How long do gold mines last?

A gold mine can operate for five to 30 years, and some are still operating after many decades. The United States and South Africa have two of the world's 10 largest gold mines in terms of size of reserves, while the others are in Indonesia, Russia, Papua New Guinea, Chile, Australia and the Dominican Republic. To put it in perspective, some 190,000 tonnes of gold have been extracted in total, although estimates vary. When people think of how gold is mined, they often think of people in hard hats working underground.

However, the extraction of the ore is only one stage in the long and complex process of gold mining. Long before the gold can be extracted, significant exploration and development work is required, both to determine, as accurately as possible, the size of the deposit and to know how to extract and process the ore efficiently, safely and responsibly. On average, it takes 10-20 years before a gold mine is ready to produce material that can be refined. Bronze Age gold artefacts are abundant, especially in Ireland and Spain, and there are several well-known possible sources.

The Romans used hydraulic mining methods, such as roughing and stripping the ground on a large scale to extract gold from extensive alluvial deposits (loose sediments), such as those at Las Médulas. Mining was under state control, but the mines may have been leased to civilian contractors some time later. Gold served as the main medium of exchange within the empire, and was an important motive in the Roman invasion of Britain by Claudius in the 1st century AD, although only one Roman gold mine is known to have been at Dolaucothi in west Wales. Gold was one of the main reasons for the campaign in Dacia when the Romans invaded Transylvania, in present-day Romania, in the 2nd century AD.

The legions were led by the Emperor Trajan, and his exploits are shown on Trajan's Column in Rome and in the various reproductions of the column elsewhere (such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London). Under Emperor Justinian, gold was mined in the Balkans, Anatolia, Armenia, Egypt and Nubia. Although most gold is produced by large companies, millions of people work independently in small-scale artisanal mines, in some cases illegally. Artisanal mining refers to workers who use rudimentary methods to extract and process minerals and metals.

Socially and economically marginalised communities mine to escape extreme poverty, unemployment and landlessness. The objective of this post-closure period is to ensure that all reclaimed mine land, water management structures and revegetation are functioning as intended. In addition, reclamation and long-term stabilisation usually occur gradually, requiring a phased approach as well as continuous performance monitoring. Maintenance activities need to be carried out to address erosion, as well as monitoring to ensure that post-closure performance criteria are met and that the intended land uses are achieved.

Typically, financial assurance instruments are in place that require Newmont to demonstrate that closure is successful in order to be released from financial liability. In many cases, long-term water management obligations require active water treatment and monitoring that could last for decades. In these cases, financial trusts are often established in cooperation with regulatory agencies to ensure adequate funding for personnel, supplies and equipment to meet these ongoing obligations. By the time the yellow metal reaches peak production, experts believe we may have discovered all the world's great gold deposits.

What does this mean for precious metals enthusiasts and investors?.

David Gerula
David Gerula

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