Chilean miracle miners back in spotlight (AFP/Sydney Morning Herald – January 2, 2014)

At the bottom of a dank salt mine in Colombia, a 200-strong film crew featuring Spanish actor Antonio Banderas is reconstructing the incredible tale of 33 miners buried alive for 69 days in Chile in 2010. Actors from multiple countries work in suffocating heat on The 33, which traces the unlikely survival of the men trapped deep underground after a collapse at the San Jose copper mine in the Atacama desert.

“It’s not just about the physical ordeal these 33 men went through – it’s about the emotional one, of wondering if they would live or die, or if they would go crazy waiting to find out,” Gregg Brilliant, a spokesman for the American film production, told AFP.

To depict the incredible story that unfolded more than 600m underground, the production team chose to film at two sites outside the Colombian capital Bogota. Behind a security cordon, curious onlookers try to catch a glimpse of a star, but their Hollywood hopes are repeatedly dashed.

In the salt mines of Nemocon, the humid and musty environment combine with the thin mountain air to recreate the oppressive atmosphere at San Jose, located 800km north of Chile’s capital Santiago.

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Paucity Amidst Plenty [India Mining Problems] – by N. Madhavan, K.R. Balasubramanyam and Anilesh S. Mahajan (Business Today – December 22, 2013) [India]

Why a country flush with natural resources finds itself grappling with their shortage.

Billionaire Lakshmi Niwas Mittal has the uncanny ability to work successfully with governments of all kinds across the globe. That, and his unbridled ambition, have enabled him to set up or acquire steel factories in 20 countries. But the man who created the world’s largest steel empire from scratch tasted the bitter fruit of failure when he decided to invest in his country of birth – India.

In a bid to capitalise on India’s huge iron ore deposits and rising steel consumption, Mittal in 2005 announced plans to set up a steel project in Jharkhand that year and in Orissa the next. Later, he proposed another mill in Karnataka. The total intended investment was $30 billion.

In July this year, ArcelorMittal, Mittal’s company, scrapped its $12-billion mill in Orissa after having failed to acquire land and iron ore mines for seven years. Its other projects have not yet been called off, but are also facing delays. Mittal’s decision came just a day after South Korean steelmaker Posco, the world’s fifth-largest, abandoned a $5.3-billion project in Karnataka for similar reasons.

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[India] Bullion smuggling outstrips narcotics to feed gold habit – by A. ANANTHALAKSHMI AND SIDDESH MAYENKAR (Reuters India – December 4, 2014)

SINGAPORE/MUMBAI – (Reuters) – Indian gold smugglers are adopting the methods of drug couriers to sidestep a government crackdown on imports of the precious metal, stashing gold in imported vehicles and even using mules who swallow nuggets to try to get them past airport security.

Stung by rules imposed this year to cut a high trade deficit and a record duty on imports, dealers and individual customers are fanning out across Asia to buy gold and sneak it back into the country.

Sri Lanka, Thailand and Singapore are the latest hotspots as authorities crack down on travellers from Dubai, the traditional source of smuggled gold. In a sign of the times, whistleblowers who help bust illegal gold shipments can get a bigger reward in India than those who help catch cocaine and heroin smugglers.

“Gold and narcotics operate as two different syndicates but gold smuggling has become more profitable and fashionable,” said Kiran Kumar Karlapu, an official at Mumbai’s Air Intelligence Unit.

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[Indonesian] Ore Export Ban Is Definitive, Official Says – by Muhammad Al Azhari (Jakarta Globe – January 2, 2014)

Indonesia will be consistent in banning mineral-ore exports this year, as mandated by the 2009 Mining Law, and the government regulation would set processing and purification requirements before companies can export, a senior government official said.

R. Sukhyar, the newly appointed director general of coal and mineral resources at the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry talked with the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday, almost two weeks before the Jan. 12 deadline, to clarify the government’s stance about the mineral-ore export ban.

