Critical Minerals: U.S. Blocks Road-Access-Project on Environmental Concerns

by | 17. Apr 2024 - 09:56 | General

The Ambler Road project in Alaska would give access to zinc, copper, gold, and possibly rare earth deposits.

The United States Government is set to block a road project in the northern state of Alaska, which would open up numerous deposits of critical minerals and raw materials such as zinc, copper, gold, and possibly rare earth elements, according to Politico, which cites people with knowledge of the decision. The Ambler Road project (PDF) is a proposed 211-mile (340 kilometers) long roadway on the south side of the Brooks Range, a mountain range in northern Alaska stretching into Canada’s Yukon Territory. The road would be open only to mining-related traffic and remain closed to the public, providing access to otherwise inaccessible mineral deposits. According to Trilogy Metals, a company seeking to develop a mineral deposit in the region, metals hosted within the mountain range include copper, zinc, gold, lead, and silver. A report by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (PDF) also added rare earth elements and platinum group metals to the list.

Difficult Balancing Act

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, stated that these deposits would likely remain unexploited without the infrastructure project. Despite the economic benefits, the road would significantly interfere with remote regions that are otherwise untouched, underlining the difficult balancing act policymakers face globally in the search for critical minerals.

Renewable energies and modern technologies rely on a steady supply of critical minerals, but mining them presents environmental hurdles. Reports such as one by consultancy EY argue that the global energy transition to renewable energies will not happen without ramping up mining activities. On the other hand, there are environmental concerns and resistance from local residents, for example, in the case of the rare earth projects Matamulas in Spain or Norra Kärr in Sweden. Local resistance exists in the Ambler Road case, too, but not exclusively, however, as Alaskan lawmakers lobbied the Biden Administration to allow the road to be built. Politico writes that a rejection by the President would likely be challenged by the state agency overseeing the project, adding that this would “infuriate” the lawmakers of the northernmost U.S. state.

Photo: iStock/mlharing

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