By Valentin V. Tepordei
Sand and gravel, as one of the most accessible natural resources, has been used since the earliest days of civilization mostly as a construction material. At the beginning of the 20th century, the U.S. production of construction sand and gravel, the sand and gravel used mostly for construction purposes, was relatively small and its uses limited. Today, annual sand and gravel production tonnage ranks second in the nonfuel minerals industry after crushed stone, and sand and gravel is the only mineral commodity produced in all 50 States. The United States is, in general, self-sufficient in sand and gravel, producing enough to meet all domestic needs and to be a small net exporter mainly to consumption points along the United States-Canadian and United States-Mexican borders.
The demand for construction sand and gravel is determined mostly by the level of construction activity and therefore the demand for construction materials. U.S. production of construction sand and gravel recorded a significant growth in the last 40 years, from 320 million metric tons in 1950 to 810 million metric tons in 1971 and 826 million metric tons in 1990. The highest level of production was reached in 1978--874 million metric tons. Between 1950 and 1966, mainly because of the construction of the Interstate Highway System, the growth in the production of construction sand and gravel was almost continuous, paralleling the increased demand for construction aggregates. Following the reduction in the volume of work in the Interstate Highway Program in the late 1960's, the construction sand and gravel industry became more sensitive to the ups and downs of the economy. The 1974-75 and 1982 recessions are reflected by low levels of production of construction sand and gravel in those years. Future demand for construction sand and gravel will continue to be dependent mostly on the growth of construction activity.
Construction sand and gravel is a high-volume, low-value commodity. The industry is highly competitive and is characterized by thousands of operations serving local or regional markets. Production costs vary widely depending on geographic location, the nature of the deposit, and the number and type of products produced. Constant dollar unit values have been quite steady during the past 20 years. As a result of rising costs of labor, energy, and mining and processing equipment, the average unit price of construction sand and gravel increased from $1.10 per metric ton, f.o.b. plant, in 1970 to $3.57 in 1990. However, the unit price in constant 1982 dollars fluctuated between $2.64 and $2.71 per metric ton for the same period. Increased productivity achieved through increased use of automation and more efficient equipment was mainly responsible for maintaining the prices at this level. Constant dollar prices are expected to rise in the future because of decreased deposit quality and more stringent environmental and land use regulations.
Transportation is a major factor in the delivered price of construction sand and gravel. The cost of moving construction sand and gravel from the plant to the market often exceeds the sales price of the product at the plant. Because of the high cost of transportation, construction sand and gravel continues to be marketed locally. Economies of scale, which might be realized if fewer, larger operations served larger marketing areas, would probably not offset the increased transportation costs. Truck haulage is the main form of transportation used in the construction sand and gravel industry. Rail and water transportation combined account for about 10% to 20% of total construction sand and gravel shipments.
The industry also faces increasing competition from crushed stone that can substitute for sand and gravel in most of its applications. Stone operations are generally longer lived, can afford greater capital investment for higher efficiency, and are often located where competing land use pressures are less severe. The topographically rugged stone-bearing areas are usually less desirable for construction purposes than sand-and-gravel-bearing areas, which are generally flatter.
Although construction sand and gravel resources are widespread and in adequate supply nationally, local shortages exist. Land use conflicts and environmental problems associated with rapid urban expansion are major factors contributing to these shortages. Demand pressures, land use regulations, and the cost of meeting environmental and reclamation requirements are factors that will cause a rising price trend. Larger operations with more efficient equipment, more automation, and better planning and design will be the trend of the industry in the future. This will permit increased use of less accessible and lower quality deposits and will keep prices at competitive levels.
Construction sand and gravel remains an abundant material, and, despite environmental, zoning, and regulatory restrictions, no major shortages at the national level are expected to occur in the future. At the same time, shortages in and near urban and industrialized areas, which usually represent major markets, are expected to continue to increase.
(Note: Some tables require an 8 point font with a landscape orientation to be printed correctly)
- Table 1. (TXT) -- U.S. historical salient construction sand and gravel statistics
- Table 2. (TXT) -- Construction sand and gravel sold or used in the United States, by geographic region
- Table 3. (TXT) -- Construction sand and gravel sold or used by producers in the United States, by State
- Table 4. (TXT) -- Construction sand and gravel sold or used in the United States, by major use, 1971-73
- Table 5. (TXT) -- Construction sand and gravel sold or used in the United States, by major use, 1974-77
- Table 6. (TXT) -- Construction sand and gravel sold or used in the United States, by major use, 1978-80 and 1982
- Table 7. (TXT) -- Construction sand and gravel sold or used in the United States, by major use, 1984 and 1986
- Table 8. (TXT) -- Construction sand and gravel sold or used in the United States, by major use, 1988 and 1990
- Table 9. (TXT) -- Transportation of construction sand and gravel in the United States to site of first sale or use
- Table 10. (TXT) -- Construction sand and gravel production in the United States, by size of operation
- Table 11. (TXT) -- U.S. exports of construction sand and gravel, 1971-75 and 1978
- Table 12. (TXT) -- U.S. exports of construction sand and gravel, by continent, 1976-90
- Table 13. (TXT) -- U.S. imports for consumption of construction sand and gravel, 1971-75
- Table 14. (TXT) -- U.S. imports for consumption of construction sand and gravel, by continent, 1976-90