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Bankruptcy Puts Mining Operation In Question


Molycorp’s bankruptcy filing wasn’t entirely unexpected.

But, it’s ultimate impact on the Mountain Pass mine – an hour south of Las Vegas and the only U.S. producer of rare-earth elements - is unclear.

The company filed for bankruptcy last month after diving prices for its products made its $1.7 billion debt unsupportable.

Now, Molycorp is choosing bankruptcy financing from lender Oaktree Capital Group over a competing offer from secured bondholders.

So, what’s the future of the rare-earth mine? And its employees, many of whom commute from the Las Vegas region.

Tim Heffernan, an independent journalist, has written several stories about Molycorp for High Country News.

He told KNPR's State of Nevada that a loan secured Thursday will keep the mine open for now.

"It does remain open as a functional mine for now," Heffernan said.

However, closing the mine continues to be an option for the company.

Rare-earth elements are 17 elements that have distinct properties used in modern technology from making your cell phone vibrate with a call comes in to helping run wind turbines.

However, the price for those elements has collapsed leaving Molycorp struggling. Heffernan believes Molycorp had to know that the bubble on the rare-earth elements market was about to burst but they had to move forward with projects that were already in the works.

"Machinary was in motion and no body could afford to get out," Heffernan said. 

Here are links to his work for High Country News:

The U.S.'s only rare-earth mine files for bankruptcy - June 30, 2015

Why rare-earth mining in the West is a bust- June 16, 2015

Tim Heffernan, High Country News

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