Ecological impact of gold and silver mining
It's this article published on the blog Brilliant Earth that challenged me, concerning the ecological and human impact of the extraction of gold in the world. Of course, as an online jeweler, I asked myself the question of the impact of the silver extraction, so I dug a little on the web and here are the elements that I could gather, don't hesitate to send me your comments.
I won't repeat in detail the elements of the article cited, so I advise you to read it. Wild exploitation of gold is widespread in Africa and Latin America. It generates havoc on rivers and forests. It's the result of the exploitation of the alluvial gold, present in rivers, which requires the felling of trees, the creation of reservoirs of water and the pollution of this one by use of mercury used to amalgamate gold flakes. Mixing the sludge in the water also greatly reduces the amount of dissolved oxygen and causes the death of the aquatic fauna.
How is that possible ?
The price of one ounce (28.35 g) of gold is about 1400 dollars for the month of June 2013, you can check the gold price evolution on this site. This is a huge price, which has exploded since the crisis began in 2008, the ounce of gold was then worth only $ 800. Of course, the explosion of the gold price has led to a sharp increase in the wild exploitation of gold. As the means required by the underground miners to extract the gold are low: chainsaws, water pumps and mercury are the essential necessary, but sufficient to recover the gold of a river.
Of course, the more the price of gold increases and the gold panning becomes profitable.
Another factor favoring, the lack of traceability : dirty gold extracted, once melted doesn't differ from gold extracted legally with the controls of the state. It's estimated that in French Guiana, 5 tons of illegal gold are exported, the equivalent of the legal amount. 50% of Guyanese production is illegal.
You can find out more by reading this report on gold panning in French Guiana.
Due to its high value and low cost of extraction, wild gold has invaded the markets.
What about silver extraction ?
The case of silver is very different, especially because of its price, the ounce of silver is only $ 22.50, 70 times less than gold. Therefore, the artisanal or wild exploitation of this metal can be profitable only with veins particularly rich in silver, all of which have been exploited.
Pitarrilla mine located in the State of Durango, Mexico, ranks as the fourth biggest silver mine in the world. The operation of Pitarilla silver mine started in 2014, the amount of exploitable silver is estimated at 333 million ounces for an investment of 741 million dollars. It's one of Mexico's major mines, with Mexico already the world's largest producer of silver. As we can see, the investment is much heavier and only large companies can undertake such large projects, of course controlled by the states (which affect their share).
At this time, Silver Standard, which manages this project, could generate $ 7,500 million in sales (not counting other metals mined in parallel) during the 32-year life of the mine.
Silver thus extracted must then be separated from other metals to which it can be alloyed, gold, zinc and lead, which requires chemical treatments, only feasible by large industrial plants. Then begins the refining process which also uses acids, which are normally treated by the manufacturer so as not to be released into nature.
As can be seen, it's the low value of silver (compared to gold) and its low content in mines that prevent the illegal extraction of this precious metal. Large companies, for their part, must comply with local regulations.
It's necessary to note that, just like gold, silver can't be traced, it can be recast and it's therefore almost impossible to determine its origin from the mine. On the other hand, for Mexican silver, it's the state that is responsible for placing ounces of pure silver on the market to supply the local jewelry market.
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