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Natural Resource Sector, Mining
elemental sulfur, Coal production, phosphate rock, limonite, potassium salts
As a country of continental proportions, the United States has within its borders substantial mineral deposits. America leads the world in the production of phosphate, an important ingredient in fertilizers, and ranks second in gold, silver, copper, lead, natural gas, and coal. Petroleum production is third in the world, after Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Mining contributes 1.5 percent of annual GDP and employs 0.5 percent of all U.S. workers. Although mining accounts for only a small share of the nation’s economic output, it was historically essential to U.S. industrial development and remains important today. Coal and iron ore are the basis for the steel industry, which fabricates components for manufactured items such as automobiles, appliances, machinery, and other basic products. Petroleum is refined into gasoline, heating oil, and the petrochemicals used to make plastics, paint, pharmaceuticals, and synthetic fibers.
The nation’s three chief mineral products are fuels. In order of value, they are natural gas, petroleum, and coal. In 1996 the United States produced 23 percent of the world’s natural gas, 21 percent of its coal, and 13 percent of its crude oil. From 1990 to 1995, as the inflation-adjusted prices for these products declined, the extraction of these fossil fuels declined, increasing U.S. dependence on foreign sources of oil and natural gas.
The United States contains huge fields of natural gas and oil. These fields are scattered across the country, with concentrations in the midcontinent fields of Texas and Oklahoma, the Gulf Coast region of Texas and Louisiana, and the North Slope of Alaska. Texas and Louisiana account for almost 60 percent of the country’s natural gas production. Today, oil and natural gas are pumped to the surface, then sent by pipeline to refineries located in all parts of the nation. Offshore deposits account for 13 percent of total production. Coal production, important for industry and for the generation of electric power, comes primarily from Wyoming (29 percent of U.S. production in 1997), West Virginia (18 percent), and Kentucky (16 percent).
Important metals mined in the United States include gold, copper, iron ore, zinc, magnesium, lead, and silver. Iron ore is found mainly in Minnesota, and to a lesser degree in northern Michigan. The ore consists of low-grade taconite; U.S. deposits of high-grade ores, such as hematite, magnetite, and limonite, have been consumed. Leading industrial minerals include materials used in construction—mainly clays, lime, salt, phosphate rock, boron, and potassium salts. The United States also produces large percentages of the world’s output for a number of important minerals. In 1997 the United States produced 42 percent of the world’s molybdenum, 34 percent of its phosphate rock, 22 percent of its elemental sulfur, 17 percent of its copper, and 16 percent of its lead. Major deposits of many of these minerals are found in the western states.
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