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Geosciences LibreTexts

Why It Matters



This section takes into consideration everything we have discussed so far. We will take a glance back at the formation of rocks and minerals, concentrating on mineral and energy resources. These resources focus mainly on our fossil fuels—oil, natural gas and coal. However, we use a variety of other material as well. Most of the resources we use are done so indirectly. For example, each person will use over 450,000 pounds of coal in their lifetime. While you may not go to the store and purchase coal to use like you would gasoline for your car, you do it in other indirect ways—for instance, most electricity in the US is generated by coal burning. The following graphic illustrates the type and amount of resources each American will need and use throughout their lives.

Every American born in 2015 will need 3.11 million pounds of minerals, metals, and fuels in their lifetime. This includes 1.25 million pounds of stone, sand, and gravel; 72,115 gallons of petroleum, 903 pounds of lead, 539 pounds of zinc, 11,427 pounds of clays, 33,193 pounds of salt, 985 pounds of copper, 1.59 troy ounces of Gold, 16,651 pounds of phosphate rock, 425,666 pounds of coal, 5,214 pounds of bauxite (aluminum), 26,010 pounds of iron ore, 48,483 pounds of cement, 6.96 million cubic feet of natural gas, and 56,016 pounds of other minerals and metals.

This chart provides us with some staggering statistics on the amount of resources we use:

Were you surprised see some of the items listed? How about the quantities—3.11 million pounds of resources per person?!

One item not shown on the figure is tantalum. If you have a cell phone, tablet, computer, camera or gaming system you own some tantalum. This resource is used because it has many desirable properties including high heat capacity, ductile and the ability to conduct electricity (Tantalum, 2015). However, tantalum is considered to be a “conflict resource.” This means that it is mined in an area where a dispute or conflict is occurring. It could also mean that the resource is used to perpetuate the conflict. In the case of tantalum, it is mined in an area of the Congo where it is believed to have played a role in helping finance war in the area. This conflict is believed to have caused the death of 5,400,000 since 1998 (Tantalum, 2015)!

These resources are collected in a variety of ways from drilling to mining. Depending on the resource and its location, different mining methods may be used. And these resources are mined on every continent (except Antarctica).

Unfortunately not all of our resources will be around forever. Our nonrenewable resources are in jeopardy of depletion. Alternative or renewable resources will play a bigger role in meeting our energy needs in the future.

Learning Outcomes

  • Learn common processes of geologic formation of rock and mineral resources
  • Describe some of the extraction methods and how extraction impacts society and our environment
  • Describe geologic materials as current or potential energy resources and categorize sources as renewable or nonrenewable

Ok, let’s get started!