Following on the success of last year’s report we have decided to make the ranking of the world’s gold deposits an annual endeavor highlighting trends in future mine supply, depletion, discoveries, and in-situ grades.
As far as we know, there has not been a similar effort to compile a comprehensive database of the world’s gold mines and deposits. Nevertheless, we rose to the laborious challenge as we knew that the industry reliance on risk capital via public markets presented an opportunity to data mine regulatory filings which would result in a high quality database.
With this research our goal was to provide quantitative answers to some of the questions we kept asking ourselves as investors in the space. Questions such as:
How many ounces of in-situ gold exist?
How many gold mines exist in Canada?
How rare is a 1.0 million ounce undeveloped deposit?
The report answers these questions and more while providing insight into the scarcity of mines & deposits. Additionally, having a granular view of the supply mix is useful as it allows market participants to ascertain the long-term supply and demand fundamentals of the metal.
We have made some important changes this year to the methodology of the database adding grade, tonnage, and government owned mines/deposits. We also partnered with Visual Capitalists, an investor website that provides rich visual content, to assist in visualizing the data we compiled. The report is free for usage and distribution with acknowledgment of the author.
Changes to Methodology
This year we implemented some important changes to our methodology leading to a higher quality database that is more comprehensive:
A) Introduction of Grade and Tonnage in grams per tonne providing a more qualitative analysis of each respective deposit.
B) The inclusion of Government owned deposits such as Murantao and Sukhoi Log.
C) The inclusion of South African mines and deposits.
D) The inclusion of Australian listed companies as well as Polyus, Anglogold Ashanti and Newcrest, companies that are harder to compile due to the opacity of their mineral resource disclosure.
While we still have serious reservations relating to what portion of delineated resources can actually be extracted in the South African deposits we felt that they warranted inclusion in order to provide readers with an all-encompassing database. That same logic led us to include government owned mines even though we are somewhat skeptical of their reported grades and often relied on an outdated technical report.
We started with a list of 1,892 publicly traded companies that are in some way involved in gold production, exploration, or development of over 7,000 geologic anomalies. Our goal was to find an undeveloped gold deposit or producing mine that hosted over 1 million troy ounces of in-situ resources under a globally respected mineral definition standard such as CIM NI 43-101, JORC, or SAMREC.
In an effort to provide the most comprehensive database and due to the fact that every proven or probable ounce starts of as inferred, we aggregate all resource categories into one figure (refer to last year’s report for a discussion relating to aggregating all resource categories). Where there are reserves and resources we will most likely use the inclusive resource figure. When a cutoff grade is recommended by a geological consultancy we will rely on that cutoff grade unless the report was outdated and we felt a lower cutoff grade was warranted. It is important to stress that resources are not necessarily indicative of future mine supply given that metallurgical recovery rates and economic pit outlines are not applied. In the “Potential Mine Supply Exercise” section we discuss this further.
When it came to copper/gold porphyries it was difficult to draw the line as to what was a gold deposit vs. a copper deposit. In this year’s report we included deposits such as Reko Diq and Galore Creek because we felt their global contained ounces were too large to disregard even though they are primarily copper deposits.
2012 Result Summary
From an initial list of 1,896 companies we were able to identify 212 entities (Public, Private and Government Sponsored Corporations) that own 439 gold deposits hosting over 1,000,000 ounces in all categories representing a total of 3,015,542,164 ounces of gold. The complete list can be found at the end of this report.
