A “ballpark” figure for Nevada’s 2019 gold production is 4.86 million ounces, down 13 percent from 2018, said the new Nevada Division of Minerals administrator, Michael Visher, but final figures were still to come.
He said the biggest factors which have led to lower gold production were the shift to underground mining from surface mining at Cortez operations and lower production on the Carlin Trend, some of that likely due to the large pit-wall failure at Gold Quarry.
Both mines are Nevada Gold Mines sites, with Barrick Gold Corp. as operator and 61.5 percent owner of the joint venture. Newmont Mining Corp. owns the remaining 38.5 percent.
Visher said the swing from open pits to underground mines also has impacted gold production figures over the years, with the highest gold production in Nevada of 8.8 million ounces in 1998, “and that was when gold was $294 an ounce.” Gold is around $1,700 an ounce now, but costs are much higher.
The volume of gold produced is lower from underground production because there is not as much material mined as there is with open pits, and underground ore is usually refractory, so it is more costly to process, Visher said.
“Unless we hear of some new surface discovery, there will be more mined from underground. The volume will go down and there will be increased costs to mine,” he said in a phone interview.
The former deputy administrator took over the top position with the retirement of Richard Perry on April 1. Visher has been with the division 15 and a half years, starting out as chief of the abandoned mines program before becoming the deputy in 2012. The Nevada Commission on Mineral Resources appointed Visher to his new post.
He said his goal as administrator is to “act on the success we’ve had and the momentum we had under Rich Perry and to expand the agency’s success.” He also said a current goal is to “navigate through the new normal we are living through right now.”
Perry prepared for a changeover and is still available for questions, the new administrator said.
Visher also reported he promoted Robert Ghiglieri, who has been chief of the abandoned mines program since 2013, to deputy administrator.
Agency employees, except Visher, have been working from home as much as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Carson City office has been closed to the public.
Instruction on YouTube
The division staff normally goes to schools to talk about minerals and present educational activities to the children, but that isn’t possible now, so Visher said the staff has been producing short educational videos that teachers can use in their online classes and parents can access for their children.
Those shorts on YouTube include: Rock Cycle, for first-graders and up, as well as preschoolers; Igneous Rocks, for third and fourth grades and beyond, which includes an edible geology activity; Some Rocks, for 3-year-olds and up; and Talking With Fossils, which features reading a book and looking at fossils, for age 3 and up.
There also are videos on Geologic History, Evolution and Geologic History of Nevada, for third graders and up, a two-parter on what is a mineral and how minerals are used in society; and one on Weathering and Erosion, for second grade and up, which includes a worksheet.
“A lot of these are engaging enough that parents will come away with information as well,” Visher said.
Visher reported the videos have received good feedback. The videos can be found at https://data-ndom.opendata.arcgis.com/pages/education-and-outreach.
“Part of our mandate is education about the value of minerals in society,” Visher said. “We’re a small agency, so we wear a lot of hats.”
The Nevada Division of Minerals provides annual figures on gold and silver production and all the other minerals produced in the state, and the division publishes those figures and compiled listings on all the operations in the yearly Major Mines of Nevada booklet. The publication is put together in partnership with the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology.
Visher said the Major Mines of Nevada booklet should be out in July.
The booklet includes information about lithium production in Nevada. There are several lithium projects currently in development, such as the Lithium Nevada Corp.’s Thacker Pass project in northern Humboldt County and a pilot plant in Clayton Valley that would use an extraction technology that uses less water.
“Any way we can increase production of lithium in the state will be great,” Visher said.
According to a Pure Energy Minerals Ltd. news release last November, the company’s strategic partner, Schlumberger Technology Corp, was designing the Clayton Valley pilot plant to process lithium-bearing brines.
There also is the Rhyolite Ridge project near Silver Peak, which would be an open pit clay mine for lithium and boron production. Ioneer Ltd. completed a feasibility study in April that shows the project is viable and has the potential for a 26-year mine life.
The company’s managing director, Bernard Rowe, said in an April 30 announcement that the feasibility study “confirms our longstanding belief that Rhyolite Ridge is a world-class asset that will be transformational for ioneer and its shareholders.”
The only current lithium production in Nevada comes from the Silver Peak operation owned by Albemarle Corp. in Esmeralda County. Silver Peak extracts lithium from brine.
No rare earths are mined in Nevada, but the Mountain Pass Mine owned by MP Materials is just over the southern Nevada border in California, and the company is looking at developing a processing facility at the site, rather than processing the concentrate in China, Visher said.
The agency also publishes an annual update on the abandoned mine hazards that are fixed each year in the state. That study usually comes out in mid-summer, but with the coronavirus restrictions, the staff cannot go into the field, so they may do this sooner, Visher said.
Financing for the Nevada Division of Minerals mainly comes from mining claim fees, and mining claims are up 4 percent from last year, likely because gold prices have gone up, Visher said.
“Having said that, we don’t know what to expect in the next fiscal year,” he said.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management tracks the claims.
Visher said the larger mining companies staking and renewing mining claims would likely continue to do so, but he is not sure how smaller mining companies and junior exploration companies will fare until the economy improves from the coronavirus impact.
Large companies file about half the claims, and the other half are from the independent and the smaller companies, he said.