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3 ‘critical’ minerals being mined in Nevada

Thirty-five minerals made the Department of Interior’s draft list of “critical minerals,” including three mineral commodities — barite, lithium and magnesium — actively produced in Nevada.

“We’re blessed in Nevada with several of those mineral commodities that are important,” said Rich Perry, Nevada Division of Minerals administrator.

The recently published draft list comes after President Donald Trump issued an executive order Dec. 30 that aims to reduce the country’s vulnerability to disruption of mineral supplies by identifying critical minerals and new sources.

Teams from the U.S. Geological Survey and Bureau of Land Management developed an unranked list of 35 critical minerals, and the DOI published the notice of the draft minerals list Feb. 16. (See sidebar for the complete draft list.)

“It’s very timely and long overdue to look at that because we [in the U.S.] continue to be net importers,” Perry said. “We’re becoming more reliant on critical elements.”

Critical minerals are defined as nonfuel minerals essential to U.S. economic and national security, with vulnerable supply chains, that serve an essential function in the manufacturing of a product, according to the executive order.

“Despite the presence of significant deposits of some of these minerals across the United States, our miners and producers are currently limited by a lack of comprehensive, machine-readable data concerning topographical, geological, and geophysical surveys; permitting delays; and the potential for protracted litigation regarding permits that are issued,” the order states.

In 2017, imports made up more than half of nonfuel mineral commodities, and the U.S. was completely reliant on 21 of those, according to the USGS Mineral Commodities Summary for 2018. Last year, China and Canada were the top sources of nonfuel mineral commodities for the U.S., followed by Brazil, Russia and South Africa, the USGS reports.

Nevada produces 20 metals and minerals, representing more than 11 percent of the nation’s mineral production, according to the Nevada Mining Association. The industry adds billions of dollars to the U.S. trade ledger, the association reports, while creating jobs and stimulating the economy.

The NvMA stated that all of Nevada’s minerals could be considered critical and is wary of too narrow a definition and the unintended consequences of the draft list. The association plans to submit public comments on the draft list by the March 19 filing deadline but provided a separate statement to the Elko Daily Free Press.

“Dubbing some minerals as ‘critical’ insinuates that others are not,” the NvMA said. “Rather than trying to rank one mineral ahead of another, the administration should embrace policies that boost domestic exploration and production of all minerals. The Nevada Mining Association encourages the Department of Interior to reconsider this proposed list and carefully contemplate the unintended consequences that may result in the years ahead.”


Of the 20 metals and minerals produced in Nevada in 2016, three are on the critical minerals draft list: barite, lithium and magnesium, according to the Nevada Division of Minerals.

Barite is used as an oil and gas drilling fluid and is deemed important to the energy, telecommunications and electronics sectors, according to the DOI and USGS summary of methodology and background information. China is the top producer and supplier of the world’s barite.

Most of the barite production in the U.S. came from four mines in Nevada in 2016, Perry said, with three companies in the Battle Mountain area in 2016 and one in Elko. The 2018 report states that domestic mine production of barite decreased in 2017. Production tends to mirror the ebb and flow of the oil industry.

The USGS reports that there are an estimated 150 million tons of identified barite resources in the U.S.

Lithium — produced mostly in Australia and supplied by China — is relevant to the aerospace, defense, energy, telecommunications and electronics, and transportation industries sectors, the draft list summary states. Notable applications include use in rechargeable batteries, and the demand for energy storage solutions is growing.

The only U.S. lithium production came from Nevada, the USGS reports in its 2018 mineral commodity summary. The Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology identifies Albemarle Corp.’s Silver Peak Operations in Esmerelda County as an active lithium producer in 2017. Perry said the company’s output totals only 2 percent of world production, which is only half of Tesla’s projected need once its gigafactory is in full operation.

Because of growing demand for lithium in the energy-storage sector, interest in mining lithium has increased. Nevada had about 12,000 placer claims for lithium at Perry’s last count.

U.S. reserves of lithium are estimated at 35,000 tons, the USGS reports.

Magnesium is used in the aerospace, defense, energy, telecommunications and electronics, and transportation industries, the summary shows, and it is produced and supplied mostly by China.

The 2018 USGS mineral commodity summary for magnesium reports that about 60 percent of magnesium compounds consumed in the U.S. goes into agricultural, chemical, construction, environmental and industrial applications. In 2017, Premier Magnesia ran Nevada’s only magnesium mine near Gabbs, according to the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology preliminary draft map. Premier Magnesia is also the state’s longest continuously running mine since 1941.

Additional listed nonfuel minerals have been produced commercially in the state throughout its history, Perry said. Antimony, arsenic, fluorspar, potash tungsten and uranium are among the resources that have been mined in Nevada, and many other industrial minerals not on the critical list originate in the state.

