Gold Mining in the 21st Century:
How Does Open Pit Gold Mining Really Work?
Gold is one of the most precious and highly sought of all commodities. Indeed, gold has been treasured by people and civilizations around the globe for hundreds of years. Throughout most of recorded history, gold was "mined" in one of two ways.
First, gold literally was mined. Mines were built into the earth through which miners would descend to extract gold ore from the ground.
Second, gold ore was panned from rivers. The two most significant "Gold Rushes" in North America involved the panning of gold. Both the California Gold Rush and the Alaska Gold Rush featured speculators heading into these states to extract gold from rivers and streams through the process of panning.
In recent years, a newer and controversial method of mining for gold has developed. This methodology is known as open pit mining. As the name suggests, in open pit mining there is not vertically descending mineshaft involved in the process. Rather, layers of earth are scrapped away -- forming a deep, deep pit -- gold ore being extracted as the operations more downward (again, layer after layer).
As referenced, open pit mining has been a controversial process. With that said, it is also a fact that many people do not fully understand the actual processes involved in the open pit mining for gold ore.
Before the process of removing earth even commences, the latest technology is employed (including satellite surveys and geochemistry) to determine where gold ore deposits actually exist. As a result, the operators of open pit gold mines do not go on "fishing expeditions;" they do not tear through the soil on a speculative venture to possibly find gold ore.
Following the identification of ore deposits, a very precise computer design is created to limit the area of the open pit gold ore mine significantly. In other words, through the use of these computer designs, the area which will be subjected to open pit mining is as contained as physically possible.
At this juncture, holes are drilled into the ground. Blasting charges are dropped into these bores and the open pit mining process itself is commenced. Each step of the way, a close analysis is made of the gold ore that is being extracted to determine the grade of the ore. Depending on the grade of the gold ore, it will be subjected to one or another type of processing before it ends up on the market for sale.
Once the open pit mining process is concluded, once all of the gold ore that reasonably can be extracted is removed, the reclamation process commences. In most countries around the world, including the United States, companies that operate open pit mines are obliged to return the land to its original state (or as close thereto as is practicable). Most industry analysts believe that a typical reclamation process following the use of an open pit mine requires an investment by gold mining companies in an amount somewhere between $2,000 and $10,000 per acre.