Reports last month said the government would set exemptions, but that is not the case, according to Sukhyar. “The law says mineral ore mined from Indonesian soil must be processed [domestically] and be purified. That’s clear, that means no more mineral-ore exports. That’s non-negotiable,” said Sukhyar, a veteran bureaucrat, who officially started his new position on Dec. 20.

The government regulation, he said, will regulate technicalities about the smelting and purification level for metals including copper, nickel, bauxite, tin, iron ore, manganese, gold, copper. It will also regulate the adding of value to non-metals, such as limestone, quartz and marble, before they can be exported.

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Small-Scale Gold Mining Pollutes Indonesian Lands – by Joe Cochrane (New York Times – January 3, 2014)

CISITU, Indonesia — In the remote mountains of West Java, workers like 15-year-old David Mario Chandra are an integral part of Indonesia’s gold industry.

A workshop next to his family’s house in Cisitu, in Banten Province, contains machinery that turns gold ore into usable nuggets. The procedure seems simple enough: The crushed ore is tumbled with other ingredients in cylinders called balls until the valuable stuff is amalgamated. But there is a crucial material — and a final step — that alarms environmental and health experts around the world.

“We put 15 kilograms of gold ore and water into each ball, and we use 100 grams of mercury per ball,” or 3.5 ounces for 33 pounds of ore, said David, who runs the family’s workshop. Workers then purify the nuggets using an open flame, burning off the mercury in sites among residential areas throughout the village.

Yuyun Ismawati, an environmental campaigner based in Britain, says the scope of the problem is evident in the amount of mercury being exported from around the world to Indonesia, her home country. Most of it, she says, is brought in illegally.

According to the Indonesian Ministry of Trade, the country imported slightly less than one metric ton of mercury in 2012 through two local companies, primarily for commercial manufacturing, including the production of light bulbs and batteries, and for use in hospital equipment.

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Why many of Ghana’s gold miners are giving up – by Matthew Davies (BBC News – December 29, 2013)

Ghana – Kwaku Boham worries about the future. For years, he and his four fellow gold miners have scratched out a living on a tiny plot next to the roadside near Tarkwa in south-western Ghana.

All day in the tropical heat and humidity, they dig out the red soil and rocks and crush them in a noisy grinder, hoping to yield some small nuggets to cover their expenses and feed their families.

But they have no control over what they sell any nuggets for – that’s set in markets in New York and London. And over the past year, the price of gold has been falling.

On 1 January this year, the spot price of gold was $1,687.22 an ounce, this month it has been trading around $1,240 an ounce – a loss of around 25%. The outlook for 2014 is not much healthier. The reason gold is losing its lustre is that global economies are looking a lot healthier than they did a year ago.

The US economy grew by 3.6% in the third quarter of 2013, its best performance in 18 months, while unemployment, which hit a 26-year high at 10% in 2009, dropped to 7% last month – a five-year low.

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Tanzania: Gold Mine Boosts Villagers’ Livelihoods – by Mugini Jacob (All – January 3, 2014)

Tarime — TARIME District Council has said it is now seeing remarkable development in the villages surrounding the North Mara Gold Mine at this time compared to the past.

Located in Nyamongo area, North Mara Gold Mine is one of Tanzania’s largest gold mines operated by African Barrick Gold (ABG) “There are big things happening in Nyamongo.

Nyamongo of today is not Nyamongo of the past”, Tarime District Council Chairman Mr Amos Sagara told a full council meeting at the District Council Conference Hall recently.

The latest full council meeting which sat to discuss development issues was attended by all Tarime councillors including those hailing from the villages around the mine and senior government experts based in the area.

The top council leader commended ABG, Tanzanian largest gold producer for speeding up implementation of Villages Benefits Implementation Agreements (VBIA’s) signed between the mine and surrounding villages late 2011.

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Steel consortium slashes Afghan ore plant plan – by Krishna N Das and Jessica Donati (Reuters India – December 31, 2013)

NEW DELHI/KABUL – (Reuters) – An Indian consortium has slashed a planned $10.8 billion iron ore investment in Afghanistan by 80 percent because it has been unable to get funding for the project.