“Some of these have been produced in Nevada in the past, and there are resources available in the state but apparently not at a level that they are being exported.”

Resources that are available in Nevada but not being mined in the state include cobalt and tin, Perry said, suggesting that if domestic production were incentivized, and market supply and demand favorable that “we could very well see a boom for some of these things on this list that have not been explored for before.”

The nation’s needs for industrial mineral will change over time, Perry said, reflecting on the recent rise in popularity of materials needed to manufacture devices such as cellphones and batteries. While discussing the critical minerals of the future, he said it is important to keep public lands open to multiple uses, including mining, so that the nation has access to its domestic resources if and when the time comes.

“We want to make sure that the land in our state that is under federal government management remains open for locating claims — essentially that it stays as multiple use to stake claims and explore,” Perry said.


Creating the list is a step toward the federal government’s policy to reduce the nation’s vulnerability to supply disruptions. The executive order also directs that new sources of critical minerals be identified; activities at all levels of the supply chain be increased; advanced electronic access of data be available; and leasing and permitting be streamlined.

“An increase in private-sector domestic exploration, production, recycling, and reprocessing of critical minerals, and support for efforts to identify more commonly available technological alternatives to these minerals, will reduce our dependence on imports, preserve our leadership in technological innovation, support job creation, improve our national security and balance of trade, and enhance the technological superiority and readiness of our Armed Forces, which are among the Nation’s most significant consumers of critical minerals,” the executive order says.

Despite its leaders’ concerns with the definition and draft list, the NvMA applauded the Trump administration’s efforts to streamline the mineral permitting process and increase domestic sources of minerals.

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Sisters brings healthy variety to GBC

ELKO – What started out in a food truck expanded to its own location at Great Basin College.

Sisters Food Service opened its doors Feb. 26, in the Leonard Center for Student Life, offering breakfast and lunch for hungry students, staff and faculty at GBC – and the public.

Owner Jennifer Saxton said their new restaurant offers most meals for $8 or less including breakfast and lunch items. The most expensive item is a New York cut steak sandwich, fries and drink combo for $12.

Saxton said she plans to offer breakfast and lunch options including breakfast burritos, pancakes, cheeseburgers, chicken strips and fries, along with some healthier options such as salads, ceasar pasta salad with an option to add chicken, and a chicken alfredo wrap.

“We have daily specials too,” Saxton explained. “Monday is a barbecue beef sub sandwich. Taco Tuesday with a taco bar. On Wednesdays, we’ll do waffles for breakfast. Thursdays with chili fries and Friday a fish and fry basket,” she said.

Saxton said she developed her GBC menu with from advice from Jon Karr and Sysco representatives, who helped guide her on what items sold well to the students and faculty.

Sisters plans to open 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Although that means the food truck will not be going back and forth between Elko and Spring Creek, Saxton plans to keep her meal-prepping service going.

That service initially inspired Saxton to open her own business. Each week Saxton emails menus to regular customers and takes orders for individually prepared meals that are healthier and custom made.

“On the main dishes, it’s a mix and match,” Saxton said, adding that the service was also great for miners because the meals can be eaten hot or cold. “You can order one portion at a time.”

The idea developed when Saxton was working as a pharmacy technician at the Pill Box, when she saw a need for some of her patients, who would be too ill to cook for themselves, to have a healthier meal option.

“If they couldn’t prepare their own meals, it gives the family an option to get them some wholesome meals,” Saxton said.

The restaurant could also expand to include bakery items and specially decorated cakes when Saxton’s daughter, Keianna Whempner, arrives later this month to join her mother at the campus café.

“She won a couple of cake decorating competitions,” Saxton said. “I’m really excited to have her here. She’s extremely talented and artistic.”

Saxton said the food truck will get back on the road during the summer, but she is flexible and would be available to open for special summer sessions, such as the Shoshone Language Program.

Jerrica Oros, Saxton’s cousin, stepped in the first day to help, and said watching the food truck launch made her think about getting her own.

“When she bought her truck, I said, ‘This is something I want to do,’” Oros said. She pointed to the example Saxton has set, incorporating family and friends into the business.

“It’s a learning experience and because it’s with family, it’s better,” Oros said. “We have a great time.”

To learn more about Sisters meal prepping service and to request a menu and order form, email Saxton at

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Winnemucca pushes for eastern I-11 route

WINNEMUCCA — As state officials determine the best routing for Nevada’s portion of an interstate highway linking Canada and Mexico, Humboldt County and Winnemucca say they are well-positioned to be a key connection to the fast-growing southern Idaho economy for northern Nevadans and the nation.