Summary of Findings:
Total Mines & Deposits in over 1 million ounces in-situ: 439
Total In-Situ Ounces: 3,015,542,164 Total Tonnage & Grade of Database: 113.9 Billion Tonnes @ .82 g/t
Total In-Situ Ounces & Avg. Grade Producing Mines: 1,556,265,676 oz. @ 1.06 g/t
Total In-Situ Ounces & Avg. Grade Undeveloped Deposits: 1,459,276,488 oz. @ .66 g/t
Global In-SITU Ranking
Mines & Deposits over 3 million Oz: 228 Mines & Deposits over 5 million Oz: 148
Mines & Deposits over 10 million Oz: 74 Mines & Deposits over 20 million Oz: 33
Producing Mines over 3 Million Oz: 120 Undeveloped Deposits over 3 Million Oz: 108
Producing Mines over 5 million Oz: 82 Undeveloped Deposits over 5 million Oz: 66
Producing Mines over 10 million Oz: 43 Undeveloped Deposits over 10 million Oz: 31
HIGH GRADE GOLD SUMMARY
Mines & Deposits over 1mm oz and 3 g/t: 136 Mines & Deposits over 1mm oz and 5 g/t: 81
Mines & Deposits over 1mm oz and 10 g/t: 26 Mines & Deposits over 1mm oz and 15 g/t: 11
Producing Mines over 1mm oz and 3 g/t: 76 Undeveloped Deposits over 1mm oz and 3 g/t: 60
Producing Mines over 1mm oz and 5 g/t: 49 Undeveloped Deposits over 1mm oz and 5 g/t: 32
Producing Mines over 1mm oz and 10 g/t: 14 Undeveloped Deposits over 1mm oz and 10 g/t: 12
For full results and tables of deposits, view the full report PDF.
2012 Results Discussion
This year’s results confirmed both the scarcity of gold deposits as well as the lower-grade production trends facing the industry. Even with our generous thresholds allowing inferred resources to be included in the database, we were able to identify only 439 mines or deposits containing over 1 million ounces of gold.
In our view a mine or deposit is an asset no different than a farm, commercial property, or financial security. Yet when it comes to gold, there are only 439 assets that meet the industry perceived economic threshold of 1 million ounces. Last year, we compared this figure to the tens of thousands of commercial real estate properties in the world or the nearly 72,000 financial securities. While the crustal abundance of gold is fixed, and discovery grades continue to decline, there is no limit to the creation of financial securities and plenty of land and building materials to construct more property. Simply put, a gold mine or deposit with over 1 million ounces is a very rare asset. This is especially true when viewing the geographical distribution of the mines & deposits:
Independently Owned Undeveloped Deposits
Another data point we found fascinating was that out of 439 mines or deposits, 189 are in fact producing mines owned by companies with an average market capitalization of $1.8 Billion. This leaves us with a universe of undeveloped deposits over 1 million ounces of just 250. Of course some of these 250 deposits are owned by miners (84) while just 166 are owned by independent junior companies, private companies, or government sponsored enterprises. Investors seeking leverage to gold should focus on these companies as they provide the best exposure to a rising gold price environment. We have attached a table with these deposits and companies at the end of the report titled “Undeveloped Deposits over 1mm oz owned by Independent Juniors”.
It is interesting to note that in Canada we were able to find only 59 undeveloped deposits over 1mm ounces owned by 49 companies (41 Independents). In the United States we found only 33 deposits owned by 26 companies (23 Independents).
Internally, the purpose of this report was to identify potential short-comings in the theories employed by leading thinkers in the gold industry. After reviewing nearly 2,000 companies in the space we can objectively say that are no such red flags. Annual discoveries in 2011 lacked the gravitas required to move the needle on the aggregate in-situ figures after incorporating depletion. This was surprising to as historically high gold prices have provided nearly unprecedented capital to gold exploration companies and we had assumed that after tallying up the year’s discoveries there would be a significant nominal gain in ounces. Another important data point was observed with regards to the grade of producing mines vs. undeveloped deposits with grades for undeveloped deposits being markedly lower (37%) guaranteeing the need for higher energy input in the future only to sustain current production figures.
Another caveat with the undeveloped deposits in the database is that some of the largest ones face significant permitting headwinds. Pebble, Reko Diq, Donlin, KSM, and Rosia Montana which represent nearly 20% of the undeveloped ounces in the database may not become mines for 10,20 and even 30 years.
Quality Deposits are Rare
While this report and the accompanying database provide an accurate view of global mine supply, there are crucial qualitative metrics still missing. Even high grade deposits with no infrastructure are inferior to easily mined bulk tonnage deposits with close proximity to infrastructure in stable geopolitical jurisdictions.
