SA Mines and Energy Journal : December 2010 - January 2011
11 DECEMBER 2010/JANUARY 2011 SA MINES & ENERGY JOURNAL FEATURE Gold has long been overlooked as a significant commodity in SA, says mining expert Dr Ian Gould. But that's all about to change. The precious metal is found at seven significant mines and resources in this State, only two of which specifically target it. At most of the other deposits, where the primary focus is more on the copper endowment, gold is produced as a by-product, sometimes with uranium and silver. While our State accounts for a whopping third of the nation's production of copper, experts are confident SA will become increasingly known for its gold, as more is produced as a secondary product of the State's vast copper operations, and more gold deposits are mined in their own right. Gold mineralisation is widespread throughout the State, occurring in most SA geological provinces, and the state is considered by geologists highly prospective for the valuable metal. Our State hosts 23 per cent of the nation's inferred resources of gold, according to Geoscience Australia. Dr Gould, Chairman of the SA Minerals and Petroleum Expert Group and Chancellor of the University of SA, predicts gold is on the verge of staking its own claim to the limelight, even if in a supporting role to copper's star status. "I am not exaggerating the situation. We are an unrecognised major gold producer and potentially a much larger one in the future, " he said. "SA is a significant producer of gold as a by-product of its copper mining. It is certain that we are going to see a big expansion in gold production in this State, mainly as a by-product of increased copper mining. " Although SA currently only accounts for a small percentage of Australia's total gold production, it has been steadily increasing over the past five years. Last year the State produced close to 300,000oz of the precious metal -- with two- thirds coming from major iron oxide-copper-gold operations at BHPB's Olympic Dam and OZ Minerals' Prominent Hill in the Gawler Craton in SA's north. About 80,000oz was produced at Dominion's Challenger's gold- only mine. Exco Resources' White Dam project went into production less than six months ago, reaching a milestone recently by producing its first tonne of gold. Gold is prized for its rare qualities including a high resistance to acids, tarnishing and corrosion. It is used in most electronic consumer items (think mobile phones, computers and flat-screen televisions) and is also found in cars' braking systems and airbags, and in smoke detectors and medical implants. BHPB's Olympic Dam mine, best known for its uranium and copper, boasts the world's fifth biggest gold resource. Gold production from the mine is expected to triple if expansion plans go ahead, which will result in Olympic Dam becoming one of the world's biggest mines of its kind. Dr Gould says another reason the precious metal has so easily been overlooked is because gold produced in our state is not generally from high grade ores. However, the volume of it more than compensates for its lower grade. Some is also sold unprocessed, hidden in copper concentrate, rather than displayed in bullion. Dominion's Challenger gold mine is a high-grade exception, joined as a gold-only mining operation in June this year by the White Dam Gold Project, 80km west of Broken Hill. While White Dam is expected to produce 120,000oz of gold at a rate of 50,000oz a year, efforts are focusing on expanding the mine's life.