“It is imperative to connect our two major urban areas in Nevada from an economic development perspective,” said Humboldt County Manager Dave Mendiola. “We feel it is also imperative that we connect southern Idaho to Northern Nevada. The southern Idaho regional economy has been one of the fastest growing in the nation over the past five years.”

The Interstate 11 corridor will extend through the Tucson and Phoenix area to Las Vegas roughly along U.S. Highway 93, then proceed north to Interstate 80 along the path of U.S. 95 in western Nevada. One proposed route would continue to follow U.S. 95/Interstate 80 to Winnemucca and beyond.

A joint statement from Humboldt County Commissioners and the City of Winnemucca stated that the Treasure Valley is one of the largest agricultural producers in the nation, and its technology sector is growing rapidly as well. “Humboldt County is the largest agricultural producer in the State of Nevada, accounting for nearly one billion dollars annually,” they added.

“The City of Winnemucca and Humboldt County, through our membership with the Northeastern Nevada Regional Development Authority, have been working diligently to prepare the region for this scenario, and we have plans in place to accommodate the growth and needs of the transportation industry, should the route through Winnemucca be chosen,” said Winnemucca Mayor Di An Putnam.

Humboldt County has long been a major producer of gold along with its sister counties of Pershing, Lander, Eureka and Elko.

“The Northern Nevada mining industry, which will include Lithium Nevada in Northern Humboldt County in the near future, will provide greater access for all commerce to these critical producers of the world’s mineral deposits,” said the statement.

The Nevada Department of Transportation has announced a series of public meetings March 20-29.

The final meeting from 2-5 p.m. March 29 at the NDOT headquarters in Carson City will be video-conferenced to NDOT offices in Winnemucca and Elko.

Students at EHS to participate in walkout today

ELKO – Students at Elko High School are planning to participate in National Walkout Day at 10 a.m. March 14 to honor the victims of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida one month ago.

Elko High School Principal Tim Wickersham said he is supportive of his students who want to support their peers across the country; however Student Resource Officers and school staff would be posted to around the perimeter to ensure student safety during the walkout and outside visitors would not be allowed.

“It’s a simple safety issue,” Wickersham said, noting that he did not have the resources “to deal with 300 students who will walk out.”

“We do our very best to keep our kids safe,” he said.

In a statement, Elko County School District confirmed that the walkout was “a student-led initiative and is not open to the public” for schools district-wide.

“We ask that anyone from the public please respect the privacy of the students and remain off campus for the duration of the event,” said Superintendent Jeff Zander, adding that the administration supports students who decide to walk out.

“The Elko County School District supports our students in their decision to participate in a national moment of silent reflection in memorial of the tragic events that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida,” said Zander.

“School officials have made accommodations to ensure this event has a minimal effect on the students’ school day and students are under no obligation to participate,” Zander continued.

Wickersham explained that he understood the students’ need to “participate in civil discourse of a problem that bothers all of us.”

“The students assured me it was not a protest, but a memorial and a show of respect and unity for the kids in Florida. Seventeen minutes of quite, respectful and safe observance is permissible,” Wickersham said.

Zander agreed, stating that teachers would “remain with students in the classroom while administration and other appropriate staff ensure the safety of students who are participating in the memorial.”

The walkout is to be one month after the school shooting in Florida involving a gunman who killed 17 students and staff members and injured 17 others.

The walkout is planned to last 17 minutes, one minute for each victim killed on Feb. 14.

According to the Women’s March Youth Empower website, the walkout is to recognize the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting and raise awareness about gun violence.

Spring Creek High School principal Keith Walz said he had not heard of any plans about his students participating in the walkout.

“I haven’t had anyone say anything,” Walz told the Free Press on Tuesday.

An anonymous threat received one week after the Parkland shooting prompted the closure of Elko High School for one day.

The threat came in late on the night of Feb. 20, and could not be verified by police in time for the start of school the following day. As a precaution, the Elko County School District closed the school.

Police said it was not a credible threat and they are still investigating the matter.


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Elko police called on apparent heroin overdose death

ELKO – Police responded Saturday to an apparent opiate overdose death.

Lt. Mike Palhegyi said a 41-year-old man was found dead at about 1:30 p.m. in a residence on Laurel Drive, possibly from a heroin overdose injection.

The death occurred in the same home where nine people were arrested in December on various drug charges. Police said they confiscated meth and heroin from the residence at that time.

“This is another example of the epidemic of opiate abuse, not just in our community but also in the country right now,” said Palhegyi, adding that there have been several overdose deaths in Elko in recent years.

The Combined Narcotics Task Force has seen a big increase in the amount of heroin confiscated in Elko County over the past year, jumping from 30 grams in 2016 to 128 grams in 2017, according to the sheriff’s office.