The consortium has proposed new terms which would see just 130.57 billion rupees invested, according to figures released on Tuesday in India’s steel ministry year-end report.

Led by state-owned Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) (SAIL.NS), the group was forced to renegotiate the terms of the deal with the Afghan government after India’s finance ministry refused to fund the project.

The original proposal called for investment in three iron ore blocks at Hajigak in Afghanistan and in a 6 million-tonne-per-year (MTPA) steel plant.

But the finance ministry told the consortium, according to an official involved, to draw up a fresh viability study. Under the new proposed terms, the size of the plant would fall to 1.2 MTPA.

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Last U.S. Lead Smelter Closes Toxic History in Ore-Rich Missouri – by Tim Jones (Bloomberg News – December 23, 2013)

When the St. Joseph Lead Co. finished work on its 350-foot smoke stack in 1892, the mining company’s pact with tiny Herculaneum, Missouri, was sealed. The town would enjoy more than a century of good-paying jobs while the plant belched sulfur-laced emissions.

Three decades after discovering the town’s blessing was life-threatening, its toxic partnership ends next week when the largest and last lead smelter in the U.S. shuts down.

The Dec. 31 closing of the smelter on the west bank of the Mississippi River, south of St. Louis, marks the end of an era in a region that has supplied most of the nation’s lead since the 1700s. Almost always, the roads and rails from the mines in southeast Missouri’s lead belt ran to Herculaneum.

“Never thought it would go away,” said Herculaneum Mayor Bill Haggard, nodding toward the smelter whose stack is now 550 feet tall, about the height of the Washington Monument. While lead mining continues in Missouri, the halt of smelting echoes the economics that contributed to the decline of high-sulfur coal excavation in the Midwest.

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Americans’ appetite for bling on fire as gold prices sink – by Frank Tang (Reuters U.S. – December 23, 2013)

NEW YORK – (Reuters) – Tumbling gold prices, growing consumer confidence and aggressive discounting by retailers have Americans flocking to jewelers’ counters this holiday shopping season.

The U.S. gold jewelry industry is on track for its highest sales for the fourth quarter since 2010 and its first annual increase in gold sales in more than a decade, precious metal consultant Thomson Reuters GFMS has estimated.

“I always look for the price of gold in the news and pay attention to discounts and deals,” John Mora Gonzalez, a 31-year-old mechanic in New York, said after purchasing a necklace for his wife for Christmas. Mora had spotted J.C. Penney Co Inc’s 20-percent discount on fine jewelry, and paid $40 for a 10-karat gold necklace.

Gold prices have plunged almost a third this year, halting a 12-year run of gains. Bullion lost favor with institutional and retail investors as they braced for the U.S. Federal Reserve to reduce its monthly $85 billion bond-buying program, moving funds to equities and other riskier assets.

Renewed consumer appetite for gold is unlikely to counteract the lack of investment dollars and reverse the downward trend for prices.

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US mining giant faces fight with Indonesia – by Olivia Rondonuwu (The West Australian – December 23, 2013)

High in the snow-capped mountains, the sight of tribesmen roaming in loincloths contrasts sharply with that of miners using hi-tech machinery to extract gold and copper ore at a huge US-owned facility in remote Indonesia.

The heavily-guarded complex is the resource-rich Indonesia’s biggest mine and has been a controversial presence for more than five decades — accused of environmental devastation and extracting huge wealth while giving too little back to a poverty-wracked area.

On a rare visit by the foreign media to Freeport McMoRan’s Grasberg complex in Papua province, AFP saw first-hand the challenge of mining at one of the world’s biggest gold and copper mines, where thin oxygen makes it difficult for workers to breathe.

Now, the company faces a fight with the state as it looks to extend its contract at a time when emboldened politicians are taking aim at foreign miners with measures forcing them to leave more of their profits in the country.

