Critical Minerals in Wyoming

What are Critical Minerals

Critical minerals are minerals, elements, or materials—excluding energy minerals—that are essential to the economic and national security of the United States. These minerals have supply chains that are vulnerable to disruptions, and are characterized as serving an essential function in the manufacturing of crucial products, the absence of which would have significant consequences for the economy and national security.

link to periodic table
Periodic table with critical minerals identified.

Most of the minerals and materials considered critical are either not produced domestically in large enough quantities to meet demand, or are supplied entirely by foreign sources. The supply risk for many of these commodities is greater if global production is limited to a small number of countries, particularly if they are or may become unable or unwilling to continue supplying these materials to the U.S. Other countries have slight differences in how they define critical minerals and which materials are included on their lists (e.g., Canada includes copper).

Further, many of the critical minerals don’t occur naturally in high enough concentrations to be economical to mine as a primary product, so are typically only mined as by-products, co-products, or left in tailings or waste rock.

link to Critical Minerals Report
Critical Minerals in Wyoming, Summary Report, 2022.

The use of the word “mineral” in regards to critical minerals has the potential to be confusing, as the definition above differs from the “traditional” use of this word in geology. A mineral, geologically-speaking, is defined as a naturally-occurring solid substance or material that has a well-defined chemical composition and specific crystalline structure that makes each one unique. When discussing economic geology, mining, or resources, “mineral” more generally refers to the material of interest. This can include materials that are neither solid nor crystalline, such as coal or oil, or simply individual elements and compounds, such as rare earth elements or platinum group elements.

Current List of Critical Minerals 

In 2018, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) identified 33 individual minerals and materials and two mineral groups (rare earth and platinum group elements) that fit the definition above of a critical mineral (Federal Register 2018-10667). A revised list was released in 2022, which expanded the list of minerals to 50 individual commodities (Federal Register 2022-04027). As criticality of a commodity is subject to change based on varying global situations, the critical minerals list will be revisited and updated every three years.

In the revised 2022 list, elements in the rare earth and platinum groups were expanded to individual elements, rather than element groups. Nickel and zinc were added, while helium, potash, rhenium, strontium, and uranium were removed. While uranium is still of great strategic importance to the U.S., it is defined as a fuel mineral and therefore cannot be included on the list. Currently, uranium falls under the U.S. Department of Energy’s jurisdiction (U.S. DOE, 2020; Public Law 116-260).

Barite, a critical mineral used in hydrocarbon production. 

In 2023, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released a list of Critical Minerals for Energy, which were selected under slightly different criteria than the DOI’s list of Critical Minerals. These are non-fuel minerals, materials, or other substances that serve an essential role in various energy technologies and have at-risk supply chains. Materials not already on the DOI list include copper, electrical steel, silicon, and silicon carbide. 

Critical minerals—most of which are actually individual elements—play an important and often overlooked role in society, in part because many are so commonplace and ubiquitous that we may not recognize their importance and prevalence. These minerals and elements are key components in consumer electronics like cellphones, laptops, and TVs; for medical research and imaging; in renewable energy production, such as permanent magnets in wind turbines, photovoltaic cells in solar panels, and nuclear fuel and control rods; in everyday products, like aluminum cans, ceramics, and glass; in the defense industry; and in countless other applications and technologies.

Many critical minerals are known to occur throughout Wyoming, some of which have been historically mined, are currently being produced, or are being actively explored for. More information on critical minerals research at the WSGS, critical mineral potential in Wyoming, and other critical minerals can be accessed from the menu in the upper left, or from the “Critical Minerals” dropdown bar at the top of the page. For spatial information on critical mineral systems in Wyoming, as well as reports and data related to critical minerals, visit the Mineral Resources map

Critical Minerals Research at the WSGS

The WSGS has been participating in the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI) since 2019. This program is a partnership between the USGS and state geological surveys that aims to develop a better understanding of the geologic framework of the United States, particularly in areas that have the potential to host critical minerals. Earth MRI provides funding to state geological surveys to produce new geologic mapping and conducting geochemical and geochronological reconnaissance projects, as well as acquiring new, high-resolution geophysical and LiDAR data.  

Through this program, the WSGS has received funding for six projects to date as well as contracting services and partnership with the USGS for our state-funded South Pass – Granite Mountains geophysical survey. These Earth MRI-funded projects include: a geochemical reconnaissance and geologic mapping project in the central Laramie Mountains; geochemical and geochronological reconnaissance in the Medicine Bow Mountains; geochemical reconnaissance of the Western Phosphate Field; radiometric and magnetic airborne geophysical survey of the Medicine Bow Mountains; radiometric and magnetic airborne geophysical survey of the Sierra Madre; and an electromagnetic geophysical survey across the Cheyenne Belt. 

As part of our work in the Earth MRI program, the WSGS has worked with the USGS to develop a geodatabase of potential mineral systems across the state. Mineral systems are a key part of understanding the critical mineral potential of a given area, especially if multiple systems have overlapped in a single region. A mineral system is a group of deposit types that occur within specific geologic and tectonic settings. For example, the mineral system type “Mafic Magmatic” includes a variety of deposit models, such as PGE+Ni+Cu-enriched mafic dikes or layered mafic intrusions. Each of these deposit types have characteristic elements associated with them; these include the both principal commodities, which are the primary economic element, and the critical elements, which are usually by-products, co-products, or trace components not recovered at all. A “mineral systems approach” aims to understand how mineralization in an area was shaped by its geologic and tectonic history, rather than studying individual deposits alone. By studying the regional geology and bringing together as many pieces of the story as possible, geologists can begin to understand how to characterize the mineralization with greater context that can guide and refine future exploration.  

The WSGS has also conducted a number of in-house projects investigating critical mineral potential in various geologic environments across the state. Recent examples include a series of studies on heavy mineral sandstones in the Upper Cretaceous units and in the Cambrian Flathead sandstone and other conglomeratic rocks around the state, and an investigation of REE-potential in the Kemmerer coal field. Older publications include the Report of Investigations No. 71, which is a comprehensive report of past WSGS work as well as additional data gathered in 2015. The goal for RI-71 was to provide further geological analysis, beyond our previous Report of Investigations No. 65, on potential deposits and to characterize and catalog these deposits found throughout Wyoming.

Active critical minerals projects at the WSGS are listed on our WSGS Projects page, under the “About” dropdown.   

WSGS Publications Related to Critical Minerals


Patty Webber,