Geoscience Policy Monthly Review
july 2013

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natural resources

House Natural Resources Committee examines U.S. helium production

On July 11, 2013, the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing to discuss the future of helium production in the U.S. The subcommittee heard testimony regarding the current and future U.S. demand for helium, the Federal Helium Reserve, and permitting for helium production.

Currently the Federal Helium Reserve, which provides the U.S. with 50 percent of its helium, is set to close at the end of the fiscal year. The House of Representatives passed a bill (H.R. 527) in April that would extend the life of the reserve. The Senate is slated to vote on a related bill (S. 783) but until a law is enacted, closure of the Helium Reserve remains imminent. In order to avoid reliance on foreign helium sources, it is important to evaluate and understand the existing helium resources on U.S. public and federal lands.

The hearing focused on new technologies and updating permitting process which will increase helium production in the U.S. Technologies in development at Oak Ridge National Laboratory would allow the development of “low-grade” fields, which have lower concentrations of helium, but larger quantities. The Bureau of Land Management said that they are working to update a variety of permits, such as drilling permits where helium is the primary target.

House scheduled to consider critical minerals legislation

House lawmakers must wait to consider legislation that intends to streamline hardrock mine permitting on federal lands. Introduced by Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV) in February, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Act of 2013 (H.R. 761) hopes to increase domestic production of critical and strategic minerals on federal lands by setting  permitting and litigation time limits on proposed mining projects, and establishing a lead permitting agency to increase efficiency.

Although an earlier version of the bill successfully passed the full House last year, the current bill still has many opponents. Those against Amodei’s legislation, including the White House, fear H.R. 761 would eliminate environmental and safety restrictions placed on mines under the National Environmental Policy Act. They urge Republicans to consider alternate critical minerals legislation, including those introduced by Representatives Doug Lamborn (R-CO), H.R. 1063, and Hank Johnson (D-GA), H.R. 981.

The House was supposed to consider the legislation this July, however, due to delays caused by contentious deliberation of the Farm Bill (H.R. 2642), the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Act will likely not be considered until after August recess. August recess begins August 2, and lawmakers will return to Capitol Hill September 9. 

USGS report highlights important areas for mineral investment in Afghanistan

USGS scientists have identified five new areas of interest (AOI) and  two subareas in Afghanistan, adding to a list of 24 areas of interest identified in a 2011 study titled, “Summaries and Data Packages of Important Areas for Mineral Investment and Production Opportunities of Nonfuel Minerals in Afghanistan.” Vast areas of natural mineral resources can be found in Afghanistan, and extracting and producing these resources could improve Afghanistan’s current economic situation

The areas of interest are Ahankashan, Kandahar, Parwan, North Bamyan, and South Bamyan, and the subareas are Obatu-Shela and Sekhab-ZamtoKalay, both of which are located in the larger Kandahar AOI (map). The datasets contain topographic contour intervals of 100-, 50-, and 25-meter intervals, and hydrographic data for the new study areas. The datasets are intended to facilitate mineral assessment, monitoring, management, and investment by developmental organizations, government agencies, and private companies in Afghanistan.  As discussed on the USGS website, the report indicates areas that are important to the industrial growth and development of Afghanistan, and provides information so that any policy decisions regarding mineral resources can be well-informed.