Good News for Exploration DrillingToday’s diverse and expanding technology-driven environment is dependent upon rare earth minerals. Automobiles, telecommunications, defense systems, computer parts, lasers and superconductors are but a few of the applications that rely on rare earths for their existence. Although actually more abundant than many familiar industrial metals, rare earths have much less tendency to become concentrated in exploitable ore deposits. Until the 1960s, most rare earths came from India, Brazil and South Africa. Today, 95 percent of the world’s rare earths are sourced from China.
China has been able to keep rare earth prices artificially low because – to put it politely – the mines are state-run. But it is expected that the Chinese will – sooner rather than later – begin to cut back on exports of its rare earth supplies. And China is not exactly the poster child for global generosity – a rare earth embargo on its part would make the 1973-era OPEC boys look like rascally imps. (It would be a remission not to mention that no small number of the rare earth mines in China are illegal by recognized standards, and these illicit mining operations often release toxic wastes into local water supplies.)
So we’re going to be looking at either no rare earths from China or extremely small amounts of very expensive rare earths. In order to shed our dependence on China for these precious resources, we’ll need to find our own and become self-sufficient. That means exploration drilling operations will need to be established out west where the rare earths exist. Idaho, Montana and California contain considerable deposits, and we need to get moving on this.
And besides the drilling that needs to be done, once the ores reach the surface, they need to be processed. We don’t have the necessary production facilities here, so those will need to be built – meaning still more work for drilling contractors.
Construction Employment in DeclineThe construction unemployment rate jumped to 27.1 percent and construction employment dropped to a 14-year low as another 64,000 construction workers lost jobs in February, according to recently released federal employment figures. The economy would have added jobs, had it not been for the declines in construction employment for the third time in 4 months, the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) notes.
“While the broader economy may be recovering, the construction industry continues to decline at an alarming rate,” says Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. Simonson notes that industry’s job losses in February were consistent with the prior 6 months and not mainly attributable to exceptionally bad weather. He adds that construction unemployment is at the highest level recorded since the federal government began making the data available in 1976. And he adds that nonresidential construction experienced significantly more job losses than the residential sector in February, 53,500 jobs lost vs. 10,600.
Overall declines in construction activity, however, have cost 2.2 million construction workers their jobs since industry employment peaked in June 2006, a 28 percent drop, Simonson notes. Construction has accounted for 1,936,000 of the 8,425,000 nonfarm payroll job losses since the recession began in December 2007, or 23 percent of the total, even thought the industry employs only 4.3 percent of all workers.
The construction economist notes that job losses appeared widespread across construction sectors, with nonresidential specialty trade contractors experiencing the largest monthly decline of 1.7 percent. He says that even heavy and civil engineering construction, the sector most likely to be boosted by stimulus-funded projects, experienced a 1.1 percent monthly employment decline.
“The industry has gone from being a symptom of our economic problems to a victim of them,” says Stephen Sandherr, the AGC’s chief executive officer. He notes that while the current Jobs Bill prevents declines in federal highway funding, it does little to boost overall infrastructure investments. “Until we see meaningful increases in demand for new infrastructure and private sector construction projects, our economy will continue to suffer.”
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Geothermal Short CourseThe National Ground Water Association is presenting its “Geothermal Mud Drilling and Grouting School” April 16 in Indianapolis. The program, put on with the help of Baroid Industrial Drilling Products, Laibe Corp. and Preferred Pump & Equipment, addresses the immediate grouting and mud skills required for those engaged in both geothermal and traditional water well construction. Attendees will learn the skills and competencies needed for vertical closed-loop installations, as well as protection of the aquifer. The class, which will be mostly outdoors and hands-on, costs $95 for members, and lunch is provided. Get all the details at www.ngwa.org.
We've Got MailMr. Jim Olsztynski,
I am responding to your article in the February issue of National Driller magazine (“The Customer Is Not Always Right. What Then?”). I am a 34-year-old male that started out in the shop at Gus Pech Mfg. five years ago. My CEO offered me a position in sales not too long ago, and let me tell you – what a learning experience! While reading your article, I had to laugh a little inside due to the fact I believe I found one of your 2-percenters. There was nothing I could do – direct, indirect, nice and soft or firm conversation – to please this person. I basically ended it with a “Thank you for calling and discussing your situation (which really had nothing to do with our range of operations) and wish you good fortune in the future,” and click. The good side of it – I don’t have to deal with it anymore; the bad side of it – I feel like I failed because I did not resolve the situation, but after reading your article it made me feel a whole lot better. It put things more into perspective, and I realized that you just can’t please some people. It made me stop worrying about trying to fix an impossible situation and focus on the rest of the 98 percent. So basically, thank you for sharing your knowledge and your writings, and I look forward to more.
Gus Pech Mfg. Co.
Le Mars, Iowa