Recent revisions of phosphate rock reserves and resources: a critique
- 1Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Delft Technical Universtity, Stevinweg 1, 2628 CN Delft, the Netherlands
- 2Department of Human Geography, Planning and International Development Studies, Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam, Plantage Muidergracht 14, 1018 TV Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Abstract. Phosphate rock (PR) is a finite mineral indispensable for fertilizer production, while P (phosphorus) is a major pollutant if applied or discharged in excess, causing widespread eutrophication (Carpenter and Bennet, 2011). High-grade PR is obtained from deposits which took millions of years to form and which are gradually being depleted. Recently, global PR reserves as reported by the US Geological Survey (USGS) have increased from 16 000 Mt PR in 2010 to 65 000 Mt PR in 2011 and further to 67 000 Mt PR in 2014. The majority of this 4-fold increase is based on a 2010 report by the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), which increased Moroccan reserves from 5700 Mt PR as reported by USGS, to 51 000 Mt PR, reported as upgraded ("beneficiated") concentrate. The report also increased global resources from 163 000 Mt PR reported in the literature in 1989 to 290 000 Mt PR. IFDC used a simplified resource terminology which does not use the underlying thresholds for reserves and resources used in the USGS classification. IFDC proposed that agreement should be reached on PR resource terminology which should be as simple as possible. The report has profoundly influenced the PR scarcity debate, shifting the emphasis from resource scarcity to the pollution angle of the phosphate problem. In view of the high dependence of food production on PR and the importance of data on PR reserves and resources for scientific analysis and policy making, data on PR deposits should be transparent, comparable, reliable, and credible. We analyze (i) how IFDC's simplified terminology compares to international best practice in resource classification and whether it is likely to yield data that meet these requirements, (ii) whether the difference in volume between raw PR ore and upgraded PR concentrate is sufficiently noted in the literature, and (iii) whether the IFDC report presents an accurate picture of PR reserves and resources. We conclude that, while there is a global development toward common criteria in resource reporting, IFDC's lack of clear thresholds for reserves and resources contravenes this and that the vagueness of its definitions for reserves and resources may allow deposits to be termed reserves or resources which could not be recognized as such under leading mineral resource classifications. The difference between PR ore and PR concentrate is barely noted in the literature, causing pervasive confusion and a significant degree of error in many assessments. Finally, we find that the report most likely presents an inflated picture of global reserves, in particular those of Morocco, where the aggregate resources of three of the four Moroccan/Western Saharan major PR deposits appear to have been simply converted to "reserves". Following the release of the IFDC report, various analysts have concluded or suggested that the available PR deposits or even the currently reported resources would likely last several thousands of years at current consumption rates. However, the data on which these statements were based do not appear to warrant such a conclusion. Further research is required as to the quantity of PR deposits and their viability for future extraction, using uniform and transparent classification terminology.