In 1980, the United States produced about 54 million tons of phosphate rock, or about 40 percent of the world's production, of which a substantial amount was exported, both as phosphate rock and as chemical fertilizer. During the last decade, predictions have been made that easily ruinable, low-cost reserves of phosphate rock would be exhausted, and that by the end of this century, instead of being a major exporter of phosphate rock, the United States might become a net importer. Most analysts today, however, think that exports will indeed decline in the next one or two decades, but that resources of phosphate are sufficient to supply domestic needs for a long time into the future.
What will happen in the future depends on the actual availability of low-cost phosphate rock reserves in the United States and in the world. A realistic understanding of future phosphate rock reserves is dependent on an accurate assessment, now, of national phosphate rock resources. Many different estimates of resources exist; none of them alike. The detailed analysis of past resource estimates presented in this report indicates that the estimates differ more in what is being estimated than in how much is thought to exist.
The phosphate rock resource classification used herein is based on the two fundamental aspects of a mineral resource(l) the degree of certainty of existence and (2) the feasibility of economic recovery. The comparison of past estimates (including all available company data), combined with the writers' personal knowledge, indicates that 17 billion metric tons of identified, recoverable phosphate rock exist in the United States, of which about 7 billion metric tons are thought to be economic or marginally economic. The remaining 10 billion metric tons, mostly in the Northwestern phosphate district of Idaho, are considered to be subeconomic, ruinable when some increase in the price of phosphate occurs.
More than 16 billion metric tons probably exist in the southeastern Coastal Plain phosphate province, principally in Florida and North Carolina and offshore in the shallow Atlantic Ocean from North Carolina to southern Florida. This resource is considered to be hypothetical because it is based on geologic inference combined with sparse drilling data. Total resources of phosphate rock in the United States are sufficient to supply domestic demands for the foreseeable future, provided that drilling is done to confirm hypothetical resources and the chemistry of the deposits is determined. Mining and beneficiation techniques will have to be modified or improved, and new techniques will have to be developed so that these deposits can be profitably exploited.