Record gold prices prompt gold mining in Boulder | VailDaily.com
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Record gold prices prompt gold mining in Boulder

BOULDER, Colorado ” Nearly 150 years after gold was discovered in Boulder County along Gold Run Creek, a couple of old mines are slowly cranking back into operation now that excavating the slender veins of precious metal is profitable again.

The Cash Mine in Gold Hill is about to wrap up its first year of operation after four decades of sitting idle, and miners may be swinging picks in the Cross Mine west of Nederland as early as this fall. Both mines were originally established in 1872.

“We’re doing well,” said Matt Collins, general manager of the operation at Cash Mine. “We all kind of joke we were a 25-year overnight success.”

That’s because the gold mine’s backer, Canada-based Global Minerals, has been massaging the idea of reopening the mine since the 1980s. But it wasn’t until 2003 that people were on the ground in Gold Hill, making sure they could meet the slew of new environmental regulations that have come online since the mine last operated.

Last summer, Cash Mine produced its first gold, coinciding with an incredible spike in the price of the mineral on the world market.

“This was really the brainchild of the folks up in Canada, who saw the commodity crunch coming,” Collins said. “As an operation, the high prices of gold are going to make it that much easier to make it profitable ” but the profit margins up here are still really slim.”

The price of gold in the last decade has more than tripled, shooting up from around $300 an ounce a decade ago to an all-time high of $1,002 an ounce earlier this year. Colorado ranks fourth in the nation in gold production, almost entirely because of the massive Cripple Creek surface mine in Teller County.

The newly reopened Cash Mine has the distinction, for now, of being the only active underground gold mine in the state.

“There are other small mines trying to get up and running, but it’s not an easy thing,” Collins said. “There are huge barriers to entry.”

Tom Hendricks, who’s been mining for gold in Boulder County since he came to the University of Colorado in 1971, knows what Collins means. In April, Hendricks filed an application with Boulder County to expand the Cross Mine with the hopes of starting production later this year.

“It will happen,” he said. “But like anything, it takes a lot of time and money, and we’re working on all the preliminary designs.”

Hendricks’ devotion to gold mining may be singular on the Front Range. He didn’t bail on the industry when the going got tough (and gold prices slumped). Instead, he kept at it, eventually merging his own private company with Calais Resources, which he says he ran “pretty much by myself” from 1999 to 2005.

In the last few years, Hendricks has brought on board a couple of colleagues to take on the revival of Cross Mine, which he hopes will employ 20-some miners when it’s in full swing.

Like Cash Mine, the Cross Mine will be an entirely underground operation with real-live people digging the skinny seams of gold. Because both operations are relatively tiny in the world of gold mining, the environmental impacts of mining are less worrisome.

The two greatest environmental concerns around gold mining are what happens to the giant overburden of earth scraped away during surface mining to get to the gold veins ” not a concern for underground mines ” and how miners dispose of cyanide, the toxic chemical used to dissolve gold out of the ore.

Hendricks says his goal is to make Cross Mine a model for “green mining,” and he will be using an alternative to cyanide to dissolve the gold. Collins uses a double-lined tailings pond at Cash Mine to prevent leakage.

“We’re about as close as you can get to just using a pick and a burro,” Collins said. “As close as you can get and still be a modern mine.”

This kind of mining takes a breed of skilled miners not common today, and recruiting in Boulder ” among a sea of white-collar, green-collar and cyber-collar workers ” hasn’t been easy.

“It’s been incredibly difficult,” said Collins, who employs about 35 miners. “Modern miners are more heavy-equipment operators.”

Though the price of gold has slipped back a bit ” hanging around $870 an ounce this month ” it’s still high enough to inspire a new-age gold rush. But Collins doesn’t recommend that get-rich-quick hopefuls trade their office cubicles for a gold pan.

“On average, you’d be lucky to make your gas money back and forth,” he said.

Boulder gold factoids:

” 1859: The year gold was discovered in Boulder County.

” $300: The price per ounce of gold in 1998.

” $1,002: The all-time record price per ounce for gold, hit earlier this year.

” 1: The number of ounces of gold collected for each ton of earth mined.

” 4: The rank of Colorado among gold-producing states in the country. Nevada ranks No. 1.


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