Skip to main content

ASO News

Eastern Kingbird by Mike Benkis


Precious Metals Mining in Nebraska: Niobium or Opprobrium?

With apologies to the Sixties-era rock band, Rare Earth (metals) may soon be found near Elk Creek, Nebraska. So, “Get Ready,” ’cause here they come.

NioCorp Developments, based in Centennial, Colorado, confirmed earlier reports that the mining concern will break ground on what could become the nation’s second-most-productive source of the precious rare earth metal, niobium, as soon as research verifies that the Elk Creek Critical Minerals Project is economically viable and financing is finalized. Scandium and titanium also will be mined and refined at Elk Creek. The company has been clearing brush and trees from the proposed site to prepare the land for extensive grading.

Once completed, the facility will become “North America’s only niobium / scandium / titanium advanced materials manufacturing facility co-located with an underground mine,” NioCorp notes on its website. 

Why is this important?

From a strategic standpoint, niobium is one of only a few metals that the National Defense Stockpile purchases. Currently, the U.S. imports all of the niobium it uses from either Canada or Brazil, the only two countries now producing this rare earth metal. “You probably don’t look at cars like I do,” NioCorp CEO Mark Smith told WOWT’s Brian Mastre. “I see cars. I see niobium. Every single car that has a steel chassis has it. It makes the car lighter, which means the car can go further on a tank of gas. It’s part of the environment movement. Scandium does for aluminum what niobium does for steel. You add just a little bit to aluminum and it makes it stronger and lighter.”

What could this mean for Nebraska?

Estimates indicate that the project could bring 450 full-time jobs to Southeast Nebraska and generate as many as 2,000 additional support positions. Company officials stress that they plan to “hire local” and support area businesses during and after construction. KETV reports that the total value of the project could reach $3 billion, with the state benefiting from millions of dollars of new tax revenues. The precious metals mined are expected to advance lower carbon economy goals and enable defense and aerospace technologies. 

But what about the environment?

NioCorp’s website says that, “The Elk Creek Project has been designed to minimize the environmental footprint of niobium, scandium and titanium production.” CEO Smith emphasized to WOWT that, “This isn’t just talk. We started as in the health, safety and environmental world. So, to us, operating a business in the right way keeps people safe and the environment as unharmed as possible. That’s the way we do business.”

The jury is out

Ethically managed businesses always try to balance economic and environmental considerations. But, over time, the environment always has the final say. Stewards of the environment typically play the long game. Nebraskans would do well to remember the inscription carved over the main entrance to their Capitol: “The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness in the Citizen.”


Partners in Conservation