuel mineral production (5.4% of U.S. share)
- Base and precious metals account for 65 percent ($2.6 billion) of nonfuel mineral production (2014)
- Industrial minerals account for 35 percent ($1.41B) of nonfuel mineral production (2014)
Base and Precious Metals
Utah contains a vast abundance of base and precious metals that continue to fuel its thriving mining industry. Base metal production is primarily supported by copper, molybdenum, magnesium, iron, and beryllium, which accounts for an estimated 65 percent ($2.2 billion) of the state’s nonfuel mineral resources. Precious metal production is predominantly supported by gold and silver, which accounts for approximately 10 percent ($388 million) of the state’s nonfuel resources.
Copper is the largest contributor to Utah’s nonfuel mineral makeup, with an estimated value of $1.52 billion in 2014. The KUC Bingham Canyon mine located 20 miles southwest of Salt Lake City is the primary producer of copper in Utah, and was responsible for producing 225,000 tons in 2014. Utah copper is used to create various alloys for numerous products including electrical wiring, electronic components, and pipe for plumbing, refrigeration, and heating systems.
Utah is home to U.S. Magnesium in Tooele County, which is the only facility producing magnesium from a primary source within the United States. Magnesium chloride rich brine is derived from the Great Salt Lake, and through evaporation is converted to magnesium metal by an electrolytic process. Approximately 70,000 tons of magnesium is produced each year ($300 million). This metal is used as a constituent of aluminum-based alloys, desulfurization of iron and steel, and other practical industrial applications.
Utah currently remains the sole producer of beryllium ore (from the mineral bertrandite) in the United States. Materion Natural Resources, Inc., extracts bertrandite from the Spor Mountain area in Juab County, and then produces beryllium concentrate at their mill in Millard County. Approximately 273 tons of beryllium is produced each year ($23.3 million). Utah beryllium is used as specialty metal in numerous telecommunications and consumer electronics, automotive electronics, medical devices, commercial aerospace applications, among other uses.
Gold & Silver
In Utah, gold accounts for 84 percent ($332 million) of the value of precious metal production, while silver accounts for the other 16 percent ($56 million). The majority of gold and silver produced in 2014 was recovered from the KUC Bingham Canyon mine. Practically all 261,200 troy ounces of gold and 2,935,000 troy ounces of silver in 2014 was extracted as a byproduct from copper ore.
Industrial minerals in Utah during 2014 accounted for 35 percent ($1.41 billion) of nonfuel mineral production, with major contributors being potash and gilsonite. Industrial mineral production increased 13 percent from 2013 to 2014, and is predicted to continue increasing into the future as the housing and construction markets continue to improve in Utah.
In 2014, approximately 470,000 tons of potash was produced in Utah ($423 million), making it the largest contributor to the value of brine derived commodities. In recent years, the demand for sulfate potash has steadily increased due to its superior quality, causing overall potash production to rise by seven percent between 2013 and 2014.
Potassium sulfate, known as SOP (sulfate of potash) is used as a superior potassium based fertilizer for crops worldwide, and is produced for the U.S. by Compass Minerals Ogden, Inc. at the Intrepid mine in Wendover. As an effective fertilizer, SOP is in high demand due to its abilities to improve crop yield and quality, making plants more resistant to extreme environments, diseases, and insects.
Potassium chloride, known as MOP (muriate of potash) is used as a fertilizer for crops worldwide, and is highly effective at improving crop yield and quality in soils that contain low levels of chloride. Utah’s MOP is primarily produced by Compass Minerals Ogden, Inc. at the Intrepid Potash-Moab mine, just west of Moab.
Gilsonite is a shiny, black, solidified hydrocarbon that occurs in an array of lateral and vertical veins in the Uinta Basin. With annual production between 60,000-85,000 tons per year, Utah remains the only place in the world that contains large enough deposits of gilsonite for commercial production. This mineral has a variety of applications, including uses in oil and gas well drilling additives, asphalt paving mixes, inks, paints, and coatings. American Gilsonite Company is the primary producer, mining and processor of gilsonite at their facilities in southeastern Uintah County.
The majority of the information above can be found in Utah’s Extractive Resource Industries 2014 report by Taylor Boden, Ken Krahulec, David Tabet, Andrew Rupke, and Michael Vanden Berg. Utah mineral activity summaries have been compiled annually by the Utah Geological Survey (UGS) since 1989.
Nonfuel mineral production values reported by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) may differ from those reported by the UGS, due to different data compilation methods. The 1996–2014 Utah mineral/mining summaries are available on the UGS website.