I became the new editor of the Mining Quarterly in February, and was plunged right into the thick of things reporting on the back and forth battles between Barrick and Newmont as the two behemoths rumbled along a road that soon led to the decision to form a joint venture called Nevada Gold Mines.
It seems that gold has always been in the background of my life. I was born and raised in the Golden State. Then I moved to northcentral Montana, and for many years I was the editor and then the owner of a small-town weekly newspaper in the heart of the Golden Triangle. The region got its name because it is one of the top wheat producing areas in the country. (By the way, the town where I owned the newspaper just got its first brewery: Golden Triangle Brew Co.)
Then life brought me here to Elko, and now I am surrounded by gold that is not just metaphorical or the color of the plants in the fields. Here there is a lot of real gold in the land.
I started working at the Elko Daily Free Press and the Mining Quarterly on Feb. 18, and on that very day the rumor arrived in the newsroom that the Barrick was talking about a hostile takeover of Newmont. One week later, on Feb. 25, the hostile takeover became official.
There was a lot to learn and plenty of news to sort through as the story developed.
Two weeks later, on March 11, Barrick Chief Executive Officer Mark Bristow was in Elko to announce that Barrick and Newmont had agreed to form a joint venture for their mines in Nevada. When I sat down with Bristow for an interview, I thanked him for providing me with big news to cover as I got started in my new job.
There has been plenty to report as the development of the joint venture has progressed, but as I have gotten rolling at the Mining Quarterly and have visited some mines, I have found that there is a vast array of interesting things to learn and write about. I did not know much about mines before this. I drove by and looked over at the big open pit on the edge of Butte, Montana, many times, but other than that, there were no mines around me where I lived in California and Montana.
Mining involves an encyclopedic variety of knowledge and sciences. Sort of like the widening range between the growing size of the mining machinery and the shrinking size of the gold that is harvested, there is a huge range of topics to cover. Here are just a few short notes on some mining topics I have started to learn a little bit about:
Geology: For multitudes of years, geological events have shaped the land and created the resources we have in Nevada today.
Chemistry: In my story on the Phoenix Mine, I give a short summary of the series of steps that are used to extract copper sheets from waste soil. Chemists must have put some work into figuring all that out.
Mechanics and engineering: There is all kinds of incredibly engineered equipment used in mining.
Math: There is a lot of math and a lot of numbers involved in mining, including the number of tons of dirt moved every day, the small amount of gold in each ton, and what the value of the gold adds up to each day.
History: There have been significant changes from the days when mining companies sent workers into extremely dangerous conditions, and from the days of the gold rush, to today’s mining.
Community relationships: Mines are small communities with hundreds of people all working together at one site with one goal. And the mines and the mine employees show a lot of support for their surrounding communities.
Politics: There are taxes and regulations on mines – but how big should the taxes be and what should the regulations be?
The environment: Mines change the environment. What steps should be taken to mitigate the environmental impacts and protect communities in the area?
Safety: Mines have become much safer over the years, but it is still an inherently dangerous industry, and every mine continually emphasizes safety and safety improvements. Safety involves technology and psychology. There are the annual MSHA refreshers and signs all over the place. What are the best ways to continually motivate safe behaviors?
The relationship of mining and the press: Over the years, by reporting on mining accidents and on the actions of mining companies, the press has helped inspire the societal changes that led to mines becoming safer and more worker-friendly.
Economics: Mines are businesses, and profitability for the shareholders is the bottom line. But the businesses are also a huge part of the local communities. The impacts on the workers and the local communities are entered into the equation as business decisions are made – but are they always given enough consideration? This has been a topic of discussion as the Barrick – Newmont takeover/joint venture discussions have progressed.
Futurology: What will the future bring? Advancing technology makes it possible to extract value in new ways. And changing technology in other industries can increase the value of particular resources, leading to new mining opportunities. For example, renewable energy and electric vehicles are increasing the demand for vanadium and lithium.
And what about artificial intelligence, robotics, and autonomous equipment? For now, the equipment is helping to keep people safer. For example, a miner may be in a control room operating a drill instead of being in a mine shaft.
But what if the equipment goes completely autonomous? This may be a ways down the road, but maybe someday a robot reporter will be interviewing an autonomous haul truck and an autonomous drill for a story. And maybe then all the humans will be at a party.
Hey! That doesn’t sound so bad!
In the meantime, there is a lot of mining to be done, and there are a lot of mining stories to write.