Looking at the matrix of undeveloped deposits, one can see why size and even grade are not the most important attributes when predicting which deposit will become a mine. Let us compare Cerro Cassale in Chile with 32.5mm ounces to Titiribi in Colombia with 11.1mm ounces (and continues to grow). While Cerro Cassale is nearly three times the size, its remote location in the Maricunga desert has forced Barrick to budget over $500mm for a120km water pipeline. Titiribi, owned by independent junior Sunward Resources, is located on a paved road with both water and power running directly to the site. While it is too early to estimate CAPEX for Titiribi, it is not farfetched to assume that for the amount Barrick will be spending transporting water from point A to point B, Titiribi will be producing a few hundred thousand ounces of gold per annum.
In conclusion, we would like to stress that while this database serves as an effective starting point we urge investors to incorporate additional metrics such as geopolitical risk, permitting challenges, and most importantly infrastructure when ranking deposits for investment.
Global Mine Supply Exercise
In this section we will attempt to make sense of the 3,015,542,164 ounce (93,796 tonnes) figure which is the sum of all in-situ ounces in the database. As we previously explained this figure is inaccurate as it relates to potentially mined ounces in the future due to the following factors:
1) Inclusion of inferred resources in global contained ounces.
2) Not applying any economic pit outlines.
3) Not applying any metallurgical recovery rates.
4) The inclusion of undeveloped deposits with no clear path towards permitting.
In order to project an accurate figure we will adjust the 3,015,542,164 ounce number through an exercise that incorporates metallurgical recovery rates, economic pit outlines, and physical constraints that come with moving the billions of tonnes that host these ounces.
First, we will apply a metallurgical recovery rate. Industry averages tend to be 70-90% depending on the type of mineralization. Casting a wide net, we will use 80% as our metallurgical recovery rate. Following this step we are left with 2,412,433,133 ounces.
Next, we will apply economic pit outlines to the resource figure. Once again in an effort to include the most possible ounces we will apply only a 10% reduction for potential pit outlines. Given the amount of inferred ounces in our database this is a very generous figure. Following this step we are left with 2,171,190,358 ounces or 67,533 tonnes.
Next, we will estimate the physical constraints required to mine the remaining ounces. As these ounces exist within 81 billion tonnes of ore (49 billion tonnes for undeveloped deposits containing 1.05 billion ounces after applying economic pit outlines and metallurgical recoveries) they cannot be immediately extracted from the earth’s crust.
As we are estimating future potential supply, the 189 producing mines are less important given their production is already factored in the existing supply mix. A more relevant exercise is one projecting future supply from undeveloped deposits as only they could meaningfully disrupt the supply & demand fundamentals.
Let us assume for a moment that all 250 undeveloped deposits were somehow permitted and financed tomorrow. With 49 billion tonnes to mine at an average grade of .66 g/t it would take no less than 25 years to extract the 1,050,000,000 ounces contained within these deposits. Arriving at this figure, we assume that the average build time would be 3 years and the average mill size would be 25,000 tonnes per day.
Even with our unrealistic scenario introducing all 250 undeveloped deposits into the supply mix at once, we can only quantify an increase of roughly 42mm ounces of gold production or 1,306 tonnes per annum. Compare that to current gold production of roughly 2,800 tonnes or 90mm ounces per annum.
Realistically, 50% or more of the deposits in the database will most likely remain deposits 25 years from now for a variety of factors including: permitting, ability to finance a mine, and attractiveness to a producer (producer balance sheets are so large they require significant projects to be accretive , making even most 1mm-2mm ounce deposits unattractive).
Consequently, the guaranteed depletion in the existing production mix coupled with a more realistic introduction of new mines into the mix (as opposed to our theoretical tomorrow scenario) makes it clear that barring multiple high-grade, multi-million ounce discoveries each year, a significant increase in gold production is unlikely. Moreover our back of the envelope calculations point towards gold production peaking at some point between 2022 and 2025 assuming the 90mm ounce per year figure is maintained.
