Have you ever wondered which mines are blasting, shovelling and hauling the most expensive ore? While the world’s highest-value minerals are well known – this list includes precious metals and gemstones – it is more practical for mining industry stakeholders to estimate the value of minerals by looking through the lens of a mining operation. Simply put, what is the worth of an excavator/ loader bucket at a particular open pit or underground mine compared to its peers in the industry?
InfoMine’s IntelligenceMine database has a powerful tool that allows users to get a quick reserves/resources valuation based on the most recent estimates of reserves/resources and commodity prices updated on a daily basis.
The following analysis covers those currently active mining operations throughout the world that are separate reporting units and which have most recent reserves evaluation figures disclosed by the owners/operators after December 31, 2014.
Why are only reserves taken into account? Because a mineral reserve is the most accurate economic estimate of a mine’s mineral resources, which can be justified under current market conditions. Therefore, ore reserves are far less speculative than ore resources and relatively precisely reflect changes in the economic “wellbeing” of mines.
In this case analysis is limited to mining operations where ore reserves have been calculated according to international standards adopted by major stock exchanges for public reporting of mineral exploration results.
Top 10 mining operations handling most expensive tonnes of ore
1. Cigar Lake
The Athabasca sedimentary basin, located predominantly in Canada’s Saskatchewan province, contains the world’s highest-grade “unconformity” bonanza-type uranium deposits. Despite record low spot uranium prices, Cameco Corp’s Cigar Lake mine grabs first place in this ranking, boasting remarkable USD$8,430 of uranium contained in one tonne of ore reserves. With ~17% U3O8 grade in reserves, Cigar Lake is also the world’s highest grade uranium mine.
2. McArthur River
Another of Cameco’s underground mines, McArthur River, is the world’s largest and second highest-grade uranium operation. With one tonne of ore reserves worth USD$5,523, McArthur River mine sits second on our list.
3. Fire Creek
With ~42 g/t of gold in reserves, the Fire Creek mine, owned by Klondex Mines and located in Nevada, United States, is believed to be the highest-grade underground gold mine in the world. With ore reserves valued at USD$1,638/t, Fire Creek is ranked third, well behind Cameco’s uranium champions.
4. Macassa (South Mine Complex)
The Macassa Mine Complex in Ontario, Canada, owned by Kirkland Lake Gold Inc., is part of one of Canada’s oldest and richest mineralized systems. The Kirkland Lake Main Break system boasts gold production of 24 million ounces over a span of 86 years with an average historic grade of 16.5 g/t. At USD$883/t of ore, Macassa’s South Mine Complex holds fourth place.
5. Sudbury Operations
KGHM’s Sudbury Operations are located on the western border of the richly-mineralized North Range of the Sudbury Igneous Complex in Ontario, Canada, about 400 km north of Toronto. The Sudbury Complex is a unique geological structure; being the site of a 1.85 billion-year-old meteorite impact crater. Today, Sudbury is one of the most productive mining camps with one of the richest and largest polymetallic deposits in the world. Minerals are extracted by some of the biggest mining companies, including KGHM, Vale and Glencore. Valued at USD$846/t of ore, KGHM’s Sudbury Operations are fifth in this ranking. Ore value is split between gold, nickel, copper, palladium and platinum. This allows a degree of hedging when it comes to commodity price fluctuations, because the prices of precious and base metals are often counter-cyclical.
6. San Sebastian
San Sebastian is Hecla Mining’s newest silver and gold mine, and began mining ore in December 2015. Hecla’s concessions at San Sebastian are located in the middle of the prolific Mexican Silver Belt and cover approximately 42,000 hectares (162 square miles). Hecla operated the underground San Sebastian mine on this property from 2001-05. Mining is currently focused on shallow, near-surface pits on the East Francine, Middle and North veins, targeting high-grade material. The pits are small, extending to a maximum of about 270 feet deep. Near-surface material is weathered and easily excavated. With USD$817/t of ore reserves split between gold and silver, the San Sebastian mine holds sixth place. In addition to exceptionally rich and valuable ores, the relatively low-cost method of mining shallow open pits puts this operation well above its peers.
The Avlayakan open-pit gold mine located in the Khabarovsk Region of the Russian Far East is part of Polymetal’s Khakanja gold/silver operations. An interesting fact: Due to the extreme remoteness of Avlayakan, high-grade ore is transported to the Khakanja processing facility by sea and roads – a route encompassing about 1,000 kilometres. In 2012, two barges carrying high-grade gold ore from Avlayakan capsized and sank in the Okhotsk Sea. This open pit mine has a remarkable ~18 g/t gold grade, and with ore reserves valued at USD$770/ t, it is ranked seventh on this list.
Part of Newcrest’s Gosowong mine complex, the Toguraci mine is located on Halmahera Island, in Indonesia’s North Maluku Province, approximately 2,450 kilometres northeast of Jakarta. The Toguraci high-grade gold mine ranks eighth on this list with USD$760 t ore reserves value.
Recently commissioned by Buenaventura, the Tambomayo high-grade polymetallic mine produces gold, silver, lead and zinc. One tonne of Tambomayo’s ore reserves are worth USD$655, putting this mine in ninth place.
10. Greens Creek
Hecla’s Greens Creek polymetallic mine is located in Southeast Alaska. The Greens Creek orebody contains silver, zinc, gold and lead, and lies within the Admiralty Island National Monument. Accessible by boat and served by 21 kilometres of road, the project consists of the mine, an ore concentrating mill, a dry stacked tailings facility, a ship-loading facility, camp facilities and a ferry dock. Greens Creek is one of the largest and lowest-cost primary silver mines in the world, and is the cash-generating engine for Hecla. Greens Creek mine book-ends our list of top 10 mining operations handling the most expensive tonnes of ore.