HIBBING — Iron Range residents have been mining iron ore on the Mesabi Range since 1892. And before that, iron ore was mined from the Soudan Underground Mine near Tower since 1884.
And Peter Clevenstine believes they could be doing so for another hundred years. Clevenstine, manager of engineering and mineral development for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Division of Land & Minerals, spoke Thursday about iron ore resources to area residents at a Lunch and Learn session put on by the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce and the Society of Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration.
The iron mining business is booming in Minnesota. In 2001, the state took in $10 million in mineral revenue for the first time. Last year, the state collected just more than $50 million in mineral income. About 98 percent of it came from iron ore.
“Will resources continue to support this higher level of activity?” he asked. “… I think we could end it right now and say ‘yes, there’s more ore and things are looking very bright for the communities.’”
The Minnesota mining business is benefiting from three factors — an increase in world demand, industry consolidation and the Mesabi Range’s competitive advantage.
Iron ore is a growth industry due to increased world demand, and iron ore prices have done better than other metals, Clevenstine said.
Consolidation in the steel making and iron ore producers has also benefited mining in Minnesota.
In 2002, two steelmakers — U.S. Steel and Bethlehem Steel — made up 25 percent of the United States steel market.
By 2012, U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal made up 75 percent of the steelmaking market with only four other companies in the market.
The same trend is seen among the pellet producers.
In 2002, the top two producers were U.S. Steel and Cliffs Natural Resources, with other smaller producers in the market.
In 2012, only three companies were producing pellets in the United States.
This concentration of production helped the pellet producers to weather the 2009 financial crisis.
They were able to adjust production instead of producing to survive, and as a result bounced back quickly, Clevenstine said.
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