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Mapped: The 10 Largest Gold Mines in the World, by Production
Gold mining companies produced over 3,500 tonnes of gold in 2021. Where in the world are the largest gold mines?
The 10 Largest Gold Mines in the World, by Production
Gold mining is a global business, with hundreds of mining companies digging for the precious metal in dozens of countries.
But where exactly are the largest gold mines in the world?
The above infographic uses data compiled from S&P Global Market Intelligence and company reports to map the top 10 gold-producing mines in 2021.
Editor’s Note: The article uses publicly available global production data from the World Gold Council to calculate the production share of each mine. The percentages slightly differ from those calculated by S&P.
The Top Gold Mines in 2021
The 10 largest gold mines are located across nine different countries in North America, Oceania, Africa, and Asia.
Together, they accounted for around 13 million ounces or 12% of global gold production in 2021.
|Rank||Mine||Location||Production (ounces)||% of global production|
|#1||Nevada Gold Mines||🇺🇸 U.S.||3,311,000||2.9%|
|#5||Pueblo Viejo||🇩🇴 Dominican Republic||814,000||0.7%|
|#6||Kibali||🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of the Congo||812,000||0.7%|
|#8||Lihir||🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||737,082||0.6%|
|#9||Canadian Malartic||🇨🇦 Canada||714,784||0.6%|
Share of global gold production is based on 3,561 tonnes (114.5 million troy ounces) of 2021 production as per the World Gold Council.
In 2019, the world’s two largest gold miners—Barrick Gold and Newmont Corporation—announced a historic joint venture combining their operations in Nevada. The resulting joint corporation, Nevada Gold Mines, is now the world’s largest gold mining complex with six mines churning out over 3.3 million ounces annually.
Uzbekistan’s state-owned Muruntau mine, one of the world’s deepest open-pit operations, produced just under 3 million ounces, making it the second-largest gold mine. Muruntau represents over 80% of Uzbekistan’s overall gold production.
Only two other mines—Grasberg and Olimpiada—produced more than 1 million ounces of gold in 2021. Grasberg is not only the third-largest gold mine but also one of the largest copper mines in the world. Olimpiada, owned by Russian gold mining giant Polyus, holds around 26 million ounces of gold reserves.
Polyus was also recently crowned the biggest miner in terms of gold reserves globally, holding over 104 million ounces of proven and probable gold between all deposits.
How Profitable is Gold Mining?
The price of gold is up by around 50% since 2016, and it’s hovering near the all-time high of $2,000/oz.
That’s good news for gold miners, who achieved record-high profit margins in 2020. For every ounce of gold produced in 2020, gold miners pocketed $828 on average, significantly higher than the previous high of $666/oz set in 2011.
With inflation rates hitting decade-highs in several countries, gold mining could be a sector to watch, especially given gold’s status as a traditional inflation hedge.
The 50 Minerals Critical to U.S. Security
This graphic lists all minerals that are deemed critical to both the economic and national security of the United States.
The 50 Minerals Critical to U.S. Security
The U.S. aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 as part of its commitment to tackling climate change, but might be lacking the critical minerals needed to achieve its goals.
The American green economy will rely on renewable sources of energy like wind and solar, along with the electrification of transportation. However, local production of the raw materials necessary to produce these technologies, including solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles, is lacking. Understandably, this has raised concerns in Washington.
In this graphic, based on data from the U.S. Geological Survey, we list all of the minerals that the government has deemed critical to both the economic and national security of the United States.
What are Critical Minerals?
A critical mineral is defined as a non-fuel material considered vital for the economic well-being of the world’s major and emerging economies, whose supply may be at risk. This can be due to geological scarcity, geopolitical issues, trade policy, or other factors.
In 2018, the U.S. Department of the Interior released a list of 35 critical minerals. The new list, released in February 2022, contains 15 more commodities.
