California ranks fourth in the nation in non-fuels mineral production

NR 2011-07

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Gold Production Steady; State's Leading Industrial Mineral is Construction Sand and Gravel

Color graph of mineral production available here

SACRAMENTO -- California ranked fourth nationally in the production of non-fuel minerals in 2009, according to the California Geological Survey (CGS) and the U.S. Geological Survey.

California’s 700 active mines, which employ about 5,300 people, produced minerals valued at $3.4 billion in 2009, down from the 2008 total of $4 billion. California’s production accounted for 6.3 percent of the nation’s total. About two dozen industrial minerals made up most of the total production value. Gold and silver were the only metals produced in California. Gold production was valued at $139 million – ranking California sixth among 11 states reporting production for the third straight year.

“Although California is still the Golden State, there are only a couple of large active gold mines here,” said Dr. John Parrish, State Geologist of California and head of CGS. “Even with the price of gold in the $1,500-per-ounce range, the investment in time and money to open a large-scale operation is rather daunting.”

The New Gold, Inc., Mesquite mine in Imperial County was by far California’s largest gold producer at 150,000 ounces. The Atna Resources Ltd. Briggs Mine in Inyo County produced about 11,000 ounces of gold. Gold also is produced as a byproduct of sand and gravel mining, and there are a number of small mines that sporadically produce specimen gold.

“There is talk of reopening a couple of old gold mines in the Mother Lode, but the companies must deal with ecological, permitting, and funding issues first,” Parrish noted.

California led the nation in non-fuel mineral production through the early part of the 2000s and continues to lead in the production of sand and gravel, diatomite, and natural sodium sulfate.

Sand and gravel was the state’s leading non-fuel mineral commodity in 2009 (85 million tons valued at $905 million). “The production of construction aggregate (sand and gravel and crushed stone) has decreased significantly since 2006, reflecting the state of the economy and the lower levels of construction in California in those years,” said John Clinkenbeard, who heads the CGS Minerals Program. “As the economy improves, we expect to see construction aggregate production rise to meet increasing demand for materials for infrastructure repair and construction and for commercial and residential construction.”

Portland cement was California’s second-largest industrial mineral commodity (9.3 million tons valued at $855 million). Of note: CEMEX permanently closed its Davenport cement plant in Santa Cruz County at the start of 2009. The plant, constructed in 1906, supplied cement for the rebuilding of San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake, the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, the California Aqueduct, the Bay Area Rapid Transit System, Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and the Panama Canal.

California was the nation's only producer of boron compounds and rare earth minerals.

“Rare earth elements are essential to many technologies, such as cell phones and computers that we use every day, and to many of our national defense systems. They are also critical to many green technologies such as wind power, hybrid & electric vehicles, and energy-efficient lighting,” Clinkenbeard noted. “China has a near monopoly on the production of those minerals now, which drove up prices significantly in the last year. As a result, companies around the world, including one in Southern California, are ramping up exploration and production.”

In addition to studying and mapping mineral resources and geologic phenomena, the Department of Conservation ensures the reclamation of land used for mining; regulates oil, gas and geothermal wells; and administers agricultural and open-space land conservation programs.  More information about DOC programs is available at