13 November 2006

Changing the terms

I hope people in Nome make hay out of this story:

The owners of the Fort Knox gold mine want to cut costs and extend the mine's life up to five years by using cyanide heap leaching.
(This is not new news as I had heard about this from some state regulators a few months back but a prominent story in the ADN has a way of focusing the public's attention.)

It should attract attention from people in Nome because Fort Knox and Nome's much smaller Rock Creek mine are similar operations. Fort Knox has been using - I believe - the cyanide vat leaching proposed at Rock Creek for the life of the mine. In fact, Rock Creek's owners have pointed to Fort Knox as a successful example of the kind of mining they want to bring to the Seward Peninsula.

The question is, will Rock Creek follow Fort Knox's example and reach a point where they just "have to" to go to heap leaching to keep the mine viable? Once a mine is in place I imagine it's a lot easier to change the permits to allow heap leaching than it is to get the permits for it in the first place. And I imagine that if mine owners know there is more gold in the ground that they can't get at with vat leaching, they're not likely to turn their backs and leave the gold in the ground, particularly when they know they can get at it with a slightly altered process.

I don't know enough about mining to make a determination as to whether or not heap leaching is all that dangerous but I do know that this strikes me as a bait-and-switch. That's what's of concern.

So what will the anti-cyanide forces in Nome do now?

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