Mining: Is it worth it?

Friday 27 April 2012, 8:36PM

By Dave West



Northland has an estimated 1.5 million ounces of gold hidden away in its hills and valleys, according to “Explore Northland Minerals”, the booklet produced to promote mining in our region.

The map on p15 of the booklet indicates there are eight sites where gold could be mined. This is an average of 187,000 ounces of gold at each location.

In 2005, Auckland-based company Heritage Gold announced it was beginning a resource development programme at its Talisman gold prospect at Karangahake in the southern Coromandel. It estimated a resource of 109,600 ounces of gold, and said it anticipated production would be at an initial rate of 50,000 ounces annually. This gives the mine a lifetime of a shade over two years.

At this rate of extraction, all eight known Northland gold sources would have a lifetime of less than four years, if all sites were mined at the same time.

Talisman estimated that the capital cost of setting up the mine would be NZ$24 million, and cash operating costs would be $379 per ounce of gold. What else could we do with that sort of money?
Waihi’s Martha mine produced 163,000 ounces of gold in 2005, 108,900 ounces in 2003 and 130,500 in 2004, an average of 134,000 ounces per year. At this rate of extraction, all eight known gold sources in Northland would have a lifetime of less than 1.5 years if all were mined at the same time. 

The mine tailings, with their ever-present threat of serious environmental pollution, would be with us for 100-150 years, and perhaps longer. A recent media release from Forest and Bird said: “In Thames, Coromandel last month (March 2012) parents in one suburb were told not to eat veges from their gardens or let kids put dirt in their mouths. This is because the suburb was built on top of toxic gold mining waste put there 60-90 years ago.”

Mining is hardly a sustainable enterprise. The promised Northland gold-mining jobs would be short-lived, and in all probability would not go to people currently living in the North, meaning they would do nothing to reduce unemployment here. Our Mayor himself says in “Explore Northland Minerals” that he is “looking forward to welcoming our people back from foreign shores as new mining ventures allow us to offer employment opportunities to experienced New Zealand contractors and staff working in the mineral extraction sectors across the Tasman and elsewhere around the world” (p3).

If these “experienced” workers do come back to mine Northland gold, they will all be gone again in less than five years, chasing the next gold find.