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Gold mining is defined as the extraction of gold resources by mining. Gold is one of the rarest elements in the world, making up between 0.001 and 0.006 parts per million of the earth’s crust. Like all mining, Gold mining industries also have several common issues like human rights and environmental issues. Health and safety risks are much higher in case of smaller mines with less regulations.
Historically, mining gold from alluvial deposits used manual separation processes, such as gold panning. Gold panning today is primarily a reconstructing task. Gold chunks are found in areas where ore deposits and crumbling have occurred—for example, in streams, rivers, ravines, and lake areas. All you need is a gold pan, a shovel, and a lot of patience.
Ten biggest gold mines in the world
1. Muruntau gold mine, Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan significantly increased its output last year, from 94.6 tonnes to 101.6 tonnes, the first time it’s exceeded 100 tonnes in one year. The Central Asian country is home to Muruntau, the world’s largest open-pit gold mine by area. The mine itself is roughly 3.3 km long, 2.5 km wide and 600 m deep, affording it a massive presence in the desert. The project, which also contains huge deposits of turquoise and arsenic, sits atop what many geologists believe could be the biggest gold reserve in the world.
The Muruntau mine in Uzbekistan is the largest gold mine in the world in terms of production. In a single year, Muruntau produces over 2 million ounces of gold. Located in the Qizilqum Desert of Uzbekistan, it is the world’s biggest open pit mine, hence making its physical size just as impressive as its material output.
2.Olimpiada gold mine, Russia
A huge majority of Europe’s gold comes from Russia, which has been increasing its production every year since 2010. In 2019, Russia surpassed Australia to become the world’s second largest producer. Olimpiada gold mine, located in the Krasnoyarsk region of Eastern Siberia, Russia, is owned and operated by Polyus Gold.
This open-pit mine is mined by Polyus. To give you an idea of the amount of gold produced by this mine in particular, Polyus is Russia’s biggest gold producer. The extracted ore is processed at two nearby plants with a combined annual capacity of 13 million tonnes.
It’s the world’s fourth biggest gold producer and the gold that they are able to retrieve from Olimpiada accounts for almost half of Polyus’s gold production. There is thought to be around 30 million ounces of gold in the mine, with an annual production of 1,200 koz.
First production at Olimpiada gold mine occurred in 1996. The mine produced 1.3Moz of gold in 2018.
3.Grasberg gold mine, Indonesia
Grasberg gold mine in the Papua province of Indonesia was discovered in 1988. Indonesia is home to the second largest gold mine and world’s highest, Grasberg, which is operated by PT Freeport Indonesia and has as many as 20,000 workers. The South Pacific country is responsible for mining around 3% of global supply.
The Grasberg mining operation consists of the Grasberg open-pit and four underground mines, namely DOZ, DMLZ, Big Gossan, and Grasberg Block Cave. Whilst gold production has been slowly decreasing over the past twenty years with the output being 3,500 koz in 2001 compared to 848 koz in 2021, it is still doing relatively well to place fifth on this list.
The mine produced 2.69 million ounces (Moz) of gold in 2018, milling 178,100t of ore a day. Ongoing expansions at the mine are expected to ramp up the production to 240,000t per day by 2022.
4.Carlin Trend gold mine, USA
Gold output in the U.S. fell below 200 tonnes for the first time in several years, continuing a decline that began in 2019. Close to 80% of the gold produced in the U.S. is from Nevada. The Carlin mine complex produced 927,000oz of gold in 2018, compared to 972,000oz of gold in 2017. The mine produces around 1,665 koz of gold per year.
Newmont started open-pit mining at Carlin in 1965, while underground mining was started in 1994. The open-pit mines include the Carlin, Emigrant, Gold Quarry, and Silverstar pits. Firstly, it is a combination of mines along an extremely lengthy belt in Nevada, spanning around 56 km long and 8 km wide, allowing it to span an impressive distance.
However, the kind of gold found in the mine is known as invisible gold. Invisible gold is that the gold is only discoverable through chemical analysis due to the microscopic nature of it. Regardless of the fact that it would appear that there is no gold present.
5.Lihir gold mine, Papua New Guinea
Lihir gold mine, located 900km north-east of Port Moresby in the New Ireland Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG), has been in production since 1997. Lihir mine had in-situ gold reserves of 24Moz (330Mt grading 2.3g/t gold). Lihir island is interesting due to the fact that it is located on a volcanic crater. The mine is an open pit mine which has two overlapping mines that produced 772 koz in 2020.
The mine is expected to produce 1Moz of gold in 2020. Most of the ore extracted from Lihir is treated through pressure oxidation and conventional leaching. Newcrest Mining currently owns and operates the Lihir gold mine.
6.Cadia East, Australia
Australia has now posted eight consecutive years of production increases. The minerals industry produces over half of Australia’s total exports and generates about 8% of GDP. Higher production at several mines and the ramp up of projects such as Mount Morgans and Cadia Valley contributed to increased production.
Cadia East finds itself in 6th position on the list of biggest gold mines in the world. This mine system consists of the Cadia East Underground Panel Cave Mine as well as the Ridgeway Underground Mine, and has an annual production of around 823 koz.
The mine contained a gold reserve of 12.35Moz including 1.3Moz of gold contained in stockpiles as of December 2018. It produced 709,000oz of gold.
7.Cortez gold mine
Cortez gold mine, located 100km south-west of Elko, found in North America and it is located in Nevada and operated by Barrick Gold. Production from Cortez was started in 1969.
