Digging Deeper for Gold

Outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, the Mponeng gold mine extends 2.5 miles into the earth’s crust.  It is the world’s deepest gold mine. But it is running out of available gold ore. So, miners there may soon dig deeper in a quest for dwindling gold reserves.

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There are “massive” gold ore reserves at a deeper level, says Peter Steenkamp, Chief Executive Officer of Harmony Gold Mining Company which owns the mine.

“We can extend deeper down the mine and actually create new levels to be mined,” Steenkamp told Bloomberg News. “Mponeng is a mine with a huge amount of potential and there is an ore body below current infrastructure that is largely untouched.”

Harmony purchased the mine last year from AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. and is hoping to extend the mine’s life by at least 20 years. Like many mines in South Africa, the available ore at Mponeng’s current depth is declining. As a result, South Africa’s gold industry, once the world’s largest, has been steadily shrinking. The nation’s drop in output is representative of the growing global challenge to find new supplies of gold.

Harmony’s objective by digging deeper is to maintain Mponeng’s annual production at about 250,000 ounces of gold, Bloomberg reports.

There are risks, though. The deeper a mine, the higher the danger of seismic activity that can trap and even kill miners. Six Harmony workers died in mine accidents between last June and December.

Steenkamp, however, says he is confident Harmony can manage the risks. “We are quite comfortable that we have the technology and knowledge on how to do that.”

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