Iran possessed extensive and varied mineral resources. Iran was the third-largest producer of gypsum, had the second-largest natural gas reserves and the fifth-largest crude oil reserves, and was the fourth-largest producer of petroleum, which contributed 85% of export earnings in 2002. Of Iran's 2,700 mines, most were privately owned and 2,000 were active, producing 42 minerals—65% produced building and construction materials, and 20% were stone quarries. The mining sector accounted for 24% of Iran's industrial output of $15.4 billion, and mineral and metal exports amounted to $645 million. Mineral exports included chromite, refined sulfur, lead, zinc, copper, and decorative stone. Iron, steel, and chemicals were leading export commodities. The petroleum and petrochemicals industries were the top industries in 2002, and the production of cement and other construction materials ranked fourth.
Production of gypsum in 2000 (from the Semnan region, east of Tehran) was 11 million tons, up from 8.57 in 1996; iron ore and concentrate, 5.4 million tons (6.3 in 1997 and 4.8 in 1996); copper ore and concentrate (metal content), 258,000 tons (269,000 in 1999 and 228,000 in 1996); bauxite (gross weight), 400,000 tons (912,451 in 1999 and 150,000 in 1997); chromite concentrate (metal content), 137,000 tons, up from 63,800 in 1996; lead concentrate, 15,000 tons, down from 18,200 in 1997 (most of the lead and zinc was produced from the Angouran, Iranhouh, and Kushk mines); zinc, 85,000 tons, up from 76,500 in 1997; manganese, 32,000 tons; molybdenum, 1,600 tons, up from 600 in 1997; sulfur, 1.35 million tons, up from 900,000 in 1997; and marble (blocks, crushed, and slabs), 7.66 million tons, up from 5 million tons in 1997 (the Tangeh Hanna E Nyriz Mine, in Fars, had an 8 million ton per year capacity). Iran also produced orpiment and realgar arsenic concentrates, gold (most as a coproduct of the Sar Cheshmeh copper complex operations), silver, asbestos, barite, borax, hydraulic cement, clays (bentonite, industrial, and kaolin), diatomite, feldspar, fluorspar, turquoise, industrial or glass sand (quartzite and silica), lime, magnesite, nitrogen (of ammonia and urea), perlite, natural ocher and iron oxide mineral pigments, pumice and related volcanic materials, salt, caustic soda, stone (including granite, marble, travertine, dolomite, and limestone), celestite strontium, natural sulfates (aluminum potassium sulfate and sodium sulfate), and talc. Iran also may have produced ferromanganese, ferromolybdenum, nepheline syenite, phosphate rock, selenium, shell, vermiculite, and zeolite, and had the capacity to mine onyx.
Major iron and copper deposits were found in Kerman Province, and Iran also had deposits of antimony and mica. There was new exploration for copper, gold, and zinc in Zarshuran; for gold on the northwestern Agh Darreh prospect and in Baluchestan; and for copper in the northeastern Halak Abad prospect, the northwestern Hazy Kandy prospect, and in the Sistan-va-Baluchestan Province. An evaluation was being conducted of the porphyry copper deposit of Jabal-Barez region, in Hormozgan Province.
In 2000, the government merged the Ministry of Mines and Metals and the Ministry of Industry to form the Ministry of Industry and Mines. For its third five-year economic development plan (2000–2005), the government proposed to privatize 40 mineral industry companies affiliated with the Ministry of Industry and Mines, having already divested itself of numerous smaller mineral enterprises. Since 1998, the government has allowed foreign investment in solid mineral exploration joint ventures, and, in 1999, showcased 102 mining and mineral-processing projects at the First International Mines and Metals Investment Forum. There was also anticipation that the United States government, having eased restrictions on the sale of Iranian products, might allow its Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 to lapse in 2001, thus permitting additional investment in Iran's minerals sector. The Iranian constitution prohibited foreign control over natural resources. To diversify and expand the economy in the wake of declining oil prices in the late 1990s, the government sought to increase metal production.