It contains 8.7Moz (145Mt grading 1.87g/t gold) of contained gold, including 1.13Moz of proven and 7.59Moz of probable reserves. It has a split ownership, as Barrick Gold Corporation owns 61.5% and Newmont Corporation owns 38.5%. Active mining has occurred in the Cortez Hills since 1862. However, until the 1940s, silver was the primary production. Today, the Cortez mine averages 799 koz of gold per year.
The Cortez Hills underground mine is operated by twin declines. Underhand cut-and-fill mining method is used to exploit the breccia ore. Barrick Gold produced 1.7Moz of gold from Cortez mine.
8.Pueblo Viejo gold mine, Dominican Republic
Pueblo Viejo mine, located roughly 100km north-west of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, is owned and operated by company known as Pueblo Viejo Dominican Corporation (PVDC), which is a joint venture consisting of Barrick Gold and Newmont Goldcorp, who have a 60% to 40% split respectively. In 2020, this open-pit mine produced 903 koz of gold, an impressive output.
The open-pit mine exploits gold resources from two major oxide deposits, namely Monte Negro and Moore, as well as from three other small deposits. It produced 581,000oz of gold in 2018. The gold mine is estimated to be more than 25 years of life time. Its contained gold reserves of 10.92Moz (127.9Mt grading 2.66/t gold).
9.South Deep Gold Mine, South Africa
10.Boddington Gold Mine, Western Australia
The Boddington Gold Mine (BGM), Australia’s largest gold-producing mine, is located 130km south-east of Perth in Western Australia. It commenced open-pit operations in 1987 by extracting the shallow oxide ores up to 70m-deep below surface. It was put under care and maintenance in 2001.
The BGM is located within the Saddleback greenstone belt (SGB), a fault-bounded sliver of Archaean volcanic and shallow level intrusive rocks, surrounded by granitic and gneissic rocks.
The mine contained a gold reserve of 12.35Moz including 1.3Moz of gold contained in stockpiles as of December 2018. It produced 709,000oz of gold in 2018.
Ore containing copper and gold is crushed to a coarse size before the ore is sent to the treatment plant via a conveyor. At the treatment plant, the ore is crushed further and ground finely to slurry.
The ore is initially processed by flotation, which produces copper / gold concentrate with 18% copper.
Newmont invested approximately $500m in a significant expansion of the mine’s south pit in 2015, which is expected to extend the life of the mine until 2025.
Stages in the life cycle of a mining Process
Gold Mine Exploration
- Gold mine exploration is challenging and complex.
- It requires significant time, financial resources and expertise in many disciplines.
- Once basic facts about the local geology and potentially viable deposits are accepted, the gold ore body can be customized in detail and its viability estimated.
- The likelihood of a discovery leading to a mine being developed is very low – less than 0.1% of prospected sites will lead to a productive mine.
- And only 10% of global gold deposits contain sufficient gold to justify further development.
Gold Mine Development
- Gold mine development is the second stage of the gold mining process.
- The step involves the planning and construction of the mine and associated infrastructure.
- Construction may not be confined to the mine itself.
- In addition to potential processing capacity, mining companies frequently construct local infrastructure and amenities to support both logistical and operational needs, as well as employee and community welfare.
- The expansion provides much long-term support for local communities, and one of the key initial ways gold supports wider socio-economic development.
Gold Mining Operation
- The gold mining operation stage represents the productive life of a gold mine, during which ore is extracted and processed into gold.
- Processing gold involves transforming rock and ore into a metallic alloy of substantial purity – known as doré – typically containing between 60-90% gold.
- During its life, a number of factors – such as the price of gold or input costs – will affect which areas of an ore body are deemed profitable (economic) to mine.
- In times of higher prices, mining low-grade ore will become profitable as the higher price offsets the increased cost of extracting and milling greater volumes.
- When the price is lower or costs rise, it might only prove profitable to extract and process higher-grade ores.
- Mine plans are regularly re-assessed as market conditions change, new technical information comes to light, and process and technological enhancements are considered.
- Mines are now designed with the technologies in mind and electrification, digitisation and automation are becoming increasingly common elements reshaping gold mine operations and processes.
Gold Mine Closure and Decommissioning
- Gold mine closure is a complex commitment. After the mine has been closed, the mining company should also be required to monitor the mine site for a long time.
- After a mine has come to an end operation, possibly because the ore body is exhausted or the remaining deposit becomes unprofitable to mining, work then focuses on its downgrading, deconstructing and restoration of the land in which it was situated.
Gold Mine Reclamation and Post-Closure
- For a period of five to ten years or more, Gold mining industries assume responsibility for the management of a site long after a mine has closed and been disassembled.
- Over this time, the land will be rehabilitated – cleansed and revegetated – and the mining company will work to ensure the mine’s land reclamation and return to long-term environmental stability are successful.
Gold mining includes the stages of exploration, drilling, geological study, financing, development, extraction, initial refining, and delivery of gold to a refinery.
South Africa and the US each hold the of them world’s ten largest gold mines, while Indonesia, Russia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, and the Dominican Republic house the remaining. South Deep gold mine in South Africa has the largest gold deposits in the world. Mining Technology lists the top ten biggest gold mines in the world based on contained gold reserves.
The price of gold in 2021 began at around $1,866 per oz., highlighting how lucrative the production can be. In a year, roughly 2,500 to 3,000 tonnes of gold is mined, which is well over a million ounces of gold, to give you an idea of the scale of the industry.
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