Why It Matters: Geological Resources

Identify common geological resources and discuss how people use them.


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:

Every year 39,543 pounds of new minerals must be provided for every person in the United States to make the things we use every day. 9,073 pounds of stone are used to make roads, buildings, bridges, landscaping, and for numerous chemical and construction uses. 6,819 pounds of sand and gravel are used to make concrete, asphalt, blocks, and bricks. 616 pounds of cement are used to make roads, sidewalks, bridges, buildings, schools, and houses. 330 pounds of iron ore are used to make steel, which is used in buildings, cars, trucks, planes, trains, other construction, and containers. 422 pounds of salt are used in various chemicals, highway de-icing, food, and agriculture. 212 pounds of phosphate rock are used to make fertilizers to grow food and as animal feed supplements. 145 pounds of clays are used to make floor and wall tile, dinnerware, kitty litter, bricks and cement, and paper. 66 pounds of aluminum (bauxite) are used to make buildings, beverage containers, autos, and airplanes. 13 pounds of copper are used in buildings, electrical and electronic parts, plumbing, and transportation. 11 pounds of lead are used for batteries (87% of lead consumed here), electrical, communications, and TV screens. 7 pounds of zinc are used to make metals rust resistant, to make various metals and alloys, paint, rubber, skin creams, health care and nutrition supplements. 34 pounds of soda ash are used to make all kinds of glass, in powedered detergents, medicines, as food additives, in photography, and as a water treatment. 6 pounds of manganese are used to make almost all steels for construction, machinery, and transportation. 536 pounds of other nonmetals have numerous uses including glass, chemical, soaps, papers, computers, and cell phones. 22 pounds of other metals have the same uses as non metals, but are also used in electronics, TVs, video equipment, recreation equipment, and more. Additionally we use energy fuels: 915 gallons of petroleum, 5,752 pounds of coal, 88,274 cubic feet of natural gas, and 0.18 pounds of uranium.

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 identify different types of mining.
  • Describe geologic materials as current or potential energy resources and categorize sources as renewable or nonrenewable.