A New Gold Rush in California? Some Think It's Worth It

There's newfound interest in mines shuttered decades ago
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 5, 2022 1:45 PM CST
California Gold Mines Could Come Back to Life
An abandoned gold mine is shown in this stock photo.   (Getty Images)

If the term "California gold rush" makes you think of the mid-1800s, get ready to be jerked forward in time. In a piece published by the Atlantic, Becki Robins explores the potential birth of a second gold rush in the state through the lens of Rise Gold, a mining firm that bought the Idaho-Maryland Mine in Grass Valley, California, in 2017. Gold was last extracted from the mine in 1956, when the economics stopped making sense: The price of gold had earlier been fixed at $35 an ounce, and mining it just wasn't profitable. That fixed system ended decades ago, and "with rising inflation, demand for gold remains high," which is leading to renewed interest in gold mining in Europe and North America, writes Robins. But whether it's worth it is a thorny question.

Robins explains there is still gold to be had—the US Geological Survey estimates 206,000 tons of the world's known gold have been mined, and another 63,000 tons remains in the ground—but what's left is typically deeper and tougher to get at. And then there's the issue of the copious amounts of mining waste, which includes waste rock (the stuff that doesn't hold enough extractable gold) and tailings (the "slurry" produced by the extraction of gold from ore); both can hold potentially water-polluting toxins. Rise Gold—whose mining project isn't a go yet—has a plan for this, a technique called "paste backfilling" that Robins explains. But some maintain the whole thing isn't worth it, with one economist suggesting gold be left where it is and investors instead buy shares in gold-exploration companies that have located underground gold but don't intend to mine it. (Read the full story for much more.)

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