Hard rock mining cracks $10 billion mark in 2012 | NevadaAppeal.com
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Hard rock mining cracks $10 billion mark in 2012

Rob Sabo
rsabo@nnbw.biz

Nevada mineral production in 2012 for the first time exceeded $10 billion in gross value.

Hard rock mining production is expected to crack the $10 billion threshold once state production and taxation totals are finalized and published by the Division of Minerals and the Department of Taxation later this year. In 2011, the value of precious metals mined in the state was $9.556 billion, with gold and silver comprising $8.761 billion of that figure, reports the Department of Taxation in its 2011-2012 Net Proceeds of Minerals bulletin.

The gross value of gold, silver, copper and molybdenum mined in the state in 2012 makes Nevada the highest-ranking production state in the U.S. by a large margin, says Alan Coyner, administrator for the Division of Minerals. Nevada topped the 2012 U.S. Geological Survey’s minerals commodity summary report with 14 percent of the U.S. minerals production total, followed by Arizona at 11 percent and Minnesota at 6.9 percent.

“That excludes oil and gas and geothermal; it’s just at hard rock mining,” Coyner says.

Nevada gold miners produced 5,594,224 ounces of gold in 2012, the Division of Minerals reports. That’s up slightly from the 5,536,482 ounces produced in 2011 and up 3.5 percent from the 2010 total.

Though it’s a far cry from the peak of nearly 9 million ounces produced in 1998, gold production is once again trending upward after a decade-long decline from 1999 to 2009.

“We have seen a turnaround in 2010 through 2012,” Coyner says. “We have reversed a decline that was in place for the better part of 10 years. That is significant.

The continued high price of gold is a major factor behind the increase in production totals. Gold last week was priced at around $1,425 an ounce — a more than $250 drop from historic highs, but still high enough to generate significant profit for most gold mining companies. Most mines are producing gold at cash costs between $500 to $700 an ounce, Coyner says.

Production figures also were impacted by the increased number of underground operations in the state — there simply isn’t the same volume from underground mining as from open-pit mining operations. Other factors include the pursuit of lower-grade ores and permitting delays in bringing new operations online, Coyner notes.

“You don’t just turn these things off and on like faucets; it takes a while. Once the price goes up, what once was on shelf as marginal now becomes economical. But that is a four-, six-, to eight-year process. You can’t just turn the big ship around when the price (of gold) goes up.”

Silver production is trending upward as well. There were 8,525,104 ounces of silver mined in the state in 2012, up from 7,141,489 ounces in 2011 and 7,361,123 ounces in 2011. Much of the rise in production was from Coeur d’Alene Mines Corp. bringing the Rochester mine outside of Lovelock back online. Rochester is the only primary silver mine in state; the rest of the silver mined in Nevada is the by product of gold mining.

The state’s two large copper mines — Robinson west of Ely and Phoenix southwest of Battle Mountain — produced most of the 145,318,737 pounds of copper mined in 2012, the Division of Minerals reports. The Robinson Mine is owned by KGHM International of Poland, which bought the site two years ago from Quadra FNX of Vancouver, while the Phoenix Mine in Lander County southwest of Battle Mountain is operated by Newmont.

The two main molybdenum properties in the state, the Ashdown mine run by Winn-Eldrich Mines Limited in northern Humboldt County and the Robinson Mine, produced 493,093 pounds of molybdenite.