Precious Metals

Gold Mining Process: How is Gold Mined?

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As an investor in precious metals, you really need to know as much as you can about money metals. That would certainly include things like how gold is mined today. Which is why this article explains all the facts about gold mining that you need to know.

When you hear the term “gold mining”, what comes to mind? 

Maybe it’s the Old West, with sluices and pans and prospectors flocking to California during the Gold Rush to stake their claim to the possible fortunes that awaited them. 

Or, maybe you think of the exciting shows all over reality television where men put their entire future and their lives at risk by open-pit mining or undersea mining. 

No matter what you dream up, gold mining continues day and night, every single day of the year. But, maybe you aren’t quite sure how this is accomplished. That is why we’re going to touch base on this interesting topic today.

As you look at your gold jewelry or think about the bullion you have in your investment portfolio you may question just “How is Gold Mined?”

If so, then this article is for you. We cover everything we know about gold and other precious metals in the world today. Let’s start with the mining methods of today.

Gold Mining Methods

Gold mining is the extraction of gold via one of four methods. Traditionally, gold mining was accomplished by manually extracting the ore through processes such as panning.

As less and less gold is found at the surface level, more complex processes have been developed to reach the gold that is deeper in the earth. 

The most common methods of gold mining include the following three processes:

  • Placer Mining – Placer mining of gold is done in areas where the rock or soil is loose, typically on beaches or riverbeds. Commonly, tools and machines will move and sift the sediment, where gold, being denser, will settle in the tool while the looser and lighter sediment gets washed away.
  • Dredging – On occasion, gold deposits are in deeper water, which makes it difficult to just wade in and collect. Dredging uses machines to remove the soil and sediment from the riverbed. Sometimes this involves a machine that is outside of the water or large hoses are put into the water to suck water and soil from the riverbed and deposit it into a processing machine. 

This suction dredging will require a diver to operate the hose and the U.S. requires a license and is heavily regulated in states like Alaska, California, and Montana. 

  • Panning – Panning is one of the simplest and cleanest ways to extract gold from a placer deposit, as well as the oldest method. In this process, the miner will use a large pan to scoop up the soil where they will then swirl the pan underwater to loosen and remove the light sediment, leaving the heavier gold in their pan. It remains a very popular method for gold prospectors who mine gold on a smaller scale. 
  • Sluicing – Water is a very useful tool when gold mining. Sluicing uses the power of water to move large amounts of soil and gravel to access the gold. A sluice uses channels to recreate the flow of a river where it pushes sediment along and allows heavy gold to sink to the bottom of the sluice box where it is caught in ridges or fins. 

If there is not a good source of water available to set up the sluice, you can also use a rocker box. It uses the same methods for separating sediment from gold and also catches the gold at the bottom of the box. Instead of using the water to move the sediment, a rocker box (cradle) is rocked back and forth to cause the separation.

  • Hard Rock Mining – When the ground is too hard for placer mining, hard rock mining may be required. This method is done by larger gold mining operations and requires the cooperation of an entire team including engineers, geographers, geologists, and chemists. Core samples will be drilled, geography is surveyed, and other important factors will be taken into consideration when it is decided if the area is viable for gold mining. Less than 0.1% of potential mining sites are actually fully developed into functional, productive mines. 
  • Underground and Open Pit Mining – Open pit mining is what many people think of when they think of gold mining. Giant machines, such as diggers, earth movers, and motorized sluicers will do most of the heavy work. If the ground is especially hard and dense, miners will drill holes into the ground and place explosives to help remove the rocks and dirt and reach the gold deposits that are located deeper in the earth’s surface.
  • Byproduct Mining -Sometimes mining for other materials will reveal that there is actually gold in the same area. For example, copper mining in Utah and Papua New Guinea often reveals gold as a by-product. But, mining for other precious metals and even gravel will reveal gold in the same mines.

Alternative Gold Mining Methods

As technology has improved, so have the methods for extracting gold from the earth. While the above methods are still widely used and continue to be popular, instead of using these mechanical methods, gold can now be mined chemically. This may be done with an older, almost obsolete method using mercury, or it can be done with sodium cyanide. 

More good news is that many precious metals are increasingly used for sustainable energy, so the benefits of mining and processing gold go beyond just the aesthetics and towards more practical applications to improve both the environment and the economy.

Now that you know a little about how gold is mined, you can really appreciate those pieces of jewelry, the precious metals in your retirement account, and even the electronics that you’re on every single day that utilize various precious metals to run.

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MF Metal Team

At MF Metal, we research and analyze retirement investment options for individuals who want to control and protect their financial future. We strongly focus on precious metals and gold IRA accounts.