It’s what’s inside the rock that matters
Appeal Staff Writer
LOVELOCK, Pershing County – On a hill above the Coeur Rochester open pit, a group of teachers are picking up rocks to bring back to their classrooms. Perhaps these pieces of quartz and rhyolite will lead students to a greater understanding of their geologic environment, or even lucrative careers in mining.
Or maybe the rocks will just become projectiles.
“Kids like rocks,” says Kim Kuntz, a kindergarten teacher at Silver Springs Elementary. She believes that educating teachers about geology will open doors for children to learn about a subject that they are already interested in.
Kuntz plans to start teaching elective classes on rocks for youngsters. She’s learning how profit comes out of the dirt at Nevada’s largest silver mine.
“They want to know about the world around them,” Kuntz says about her students. “And since Silver Springs kids don’t leave this tiny world they live in, they need to know about what they can find in their backyard.”
Kuntz and a group of about 30 Northern Nevada educators expanded their knowledge of geology at the 2006 Minerals Education Workshop last week at Western Nevada Community College. Nevada may be the Silver State, but it’s Alaska that takes the distinction as the No. 1 producer in North America, said the administrator of the Nevada Division of Minerals.
While the teachers have their eyes to the ground stuffing interesting rocks into cloth bags, several University of Nevada, Reno students are contemplating a future that doesn’t include the 12-hour shifts and neutral-beige environment that is open pit mining in Nevada. “I wouldn’t want to live way out here,” one says.
Teachers and the interns explored various aspects of the Northern Nevada mining landscape – from Art Wilson’s gypsum mine in Mound House to the afternoon tour of the 1,704-acre Coeur Rochester operation, which includes two active leach pads and an open pit.
Perhaps an interest in rocks will lead young students to a $60,000-annual-salary career in mining. It’s that hope in science careers that compel teachers like Linda Harrison, a special-education teacher at Silver Stage Middle School, to bring home large specimens from an active mine.
And who knows what else they’ll find sparkling up from the ground? The rocks are “low grade” (meaning it could take 20 large rocks, if not more, to leach out an ounce of gold), so the teachers are instructed by the tour guides to “help themselves.”
Sandi Steele, who teaches kindergarten at Mark Twain Elementary, sees how important Nevada’s mining history is to a state that has built its national image on gambling and tourism.
“This incorporates natural history and Nevada history and teaches that mining is an important element here, not just casinos,” she says.
Steele, who has taught in Carson City for more than 30 years, says teaching her young students about rocks is an early introduction to geology and Nevada history.
Nevada got its moniker as the Silver State because of the deposits found in the 1860 Comstock Lode, which was exhausted by the late 1920s. Nevada remains mineral rich. Coeur Rochester is the state’s largest producer of silver, mining 5.7 million ounces in 2005, according to The Nevada Division of Minerals.
“It’s our only primary silver producer at this point,” says Alan Coyner, administrator of the division of minerals.
At Coeur Rochester, the silver and gold deposits are mixed, like many mines, but here the silver vastly outweighs the gold. The rest of Nevada’s silver mines are also primary gold producers.
Nevada is No. 3 in the world for gold production, behind only South Africa and Australia. China could unseat one of the top three in 2006, Coyner says.
Coeur d’Alene Mines Corp. (NYSE: CDE) entered Nevada mining during a resurgence in the 1980s, according to the mine’s interim general manager. In addition to the Rochester Mine, it also owns mines in Chile, Argentina and has interest in mines in Australia.
From 1986 to 2005, the company mined 1.2 million ounces of gold and 111 million ounces of silver, making it the world’s largest primary silver producer, according to the general manager. The Coeur Rochester mine, about 28 miles northeast of Lovelock, contributes $1.15 million in sales and use tax and $15 million in payroll and benefits for its 195 employees.
But, as one group of university students can attest to, it takes a lot more than rocks and riches to compel them to leave urban centers.
The next generation of Nevada miners is essential to the stability and financial security of Nevada mining, but some university grads see surface mining as an unglamorous career.
Sam Saunders and Jack Jacquet are recent Carson High School graduates readying for their freshman year at the University of Nevada, Reno by interning for the summer with the Nevada Mining Association.
“I don’t know if I’d want to live way out here in the middle of nowhere to do it,” says Saunders, 19.
The teens are going into the university’s geologic engineering program. Lovelock, home to 95 percent of the mine’s staff, doesn’t do it for them.
“We both slept through Lovelock,” says Jacquet, then he laughs. “I know I couldn’t do it. It’s one thing when you get paid, but you live out in the middle of nowhere so you have nowhere to spend the money.”
Their sentiments are familiar to the old guard.
“The graduation rate is way down,” says Jerry Hepworth, acting GM of the Coeur Rochester Inc. operation. “There’s actually a generational void that hasn’t been filled in the mining business because there wasn’t an interest.”
Cycles of interest also coincide with commodity prices, he says. If prices are down, mines don’t have the money to hire young or inexperienced engineers. Low gold prices categorized 1997-2001.
Hepworth said commodity prices are high now, which provides more opportunities to young workers. For example, Coeur Rochester has six student interns on staff this summer, most of whom are university students.
Garrett Schult, a 20-year-old UNR student, is one of the bright, young few interning with the mining association who wouldn’t mind a rural future.
“I like the outdoors and going four-wheeling and going places people haven’t been for 100 years,” he says.
He’s a different breed: one who likes to “look at rocks and then go blow them up.”
With the old guard retiring in droves, job offers come in like candy to those graduating from well-known mining schools, such as UNR.
Hepworth tells a story about a graduate receiving 300 job offers. Schult, a sophomore in mining engineering, has received one just this week.
“He said to me ‘If you were a senior, I’d hire you right now,'” Schult says.
Maybe other students like him will come out of Silver Springs Elementary School. Harrison, the special-education teacher, lugs a four-pound rock infused with quartz and silica into the bottom of the bus. She has found her teaching aid – one that a student would have a hard time throwing.
• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1212.
How open-pit mining works at Coeur Rochester
• Ore is mined from the phase 4 Rochester active surface mine. Phase 4 is the final mining phase for a pit.
• Ore is brought through several crushers.
• Crushed ore is hauled by 100-ton trucks to the top of a pad lined with several thick plastic liners and rock. This is called the leach pad.
• A cyanide and water solution is dripped onto the layers of ore using tubes. It can take up to six months for the solution to get from the top of the heap to the plastic.
• The cyanide adheres to the gold and silver.
• The solution, which now includes the gold and silver, drips down to the plastic lining and pools at the designated low spot.
• The solution is then pumped to a plant where zinc is added.
• Gold and silver is precipitated out then filtered.
• The minerals are heated in the furnace to make doré bars, which is a mix of metals, composed of about 98 percent of silver and 1 percent gold. The bars come out in a half-moon shape, and are about 400 pounds apiece and about 3 feet across.
• The bars are then sent to a refinery in Salt Lake City, where they are refined to near 100 percent purity.
Source: Coeur Rochester
On the Net
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