The Future of Gold Exploration is Under Cover
Over billions of years, extraordinary amounts of gold and other metals were deposited and spread throughout the Earth’s crust. Humans have been searching for these rich deposits for centuries, and advances in geoscience and technology have helped us become more adept at finding them over time.
However, even with today’s advancements – almost all early-stage prospecting methods are still based on the same key principle: trying to find areas of exposed bedrock, called outcrops, that indicate an orebody is near.
But such outcrops only form in certain circumstances – and what happens when a geological system doesn’t come in contact directly with the surface?
The Problem of Cover
Today’s infographic comes to us from Nevada Exploration, and it identifies the problem behind finding these “hidden” deposits that do not leave a helpful trail of clues on the surface.
Instead of having outcrops where rocks can be readily sampled, these deposits are trapped underneath large amounts of soil and gravel. Geologists call this a covered setting, where they must first find a way to “see through” the cover in order to identify what geological systems really exist below.
Seeing through cover can be expensive and difficult to do, but it also has big potential upside.
There is no reason not to assume as much gold still exists as has been mined in the past, but prospectors, explorationists, and geologists have found the easy gold.
– Dr. Richard Goldfarb, Ph.D., United States Geologic Survey
In fact, many geologists think that the next game-changing gold deposit could be found under cover.
For explorers, it is no secret that the cost per discovery is going up dramatically over time. The reality is that traditional exploration methods are achieving diminishing returns, and as a result companies are settling for lower grade deposits, more complex geological settings, and politically questionable jurisdictions.
Minex Consulting says that between 2007-2016, there has been $65 billion spent globally on gold exploration with only $30 billion worth of discoveries to show for it. Those aren’t exactly inspiring economics for future gold explorers.
But for every industry problem, there is often a precedent to be found elsewhere – and an interesting situation that is analogous was faced by the oil exploration industry years ago. They had reached diminishing returns with shallow water deposits, and developed technology to go deeper. Suddenly, monster deposits were being found again.
Experts involved in mineral exploration see the same thing happening with cover.
With the transition to under cover exploration, the minerals industry is undergoing a transformation much like the petroleum industry transformed to deep sea exploration some decades ago.
– Cam McCuaig, Principal Geoscientist, BHP Billiton
In other words: whoever can figure out how to explore under cover could be reaping big benefits.
In the world’s most prolific gold jurisdictions, there are massive amounts of land that have not yet been explored because of cover. In Canada and in Australia, over 70% of land is covered. In Nevada, which produces the most gold ounces per square kilometer, about 55% of land is covered.
Interestingly, Nevada has produced 225 million oz of gold to date, but the majority of these discoveries have come from outcrop clues on the surface. Imagine what gold could be hidden under soil and gravel within the valleys of the state.
Global data so far suggests that deposits discovered under cover tend to be 2-4x bigger.
Exploring Under Cover
While the idea of unlocking this potential is extremely exciting, it also poses a significant technical challenge.
Conventional tools are poorly suited to covered settings, and existing techniques for systematic exploration don’t work. The end result is high-risk, high-cost exploration.
To successfully explore through cover, companies need:
- New technology to see through cover
- A way to lower the costs of testing targets
- A way to directly test covered bedrock
So far, a few ideas have been pioneered for seeing through cover – and it will be interesting to see what results they bring in.
Biogeochemistry: In Australia, explorers are using biogeochemistry as a hint to see what lays beneath the soil. Plants accumulate pathfinder elements in them, or even tiny amounts of gold, which allows explorers to get a hint at what lies deep below.
Hydrogeochemistry: In a place like Nevada, there are massive valleys in the middle of prolific gold districts that have remained unexplored because they are covered with hundreds of meters of gravel. Testing groundwater might be the key, because groundwater flows by gravity from mountains to deep in the valley centers. On the way, this water interacts with bedrock – and any gold deposits that are hidden beneath the surface.
Explorers are looking at other ideas as well, ranging from regional-scale mapping to adapting other oil and gas industry techniques. If any of them are able to unlock the secret of exploring through cover, it could be the catalyst for industrywide change, as well as the discovery of the monster deposits that will meet our mineral needs of the future.
The World’s Gold and Silver Coin Production vs. Money Creation
In 2019, the value of global money creation was over 500 times higher than the world’s gold and silver coin production combined.
Global Gold & Silver Coin Production vs. Money Creation
Note: Data has been updated to correct a previous calculation error pertaining to Japanese Yen money supply.
Both precious metals and cash serve as safe haven assets, intended to limit losses during market turmoil. However, while modern currencies can be printed by central governments, precious metals derive value from their scarcity.
