All That Glitters
Modern Mining Done Right
Today’s Cripple Creek & Victor Mine utilizes environmentally friendly geophysical engineering and ore processing practices.
Photo courtesy of Newmont Mining Corp
Gold, this simple mineral has created fortunes and made dreams come true. But for Newmont Mining Corp. – the world’s second largest gold mining company and owner of the Cripple Creek and Victor Mine -- gold mining is about more than dreams. It’s a 24/7, 365-day a year focus. Over the last several years, Newmont CC&V has brought an investment of about $600 million of new equipment and technology on-line. As a result, gold production has grown to about 400,000 troy ounces in 2017 – double the previous year’s total.
Identifying, removing and processing “ore bodies” (mineral-laden rock) from the earth isn’t easy. The work involves complex geophysical engineering, state of the industry ore processing and sustainable practices – all to achieve a satisfying economic as well as environmental result.
“Imagine more than 30 million years ago near Cripple Creek and Victor, volcanic eruptions occurred many times south and west of Pikes Peak,” says Newmont Mine Co. spokesman Brad Poulson. Repeated volcanic activity caused molten earth to intrude into the earth’s crust, allowing liquefied hydrothermal fluids to flow into resulting “structural weaknesses.” Those underground veins of precious metals (particularly gold) found in today’s Cripple Creek Mining District are spread throughout a 7 to 10 square mile area.
To meet demand for gold in the medical, aviation, space and electronics industries – as well as for jewelry and bullion -- the mining industry addresses many challenges. Mines are closely regulated by federal and state governments for dust, light emissions, water discharge, noise, vibration and, most importantly, safety. “The high cost to extract valuable minerals and efficiently separate them from non-mineral material requires very specific technical know-how,” Poulson says, “and our geography only makes the job more interesting.”
Mining begins with mineralogical and structural exploration. Test-drilled rock from up to 2000 feet below the mine’s surface – all carefully measured and monitored – is brought to the surface. These ore bodies are then assayed for gold content. Once found, a series of 300 holes, 15 feet apart and 40 feet deep are drilled and explosives are used to blast the rock or “muck.” This material is then trucked to a crusher complex. Any muck not containing gold is stored and used for reclamation and in backfilling surface mines.
Some of the mine’s most dramatic visuals – viewed frequently during public mine tours -- are the megalithic haul trucks used to transport muck. Twenty-seven feet tall, 25 feet wide and 40 feet long, Newmont employs 22 of the giant workhorses. “They cost about $4 million each without the tires,” Poulson says, adding that the 12-foot tires run another $30,000 apiece. Colorado Springs resident Michael Raedel recalls seeing haul trucks during a mine tour with a company geologist. “They’re impressive – and the drivers never turn them off. Our guide told us they simply idle them through the shift change between day and night crews -- it saves energy and is more efficient,” he says.
That attention to preserving energy and maintaining sustainable practices such as lined leach fields (where chemicals and water are used to extract gold from other material) has so far met with support from the surrounding community. Newmont Mining Corp. has worked to build relationships with its Victor and Cripple Creek neighbors. Volunteers from The Southern Teller County Focus Group, for example, work with mine representatives to develop local trails and to preserve and relocate historic buildings impacted by mine operations. They also assist with planning and options for post-mining reclamation. STCFG President Ruth Zalewski sees the collaboration as a net positive and points to Newmont’s high environmental and employee safety ratings. The company employs about 580 local workers and donates money and manpower to surrounding community projects. “So far they seem responsive to Victor’s concerns for noise, air and movement from blasting – addressing them, if and when, they arise,” she says.
Poulson sees the company’s role both as a community partner and environmental steward. “Our goal is to return any land within our perimeter to a use similar to the way we found it,” he says.