Idaho’s Mineral Resources
Idaho Geological Survey. The Idaho Geological
Survey is the lead agency for collecting and disseminating geologic information
and mineral data in the state. It has offices in Moscow, Boise, and Pocatello.
Staff geologists conduct applied research with a strong emphasis on producing
geologic maps and providing technical and general information on the
State’s various geologic settings, earth resources, and geologic
hazards. Much of the research is conducted through cooperative programs
with federal agencies and applies to the growing development and use
of land and water in Idaho.
Mineral Resources Programs. Minerals, both metals
and industrial minerals, are indispensable to our modern lifestyle, and
the United States is a major consumer of both mineral and energy resources.
The Idaho Geological Survey, a non-regulatory agency, works with federal
and state agencies and private industry to provide unbiased technical
information and conduct applied research on the state’s metallic
and industrial mineral resources. It also assists private citizens in
accessing that information for both mineral exploration and commerce.
The Idaho Geological Survey is a partner with the U.S. Geological Survey
Mineral Resources Program. The Idaho Geological Survey maintains historic
information on mines and prospects in Idaho, with a database containing
over 8,800 properties. The Survey operates Idaho’s mine safety
training in cooperation with the national Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Idaho has no current fossil fuel production but has a high potential
for undiscovered oil and gas. Geothermal and uranium resources are substantial.
The Survey records and maps energy resources.
Idaho Mining. The Survey’s
early applied research emphasized economic geology and mining, and dealt
with specific mining districts. Mineral resources are not distributed
evenly in the earth, but with its varied and complex geologic past, Idaho’s mineral
wealth is rich and diverse.
Gold was initially discovered in Idaho in 1860 near Pierce. But the
state is best known for its two “world class” mining districts,
the fabulous Coeur d’Alene District in northern Idaho and the Western
Phosphate Reserve in southeastern Idaho. Over a billion ounces of silver
and substantial lead and zinc have been produced in the Coeur d’Alene
since 1884, and two deep underground (hard rock) mines are still producing.
In southeastern Idaho, near Soda Springs, three large open pit mines
extract phosphate ore and process it in three plants to fertilizer or
elemental phosphorus. Owing to current high metal prices, Idaho’s
non-fuel mineral production value is now $900 million, compared to $269
million in 2003. Idaho ranks second nationally in phosphate and garnet
production, third in silver and pumice, and fourth in molybdenum concentrate
Metals currently being mined include molybdenum, silver,
lead, copper, and gold. Industrial minerals produced included phosphate
rock, sand and gravel, cement, crushed stone, limestone, pumice, dimension
stone, zeolites, industrial garnet, gemstones, feldspar, and perlite.
Mines and quarries provide important jobs to many rural counties. Recent
urban growth has increased demand for construction materials, such as
cement and sand and gravel for aggregate.
Applications of Mineral Resources Information. Annual
reviews of Idaho mining provide basic information used by the exploration
industry, product buyers and suppliers, and regulatory, scientific
and environmental organizations, and private citizens.
Historically, the Survey’s Mines and Prospects database is the
standard starting place for anyone looking for minerals in Idaho. Both
prospectors and modern exploration geologists also use geologic maps
and studies, such as those published by the Idaho Geological Survey and
other agencies. Mineral resources are not randomly distributed, rather
different types of mineral resources are localized in specific geologic
and structural settings.
The Survey’s historical information on mines is
also being used to guide projects that inventory hazards and environmental concerns
at inactive and abandoned mines, many of which are decades old. Over
1,600 properties have been evaluated to date by the Survey’s expert
personnel in cooperative programs with land management agencies. Knowledge
of minerals mined, mining methods and processing techniques, rock types,
and fault distributions must be known in detail for risk assessments
and development of reclamation plans. However, accurate information on
many of the old mines is in danger of being lost without funding for
Contact information: Roy Breckenridge,
State Geologist and Director Kurt Othberg, Director and Research Geologist
Idaho Geological Survey 208-885-7991 firstname.lastname@example.org.