In this infographic from Texas Precious Metals, we compare the value of the world’s gold and silver coin production to global money creation.
Total Production Per Person, 2019
We calculated the value of global currency issuance in 2019 as well as precious metal coins minted, and divided by the global population to get total production per person.
Throughout, global money supply is a proxy based on the 5 largest reserve currencies: the U.S. dollar, Euro, Japanese Yen, Sterling Pound, and Chinese Renminbi.
|2019 Production||Ounces||Dollar Value||Dollar Value Per Person|
|Global Gold Coins||7,204,982||$10.9B||$1.42|
|Global Silver Coins||97,900,000||$1.8B||$0.23|
|Global Money Supply||$4.3T||$556.33|
All numbers are in USD according to exchange rates as of December 31 2019. Gold and silver values are based on the 2019 year close price of $1,510.60 and $17.90 respectively.
The value of new global money supply was 390 times higher than the value of gold coins minted, and 2,400 times higher than silver coins minted.
Put another way, for each ounce of minted gold coin, the global money supply increased by more than $593,000.
Change in Annual Production, 2019 vs. 2010
Compared to the start of the decade, here’s how annual production levels have changed:
|Global Silver Coins (oz)||95,900,000||97,900,000||2.1%|
|Global Gold Coins (oz)||6,298,331||7,204,982||14.4%|
|Global Money Supply (USD)||$2,936,296,692,440||$4,268,993,639,926||45.4%|
Annual increases to global money supply have increased by half, far outpacing the change in the world’s gold and silver coin production.
Even more recently, how has production changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The COVID-19 Effect
In response to the global pandemic, central banks have enacted numerous measures to help support economies—including issuing new currency.
The global money supply increased by more than $6.8 trillion in the first half of 2020. In fact, the value of printed currency was 930 times higher than the value of minted gold coins over the same timeframe.
Investors may want to consider which asset is more vulnerable to inflation as they look to protect their portfolios.
Want to learn more? See the U.S. version of this graphic.
Visualizing U.S. Money Supply vs. Precious Metal Production in the COVID-19 Era
Amid trillions in COVID-19 stimulus, this graphic compares new U.S. dollars printed to U.S. precious metal coin production.
U.S. Precious Metal Coin Production in the COVID-19 Era
Gold and silver have played an important role in money throughout history. Unlike modern currencies, they can’t be created out of thin air and derive value from their scarcity.
In the COVID-19 era, this difference has become more prominent as countries print vast amounts of currency to support their suffering economies. This graphic from Texas Precious Metals highlights how the value of U.S. precious metal coin production compares to U.S. money creation.
Year to Date Production
In this infographic, we have calculated the value of money supply added as well as bullion minted, and divided it by the U.S. population to get total production per person. Here’s how the January-September 2020 data breaks down:
|Total (Ounces)||Dollar Value||Dollar Value Per Person|
|U.S. Gold Ounces||826,000||$1.6B||$4.79|
|U.S. Silver Ounces||22,261,500||$544M||$1.65|
|U.S. Money Supply||$3.4T||$10,250.16|
Gold and silver dollar values based on Oct 5, 2020 spot prices of $1,915.93 and $24.47 respectively.
The value of new U.S. money supply was more than 2,100 times higher than the value of new gold minted. Compared to minted silver, the value of new U.S. money supply was over 6,000 times higher.
Production Per Day, Per State Over Time
Here’s how production has changed on a per day, per state basis since 2010:
|2010||2020 YTD (Jan-Sep)||Min-Max Production, 2010-2019|
|Minted Gold Coins||78oz||61oz||12oz-78oz|
|Minted Silver Coins||1,945oz||1,631oz||899oz-2,633oz|
Year to date, U.S. precious metal coin production is within a normal historical range. If production were to continue at the current rate through December, gold would be above historical norms at 81 ounces and silver would be within the normal range at 2,175 ounces.
The issuance of U.S. dollars tells a different story. Over the last nine months, the U.S. has already added 400% more dollars to its money supply than it did in the entirety of 2019—and there’s still three months left to go in the year.
A Macroeconomic View
Of course, current economic conditions have been a catalyst for the ballooning money supply. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government has issued over $3 trillion in fiscal stimulus. In turn, the U.S. Federal Reserve has increased the money supply by $3.4 trillion from January to September 2020.
Put another way, for every ounce of gold created in 2020 there has been $4 million U.S. dollars added to the money supply.
The question for those looking for safe haven investments is: which of these will ultimately hold their value better?
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