The Story of Voisey’s Bay: Today’s Mine (Part 3 of 3)
Presented by: Equitas Resources, “Nickel exploration in Labrador”
The massive Voisey’s Bay nickel deposit was auctioned off to the highest bidder in early 1996 for $4.3 billion. We have recapped the events leading up to the sale in previous parts of this infographic series on Voisey’s Bay:
We show the events leading up to the nickel discovery in Part 1: The Discovery
We highlight the bidding war for the rights to the deposit in Part 2: The Auction
Voisey’s Bay Today
The discovery at Voisey’s Bay was ultimately significant for three reasons:
- The ore was rich in content. In fact, the famed Ovoid zone had an average grade of 2.8% nickel.
- Much of the ore was near the surface. This would help to minimize extraction costs.
- The deposit was close to tidewater. This reduced the costs associated with transporting ore to ships
The Voisey’s Bay deposit is world-class in terms of its grade and size. With 141 million tonnes of ore, the deposit has significant grades of nickel, copper, and cobalt:
- 1.63% nickel
- 0.85% copper
- 0.09% cobalt
The resource is located in the three main zones: Ovoid, Eastern Deeps, and Reid Brook. The Ovoid represents less than 23% of the total tonnage, but more than 42% of the metal in the deposit.
Mining and Transporting the Ore
The open pit mine at Voisey’s Bay, now owned by Vale, has been in operation since 2005. Recently, underground mining was approved at the site as well.
The ore from Voisey’s Bay is transported via the Umiak I – the world’s most powerful icebreaking cargo ship.
- The Umiak I makes 12 trips a year
- The icebreaker rides over ice that can be 10 metres thick in places
- It has a 30,000 horsepower engine, which is large enough to drive an oil tanker 10x its size
- The Umiak I can carry 30,000 tonnes of nickel-copper concentrate at once (worth $100 million per load)
The Newfoundland and Labrador government estimated that the Voisey’s Bay project will add approximately $20.7 billion to the province’s gross domestic product during the mine’s estimated 30-year lifespan.
Will more of these mines be found in Labrador in the future?
A well-known exploration proverb states that “the best place to find a new mine is next to an old mine”.
That’s why, in a research report by the Newfoundland and Labrador government on Voisey’s Bay it is noted that “this area remains highly favourable for future exploration.”
And as Robert Friedland has said himself:
“Creative people shouldn’t be punished for failure, because in the exploration process we are in the business of drilling dry holes. You can’t keep drilling where you’ve looked.” – Robert Friedland
200 Years of Global Gold Production, by Country
Global gold production has grown exponentially since the 1800s, with 86% of all above-ground gold mined in the last 200 years.
Visualizing Global Gold Production Over 200 Years
Although the practice of gold mining has been around for thousands of years, it’s estimated that roughly 86% of all above-ground gold was extracted in the last 200 years.
With modern mining techniques making large-scale production possible, global gold production has grown exponentially since the 1800s.
The above infographic uses data from Our World in Data to visualize global gold production by country from 1820 to 2022, showing how gold mining has evolved to become increasingly global over time.
A Brief History of Gold Mining
The best-known gold rush in modern history occurred in California in 1848, when James Marshall discovered gold in the Sacramento Valley. As word spread, thousands of migrants flocked to California in search of gold, and by 1855, miners had extracted around $2 billion worth of gold.
The United States, Australia, and Russia were (interchangeably) the three largest gold producers until the 1890s. Then, South Africa took the helm thanks to the massive discovery in the Witwatersrand Basin, now regarded today as one of the world’s greatest ever goldfields.
South Africa’s annual gold production peaked in 1970 at 1,002 tonnes—by far the largest amount of gold produced by any country in a year.
With the price of gold rising since the 1980s, global gold production has become increasingly widespread. By 2007, China was the world’s largest gold-producing nation, and today a significant quantity of gold is being mined in over 40 countries.
The Top Gold-Producing Countries in 2022
Around 31% of the world’s gold production in 2022 came from three countries—China, Russia, and Australia, with each producing over 300 tonnes of the precious metal.
|Rank||Country||2022E Gold Production, tonnes||% of Total|
|#5||🇺🇸 United States||170||5%|
|#8||🇿🇦 South Africa||110||4%|
|-||🌍 Rest of the World||1,030||33%|
North American countries Canada, the U.S., and Mexico round out the top six gold producers, collectively making up 16% of the global total. The state of Nevada alone accounted for 72% of U.S. production, hosting the world’s largest gold mining complex (including six mines) owned by Nevada Gold Mines.
Meanwhile, South Africa produced 110 tonnes of gold in 2022, down by 74% relative to its output of 430 tonnes in 2000. This long-term decline is the result of mine closures, maturing assets, and industrial conflict, according to the World Gold Council.
Interestingly, two smaller gold producers on the list, Uzbekistan and Indonesia, host the second and third-largest gold mining operations in the world, respectively.
The Outlook for Global Gold Production
Gold prices have been hovering around the $1,900-$2,000 per ounce near all-time highs. For mining companies, higher gold prices can mean more profits per ounce if costs remain unaffected.
According to the World Gold Council, mined gold production is expected to increase in 2023 and could surpass the record set in 2018 (3,300 tonnes), led by the expansion of existing projects in North America. The chances of record mine output could be higher if gold prices continue to increase.
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