Much of the increase in the new list is the result of splitting the rare earth elements and platinum group elements into individual entries rather than including them as “mineral groups.” In addition, the 2022 list of critical minerals adds nickel and zinc to the list while removing helium, potash, rhenium, and strontium.
|Mineral||Example Uses||Net Import Reliance|
|Beryllium||Alloying agent in aerospace, defense industries||11%|
|Aluminum||Power lines, construction, electronics||13%|
|Zirconium||High-temparature ceramics production||25%|
|Germanium||Fiber optics, night vision applications||50%|
|Nickel||Stainless steel, rechargeable batteries||50%|
|Tin||Coatings, alloys for steel||75%|
|Cobalt||Rechargeable batteries, superalloys||76%|
|Antimony||Lead-acid batteries, flame retardants||81%|
|Zinc||Metallurgy to produce galvanized steel||83%|
|Titanium||White pigment, metal alloys||88%|
|Bismuth||Medical, atomic research||94%|
|Tellurium||Solar cells, thermoelectric devices||95%|
|Vanadium||Alloying agent for iron and steel||96%|
|Arsenic||Semi-conductors, lumber preservatives, pesticides||100%|
|Cerium||Catalytic converters, ceramics, glass, metallurgy||100%|
|Dysprosium||Data storage devices, lasers||100%|
|Erbium||Fiber optics, optical amplifiers, lasers||100%|
|Europium||Phosphors, nuclear control rods||100%|
|Fluorspar||Manufacture of aluminum, cement, steel, gasoline||100%|
|Gadolinium||Medical imaging, steelmaking||100%|
|Gallium||Integrated circuits, LEDs||100%|
|Holmium||Permanent magnets, nuclear control rods||100%|
|Indium||Liquid crystal display screens||100%|
|Lanthanum||Catalysts, ceramics, glass, polishing compounds||100%|
|Lutetium||Scintillators for medical imaging, cancer therapies||100%|
|Neodymium||Rubber catalysts, medical, industrial lasers||100%|
|Praseodymium||Permanent magnets, batteries, aerospace alloys||100%|
|Rubidium||Research, development in electronics||100%|
|Samarium||Cancer treatment, absorber in nuclear reactors||100%|
|Scandium||Alloys, ceramics, fuel cells||100%|
|Tantalum||Electronic components, superalloys||100%|
|Terbium||Permanent magnets, fiber optics, lasers||100%|
|Thulium||Metal alloys, lasers||100%|
|Ytterbium||Catalysts, scintillometers, lasers, metallurgy||100%|
|Yttrium||Ceramic, catalysts, lasers, metallurgy, phosphors||100%|
|Iridium||Coating of anodes for electrochemical processes||No data available|
|Rhodium||Catalytic converters, electrical components||No data available|
|Ruthenium||Electrical contacts, chip resistors in computers||No data available|
|Hafnium||Nuclear control rods, alloys||Net exporter|
The challenge for the U.S. is that the local production of these raw materials is extremely limited.
For instance, in 2021 there was only one operating nickel mine in the country, the Eagle mine in Michigan. The facility ships its concentrates abroad for refining and is scheduled to close in 2025. Likewise, the country only hosted one lithium mine, the Silver Peak Mine in Nevada.
At the same time, most of the country’s supply of critical minerals depends on countries that have historically competed with America.
China’s Dominance in Minerals
Perhaps unsurprisingly, China is the single largest supply source of mineral commodities for the United States.
Cesium, a critical metal used in a wide range of manufacturing, is one example. There are only three pegmatite mines in the world that can produce cesium, and all were controlled by Chinese companies in 2021.
Furthermore, China refines nearly 90% of the world’s rare earths. Despite the name, these elements are abundant on the Earth’s crust and make up the majority of listed critical minerals. They are essential for a variety of products like EVs, advanced ceramics, computers, smartphones, wind turbines, monitors, and fiber optics.
After China, the next largest source of mineral commodities to the United States has been Canada, which provided the United States with 16 different elements in 2021.
The Rising Demand for Critical Minerals
As the world’s clean energy transitions gather pace, demand for critical minerals is expected to grow quickly.
According to the International Energy Association, the rise of low-carbon power generation is projected to triple mineral demand from this sector by 2040.
The shift to a sustainable economy is important, and consequently, securing the critical minerals necessary for it is just as vital.
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