ELKO — A positive regulatory environment, plentiful resources and high enough metal prices encouraged progress in the mining industry in 2018, and Nevada participated in — if not led — a trend toward projects being permitted, explored and further developed.
The year launched from a platform of gold prices hovering at about $1,300 per ounce in late 2017.
Mining in Nevada blazed into 2018 with the designation of being one of the world’s top jurisdictions, per a Fraser Institute survey of mining companies. The state ranked high based on geologic attractiveness and effect of government policy on exploration investment.
Backing up Nevada’s status as a top mining region was the 2017 production report released this spring. Results revealed that Nevada is the top gold-producing state in the United States, with mines generating 5.64 million ounces in 2017, up about 3 percent from the previous year. The state’s No. 1 export — gold — climbed to a total value of $6.29 billion in 2017.
The state also produces other metals including silver and copper, and industrial minerals including aggregates, barite, diatomite, gypsum, lime and lithium. A late 2017 executive order by President Donald Trump prioritized production of critical minerals — such as barite, lithium and magnesium — to reduce the country’s vulnerability to disruption of supplies. The order is expected to be a boon to domestic industrial mineral production.
With sufficient gold prices and a favorable regulatory environment, 2018 saw a slight rebound in gold exploration and progress on new and continuing projects. The momentum can be seen in the top stories covered by Mining Quarterly in the past year, and in an analysis of the state’s gold mining history in a three-part series published this summer.
In spring, Barrick Gold Corp. revealed plans to build what could be the state’s newest underground mine at the Cortez Hills operations outside of Crescent Valley, chasing the Goldrush deposit. The Cortez District has witnessed mining since the late 1800s, and technological advancements and expanding resources could guide production for decades into the future.
Other early 2018 news included Premier Gold Mine Ltd. announcing intentions to begin underground development at the Cove deposit south of Battle Mountain. The company expanded exploration opportunities on the McCoy/Cove property in an agreement with Barrick and also plans to develop an underground at the South Arturo Mine near Goldstrike.
McEwen Mining Inc. continued development of the Gold Bar project, the state’s newest greenfield open pit heap leach operation in Eureka County. The company expects to begin production in the first quarter of 2019. Early 2018 estimates listed McEwen’s total capital investment in the project to be $80 million. Once in operation, the mine is expected to create about 120 full-time jobs.
The year also opened with reports of former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s visit to Coeur Mining Inc.’s Rochester Mine to announce the agency’s decision not to issue additional regulations for mines’ financial responsibility requirements. He also visited the Anaconda Copper Mine in Yerington to sign an agreement that averted the site from being listed as a Superfund national priority and formalized a cleanup plan. Later in the year, Pruitt resigned from the cabinet under scrutiny for questionable spending on security and travel.
Summertime brought reports of Barrick breaking ground on a third shaft at its Turquoise Ridge Joint Venture with Newmont Gold Corp. The project is expected to increase efficiency and production at the underground gold mine. The third shaft represents Barrick’s largest capital investment at present in Nevada at $300 million. It is expected to be completed in 2022 and extend mine life to 2035.
Fall ushered in the restart of underground construction at Nevada Copper Corp.’s Pumpkin Hollow surface and underground mine in Yerington. The company expects to begin production in late 2019.
Fiore Gold Ltd. restarted the Pan Mine in 2017, an open pit gold mine southwest of Eureka, and received permitting approval to mine the nearby Gold Rock project. The company hopes that adding operating projects to its portfolio will propel it to the next level of ownership and production.
Lithium Nevada progressed on permitting its Thacker Pass project to mine lithium from the hills outside of Orovada. The capital investment for the mine and processing plant is estimated at $1.7 billion, and once in operation as early as 2022, the mine could employ about 290 full-time workers.
Gold Resource Corp. obtained regulatory approval for the Isabella Pearl open pit heap leach gold project in Mineral County. The project has the potential to double the company’s gold production and increase revenue.
Also this year, Newmont Gold Corp. celebrated 40 years of land management through Elko Land & Livestock Co., added to the mine life of Northwest Exodus, and commenced commercial production at the Twin Creeks underground mine.
Other landmarks include Newmont celebrating one year of commercial production at Long Canyon with better-than-expected results and plans to start a second phase. Kinross Gold Corp. marked a milestone at its Round Mountain Mine in Smokey Valley, celebrating 15 million ounces of gold poured since the mine began production in 1985.
Meanwhile, several companies revised operations plans to continue mining into the future. SSR Mining Inc. added 15 years to its projected life of mine at its open pit Marigold Mine near Valmy. Coeur Mining Inc. plans to expand its Rochester silver mine outside of Lovelock to continue production into the mid-2030s. Barrick proposed amendments to change its plan of operations at Cortez Hills, adding 12 years to the mine life and providing access to additional resources.
Mining’s related businesses flourished locally in 2018. Elko welcomed the groundbreaking of Komatsu Equipment Co., and the company is in the process of building its largest service center in North America. In Winnemucca, Cyanco started construction of an expansion to its plant to meet growing demand for sodium cyanide, and Shell Lubricants added onto its distribution center to better serve the mining industry. NPK Construction Equipment Inc. opened a service location in Elko, and the city hosted the 33rd annual Elko Mining Expo with hundreds of vendors and visitors.
Miners merged or made acquisitions in 2018. Hecla Mining Co. bought Klondex Mines Ltd. for $153 million and 75 million shares, and the company now owns the high-grade Fire Creek, Midas and Hollister gold mines in Nevada. Also, Barrick made headlines this year for declaring its intention to merge with African miner Randgold Resources Ltd., and the deal is expected to close Jan. 1.
Not all the mining news in 2018 was positive, however, as the industry mourned the loss of two hardrock miners this year. Small Mine Development reported a fatal accident at Jerritt Canyon Gold’s Lee Smith Mine on Oct. 25: Powderman Jason M. Holman, 42, died when the back/roof fell while he was loading explosives. Newmont Mining Corp. reported a fatality that occurred Nov. 11 at its Pete Bajo underground mine: Underground technician/mucker operator Romney Natapu, 45, died when he was run over by the loader he was operating, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s preliminary report available on msha.gov. The fatal accidents were the 14th and 16th deaths to occur in the metal/nonmetal mining industry nationwide in 2018.
Additionally, wall slides at open pits at both Newmont’s Gold Quarry pit and Kinross’ Round Mountain presented some operational challenges. For Newmont, the slide meant suspending production in that area of the open pit and related underground Chukar mine, and revising guidance. Newmont also experienced a water surge in its Pete Bajo mine that temporarily slowed production.
Gold prices are nearing the end of the year slightly lower than in 2017, at about $1,280 as of Dec. 28, after dipping closer to $1,200 earlier in 2018.
Yet analysts on kitco.com suggest that some investors expect the upward momentum of gold prices to continue through 2019.