NV mining industry to spend hundreds of millions in 2018 on expansion
ELKO, Nev. — Northern Nevada’s largest gold mining companies remain bullish on their operations in Northern Nevada for 2018 and beyond.
Newmont Mining Corp. and Barrick Gold North America continue to pour hundreds of millions of dollars of development capital into surface and underground mining operations in Nevada.
The price of gold rose from $1,158 an ounce in January of 2017 to just under $1,350 an ounce in January of the new year — a figure that justifies continued investment in both companies’ Northern Nevada operations.
Nigel Bain, executive director of Barrick’s U.S. operations, says the company has several major developments and infrastructure improvements slated for 2018.
CORTEZ HILLS UNDERGROUND EXPANSION
Workers on Barrick’s Deep South project will continue developing deeper access declines underneath the company’s existing underground mining activities at Cortez Hills, part of the Cortez mine area, which is the largest gold mining complex in the state of Nevada.
Barrick is driving the new declines to access additional reserves estimated at roughly 1.9 million proven and probable reserves. Workers have yet to breach existing underground workings, and once they do, crews will begin installing conveyor systems and other infrastructure to help modernize the flow of rock movement out the mine, says Bain.
As crews delve deeper, they’ll encounter the water table and will need to perform dewatering work. The plan is to move water into rapid infiltration basins in the Crescent, Grass and Pine valley areas.
The Deep South zone is expected to add average production of 300,000 ounces per year, Bain says. Production is tentatively set for 2022.
TURQUOISE RIDGE UNDERGROUND EXPANSION
Crews started performing earthwork this year for a new shaft that accomplishes a number of goals at the underground mine that’s a joint venture between Barrick (75 percent) and Newmont (25 percent).
“We are following the ore body down deeper and deeper as it plunges to the northeast, and that shaft moves access of the ore body closer to where we currently are working,” Bain says. “The shaft will be 3,150 feet deep. It helps with ventilation and improves material flow and access in and out of the mine — having another access point is crucial.”
That’s pretty deep for hard rock mining operations in the Silver State. Current shaft depths at Turquoise Ridge are approximately 2,000 feet. It’s also much deeper than access shafts at Barrick’s Meikle and Newmont’s large Leeville underground mines. Total cost for the project is between $300 million-$325 million.
Bain says Barrick also is looking a different ways to modernize the rock haulage system at Turquoise Ridge by using less diesel equipment underground and more cost-effective electric haulage methods to lower its energy consumption at the site.
The new access shaft and modernization efforts underway at Turquoise Ridge are expected to increase production at the mine to roughly 500,000 ounces per year. Turquoise Ridge produced a record 355,000 ounces of gold in 2016.
Work will continue in 2018 to develop the Goldrush underground prospect. Exploration drilling continues in the area, and Barrick will be driving access near the ore bodies for further exploration and close-space drilling and sampling of the ore body.
The company also is working on an environmental impact statement and feasibility study.
“It’s a very sensitive area, with great cultural significant to the Western Shoshone Tribe, so we want to minimize the overall impact of the portal at the site,” Bain says. “We are engineering it to make special efforts to minimize any surface disturbance.”
Goldrush has a pre-feasibility value of nearly $1 billion, Bain says. Production is expected to start as early as 2021 and in earnest by 2023 and could add approximately 450,000 ounces of gold to the company’s annual production totals.
Other challenges for the company — and other hard rock miners — includes moving operations into the 21st century. That includes increased use of technology and automation, and gathering and using big data to better manage operations.
“Nevada has always been a large part of Barrick’s operations, and we are very focused on its growth,” Bain says. “Based on work done in 2017, we see a very good future for Barrick in Nevada for a number of decades.”
Newmont Mining Outlook
Newmont remains just as sharply focused on its Northern Nevada assets. The company’s massive Carlin operations consists of three surface and four underground mines. Carlin produced 944,000 ounces of gold for the company in 2016. Newmont has invested in underground equipment at Carlin to better access to higher-grade ore, which will result in greater mine throughput and increased value, the company says.
In addition to developing its existing mines and processing plants in 2018, Newmont also expects to see production from its Northwest Exodus underground extension at the Carlin complex. The mine has been designed for autonomous operation — which is rapidly changing 21st century mining practices.
At its Twin Creeks mine near Battle Mountain, where the chemistry of ore grades varies considerably, Newmont is implementing technology to provide a snapshot of technical possibilities for that and other mines in the company’s portfolio. At its Long Canyon mine midway between Wells and Wendover, Newmont has moved back into exploration mode to identify the next generation of mineralized trends.
At the company’s Phoenix mine, which produces both gold and copper, Newmont has reconfigured mine plans and sequencing to improve value and focus on gold zones in 2018. The company plans shift to higher-grade copper zones beginning in 2020.
“The North America region as a whole is undergoing significant positive change as we develop the deposits of the future and integrate technology to allow us to operate more safely and productively,” says Andrew Woodley, senior vice president of North America for Newmont Mining Corp. “Taken together it shows the continued strength of our North America region, and we look forward to moving some of these inventory ounces into reserves and resources as we go forward into 2018.”
Rob Sabo is a Reno-based freelance writer. He can be reached for comment and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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