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War has torn the sleepy mountain nation of Afghanistan for the past three decades. Now, however, its fortune may change, thanks to the discovery of a mineral deposit wth over $1T USD worth of lithium and other mineral deposits.  (Source: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times)

Lithium is commonly used in batteries (electric vehicles, electronics) and pharmaceuticals.  (Source: About.com)

A map of Afghanistan's resouces, along with their value.  (Source: The New York Times)
Military deployment and close political ties may give U.S. ideal opportunity to harvest valuable resource

Lithium deposits worldwide may be sufficient to eventually sustain the demands of an electric-vehicle driven world and modern electronics, but in the near-term, demand-driven shortages loom.  Fortunately, the U.S. has made a pivotal discovery that may help to keep costs in the U.S. down.

According to a report in 
The New York Times, senior American government officials are quoted as saying that a massive mineral deposit has been discovered in Afghanistan which holds $1T USD in lithium, iron, copper, cobalt, and gold deposits. 

The lithium deposits are expected to exceed those of Bolivia, the world's largest current producer of lithium.  Bolivia contains over 9 million tons of extractable lithium, according to recent estimates.  Lithium prices currently are at around $6,700 USD per ton and have doubled over the last few years.  That places the net value of the lithium deposits alone at around $60B-$100B USD.  An internal Pentagon memo states that Afghanistan may become the "Saudi Arabia of lithium."

The iron deposits are estimated to be worth $420.9B USD and the copper deposits are estimated to be worth $274B USD.  A full breakdown (with the notable absence of lithium) is available here.

The U.S. currently occupies Afghanistan, and this spring U.S. President Barack Obama started the deployment of 30,000 extra troops to the region.  The U.S. troops are safeguarding the fledgling Afghani government from the Taliban, a Sunni Islamist insurgency movement that would prefer to see the country returned to a non-democratic religious rule.

That close relationship may allows the U.S. to harvest the resources quite affordably.  And it should allow U.S. corporations to easily enter the country and pursue development of the resources.

U.S. officials recently briefed Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan government on the discovery.  Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, in a Saturday interview stated, "There is stunning potential here.  There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant."

The discovery could provide for a great boost to Afghanistan's standard of living.  Currently, the entire nation only makes $12B USD a year, a figure largely derived from Opium drug trafficking and foreign aid.

However, threats to the U.S. and Afghanistan harvesting the deposit remain.  Paul A. Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of defense for business and leader of the Pentagon team, says that while Afghanistan has a national mineral mining law, this law has never received a serious challenge before.  He states, "No one has tested that law; no one knows how it will stand up in a fight between the central government and the provinces."

Also, he's worried about possible environmental impact of the mining, stating, "The big question is, can this be developed in a responsible way, in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible?  No one knows how this will work."

Afghanistan has little current mining capacity.  States Jack Medlin, a geologist in theUnited States Geological Survey’s international affairs program, "This is a country that has no mining culture.  They’ve had some small artisanal mines, but now there could be some very, very large mines that will require more than just a gold pan."

Even if the U.S. can handle environmental and legal concerns, there's the issue of the Taliban trying to take the deposits by force.  And there's the problem of growing tensions between the U.S. government and Karzai, following suggestions by U.S. officials that Karzai may have committed election fraud in his most recent election.

Regardless, the deposits appear valuable enough that it's likely that the U.S. and Afghani governments will be compelled to cooperate to begin their extraction.

Interest in possible mineral deposits was triggered by 1980s era Soviet charts which suggested mineral deposits in Afghanistan's mountainous terrain.  The U.S. Geological Survey investigated the region, first using advanced gravity and magnetic measuring equipment attached to an old Navy Orion P-3 aircraft and then with a using an old British bomber equipped with instruments that offered a three-dimensional profile of mineral deposits below the earth’s surface.

Most of the deposits are located in central and northern Afghanistan.  The main lithium deposit is located in Afghanistan's central Ghazni Province.  Many other deposits look to hold rare earth metals, which are at present largely controlled by China.  There also appears to be large deposits of niobium, a rare, soft, grey, ductile transition metal used in superconductors.



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RE: Rewrite...
By JasonMick (blog) on 6/14/2010 12:12:47 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
And allow me to apologize in advance if it came off as a bit snippy....but I just found your paragraph to be misleading


No, I absolutely appreciate the comment. The New York Times article was rather vague on the exact amount that these resources were worth, individually. I made a mistake implying the lithium alone was worth $1T USD, but I assure you that this morning I have been working to fact check exactly what it WAS worth.

I have since done some research and come up with what I feel to be a reasonable estimate of the lithium deposits' worth, given the premise that they exceed Bolivia's deposits, lithium's current price for ton, and the total magnitude of Bolivia's deposits.

I hope this new info provides people with a better estimate than The New York Times's vague numbers. That said, I do appreciate the work the reporters at the Times did to gather up info from the Pentagon and break this story.

And as an aside to the other people responding to the original op, when this kind of info is raised, I would appreciate if you tone down the replies and give me time to fix the material. At the time this issue was raised, I was on the road, and I just now was able to fix it... Often times I'm working to collect more info to supplement the limited info I initially had available...


RE: Rewrite...
By Suntan on 6/14/2010 1:24:51 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
And as an aside to the other people responding to the original op, when this kind of info is raised, I would appreciate if you tone down the replies and give me time to fix the material. At the time this issue was raised, I was on the road, and I just now was able to fix it... Often times I'm working to collect more info to supplement the limited info I initially had available...


Yeah see, in the real world, "reporters" with integrity wait until they actually have all the facts to publish their articles. They don't admonish their readers for pointing out simple mistakes instead of passing it along to the writer in secret.

Get your info straight the first time, then we wouldn't complain. After all, you just copied everything from the NY Times for your initial post. I seemed to have been able to understand it better while reading it on my phone in the crapper than you did, and I wasn't even worried about copying it as an article of my own.

Lastly, one or two articles would just be considered sloppy, but pretty much every one of your postings bends the reality of the story to increase its sensationalist quotent.

-Suntan


RE: Rewrite...
By JasonMick (blog) on 6/14/2010 1:38:38 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
Yeah see, in the real world, "reporters" with integrity wait until they actually have all the facts to publish their articles. They don't admonish their readers for pointing out simple mistakes instead of passing it along to the writer in secret.


Again, you are entirely wrong. READ below please. I did not "admonish" the original op, I thanked them. There's no secrecy.

quote:
Get your info straight the first time, then we wouldn't complain. After all, you just copied everything from the NY Times for your initial post. I seemed to have been able to understand it better while reading it on my phone in the crapper than you did, and I wasn't even worried about copying it as an article of my own.


Obviously not, as your first post indicated. You seemed to indicate that the Afghanis knew previously where these resources were or their extent, which is wholly wrong. Also, the NYT piece did NOT put a monetary value on the lithium deposit or even an estimate of how many tons it might be (other than "more than Bolivia"). It did do this for other minerals, but there was definite info missing from that piece.

Fortunately I dug up this info and provided an estimate. You're welcome.

quote:
Lastly, one or two articles would just be considered sloppy, but pretty much every one of your postings bends the reality of the story to increase its sensationalist quotent.


Again, this is a legitimate news story. I don't see you having pointed out any factual errors, other than the one originally voiced by the op, which has been corrected.

What exactly is sensational about it?

Can you voice a single legitimate complaint, or are you going to merely write more long vague accusations?

It seems to me that you are seeking attention, so I suppose I'm making a mistake in humoring your behavior.


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