Natural gas sometimes has been considered secondary to oil as a source of energy. But use of natural gas in the United States is growing because it is increasingly seen as an alternative to oil. As the oil reserves in parts of the world are being depleted, the availability of a viable alternative such as natural gas is becoming increasingly important.

Over the past decade, the combination of directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing has allowed access to large volumes of shale gas that were previously economically unfeasible to produce. The production of natural gas from shale formations has rejuvenated the natural gas industry in the United States, resulting in the latest energy boom.

From iPads to electric vehicles, from wind turbines to advanced weapons, rare earth elements (REE) have become critical materials for the systems we rely on to power our homes and our automobiles, to compute, communicate and keep the peace. While the sluggish global economy has damped down commodity demand across the board, the pace of technology – the engine of 21st century growth – continues to accelerate, creating increasing need for the unique physical, chemical and light-emitting properties possessed by rare earths.

Ontario’s mining and exploration industries face an exciting future of unprecedented exploration and development, after a decade that saw phenomenal growth followed by a recession-impelled plunge in production and prices, according to a new report by economists at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

With the global demand for natural resource commodities expected to intensify in the years ahead, Ontario’s wealth of minerals – a diverse mix that includes metals such as gold, nickel, copper and platinum group metals (PGM) as well as non-metallic minerals such as diamonds and structural materials – puts the province on the leading edge of what many analysts believe will be a strong if volatile market over the long term.

The idea of using autonomous vehicles is not new. The U.S. military pioneered the use of unmanned vehicles and aircraft in remote and dangerous battle zones, and uses autonomous vehicles in training. Now, private industry is putting autonomous technology to work to not only take advantage of the safety benefits, but to realize gains in efficiency and productivity.

The stakes are high. Today’s mines feature mammoth trucks, scoops, drag lines, drilling and explosions – carried out in rugged, remote locations. It may look chaotic, but beneath the surface, today’s high-tech mining operations are like a carefully choreographed ballet where fleets of multimillion dollar, multiton, high-tech vehicles and equipment are dispatched and managed by a mix of autonomous and semiautonomous systems.

This will be the year of the local in Latin America. Local issues will overtake headline risk issues, such as taxation frameworks, nationalization and licensing, to become the predominant factor for the development and assessment of any project, as national governments move to centralize a bigger share of profits, while at the same time they decentralize responsibility and authority over the extractive sector. From 2013 on, and more than ever in the past, the key question for companies looking at the region will definitively be: can we manage the local political, social and security issues, in a manner that is consistent with international best-practice standards and legal and reputational regulations, to ensure the feasibility of a given project? This will not be entirely new, as certainly no other activity is as local as the extractives: companies need to go where the resources are located. However, local feasibility will become the critical factor as efforts to attract investment – from Mexico all the way to Chile and Argentina – begin to pay off in some countries but directly clash with the regulatory changes that have been common in the region over the last couple of years.

While much of the world’s developed economies continue to struggle out of their economic malaise, most Latin American economies continue to shine. This is thanks in no small part to good fiscal management – which has taken advantage of sustained worldwide demand for natural resource commodities – and a shift in trade patterns from traditional trading partners, such as the United States, to new partners, such as China. Despite its remarkable resilience and sustained growth, Latin America continues to lag behind the OECD economies in terms of meeting critical infrastructure needs. Absent considerable infrastructure development, the region will fail to fully capitalize on available markets. Despite some progress, Latin America has much to build and develop in order to seize the full potential of its resources and become a major global economic player.

Gold looks like it has been going sideways since last year, but at the time of this writing, late December 2012, gold will be up about 12 percent in 2012.

Gold has been one of the best performing assets during this period.

The economic boom experienced in the Bakken and Marcellus shale regions has found its way to the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas, as well.

In January, the San Antonio Express cited data from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis that showed an average increase in per capita income of 13.62 percent between 2008 and 2011 in counties with Eagle Ford Shale wells permitted or in production.

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