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Bureau of Mines / Minerals yearbook: Metals and minerals 1978-79
Year 1978-79, Volume 1 (1978-1979)

Peterson, E. C.; Collins, C. T.
Iron ore,   pp. 433-456 PDF (2.4 MB)


Page 433

Iron Ore 
By E. C. Peterson1 and C. T. Collins2 
 World production of iron ore in 1978 was estimateJ at 841 million tons,3
slightly higher than the level of 1977. In 1979, production was estimated
at 887 million tons. World trade was estimated at 335 million tons in 1978
and 370 million tons in 1979, of which about 275 million tons and 300 mulion
tons, respectively, were oceanborne. Continued large stocks of ore holdings
by producers and consumers, due to weak demand for iron ore in the world
steelproducing countries, held production and trade levels down to modest
gains during this period. 
 Production of iron ore in the United States returned to normal in 1978 following
lengthy strikes by workers at major producing facilities in the Lake Superior
district in 1977. Strikes in eastern Canada in 1978 reduced Canadian production
and exports compared with those of 1977. This created unexpected markets
for other exporters and was probably responsible for sizable gains in exports
by Sweden, Brazil, and Liberia in 1978. In 1979, Canadian mining operations
returned to normal and production increased about 40% over that of the previous
year. The leading producing countries continued to be the U.S.S.R., Australia,
Brazil, and the United States, in that order. Australia remained the leading
exporter of iron ore, followed by Brazil and Canada in 1979. 
 Iron ore prices increased slightly in 1978, and prices continued to rise
slowly on the order of 5% to 10% in 1979. Significant increases of over 30%
occurred in some countries in 1979, but the average increase in value of
iron ore shipments was probably about 10%. Railway and lake freight rates
continued to rise in the United States. Ocean freight rates were at 1977
levels during most of 1978 but increased sharply in the latter part of that
year and early in 1979. The increases were due to the high demand for bulk
and combination bulk 
carriers in the grain and petroleum trades. 
 World output of iron ore pellets was estimated at 180 million tons in 1978
and about 190 million tons in 1979. Production capacity continued to increase,
as new plants or expansion projects were completed in the United States,
Brazil, Chile, the United Kingdom, and several other countries. World production
capacity for pellets was expected to be about 280 million tons annually by
the end of 1980. Directreduction plants were completed or under construction
in several countries. Estimated world direct-reduction capacity in 1978 totaled
about 12.5 million tons annually, but owing to lack of demand, operating
problems, and other factors, production may have been less than half of total
capacity. 
 The slow iron ore market and uncertainty about its recovery led to the closure
of several mines in the United States and Canada, and investment in new production
facilities for iron ore remained low worldwide. 
 In technology, a project for the production of low-Btu gas from coal, for
use in pelletizing, was undertaken by the Bureau of Mines in cooperation
with the Department of Energy (DOE) and 17 private companies. The Bureau's
goal is to determine whether pelletizing with a coal gas of low heating value
is technically feasible and practical, while DOE is interested in gasifier
operations and technology. The substitution of coal for natural gas or fuel
oil in iron ore pelletizing was also being studied by the Bureau and private
companies. 
 The second United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on
iron ore was held in Geneva in December 1978. Representatives of more than
40 nations attended. Agreement was reached on the establishment of an annual
statistical program, in which member governments would be requested to provide
statistics on iron ore from official sources. However, there was no 
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