Indonesia is transforming into a freewheeling democracy and booming economy, with mining firms among foreign companies under scrutiny in what critics say is a climate of rising economic nationalism.

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Digging into the Copper Coast’s past – by Paddy Woodworth (Irish Times – December 21, 2013)

Waterford’s geopark reveals what lies beneath our landscape, the long history of how it got there and how its minerals moulded our history

Everything we do, everywhere we stand and, ultimately, everything we eat is based on rocks, but most of us know very little about them. Very few of us could tell a visitor much about what lies beneath our local landscape, much less the long history of how it got there or how its minerals moulded our history and determined our vegetation.

The Global Geoparks Network aims to change all that. Geology, with its mind-boggling timescales and unfamiliar language, can seem a rather daunting subject, but the network wants to steer it into our cultural mainstream.

“Is a geopark just about geology?” Patrick J McKeever, vice-co-ordinator of this Unesco initiative, asked during his presentation at the opening of Waterford’s Copper Coast Geopark visitors’ centre by the Taoiseach last month.

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REPEAT-FEATURE-Dominican gold rush hits a bureaucratic slowdown – by Ezra Fieser (Reuters India – December 23, 2013)

Dec 23 (Reuters) – Little more than a decade ago, one of the world’s largest known gold deposits sat abandoned in the foothills of the Dominican Republic’s Central Cordillera mountain range. Car-sized boulders leached heavy metals into what locals called the “blood river,” its waters ran so red from contaminants.

Today the mine, which reopened as Pueblo Viejo this year, hums with activity. Trucks with tires twice the size of an SUV roll through its massive open pits on roads that cut through the 11-square-kilometer site (4.24 square miles), transporting tons of rock to a processing facility.

Some 2,000 people already work here, churning out shimmering gold bars that are exported to Canada and the United States, but the mine has the potential to create 12,700 more direct and indirect jobs and contribute $1.3 billion a year in exports. This dynamic, foreign-operated enterprise is part of the country’s effort to develop an industry that could help boost and diversify its tourism-dependent economy.

Yet despite robust commercial production by two of the world’s largest gold mining companies, Canada’s Barrick Gold Corp and Goldcorp Inc, development of the mining sector is vexed by bureaucratic delays and agitation by activists still concerned about pollution and government deals with foreign companies to exploit the nation’s riches.

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PRECIOUS-Gold falls, set for biggest yearly loss since 1981 – by Clara Denina (Reuters U.S. – December 23, 2013)

LONDON, Dec 23 (Reuters) – Gold fell on Monday, on course for its largest annual loss in 32 years, as thin pre-holiday trade and signs of an improving U.S. economy growth kept investors fretting over the impact of the Federal Reserve’s stimulus tapering.

The metal posted its biggest weekly loss in a month after the Fed’s decision to start scaling back its bond-buying stimulus, which was followed by upbeat GDP data.

“Gold is in a bit of a limbo now because we know that the Fed starting to reduce their bond buying is a reality and the dollar should hold relatively strong from here,” VTB Capital analyst Andrey Kryuchenkov said.

“I would argue that there is support at $1,190 … but there may be more downside as it doesn’t take much to move the market in thin holiday trading.”

Spot gold fell 0.6 percent to $1,195.00 an ounce by 1051 GMT. It had briefly rebounded above $1,200 an ounce in earlier trade as investors found value in the metal after prices lost 4 percent in the previous three sessions.

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Tale of Two Polish Mines Shows Biggest EU Producer’s Woes – by Maciej Martewicz and Marek Strzeleck (Bloomberg News – December 23, 2013)

Stock markets aren’t usually a subject of discussion when you’re a kilometer underground, yet Dariusz Batyra isn’t a typical Polish miner.

“I check the share price each day,” said Batyra, 39, a senior foreman at the mine run by Lubelski Wegiel Bogdanka SA, one of three coal companies in Poland not controlled by the government. “Everybody does in here.”

The performance of his employer compared with competitor Kompania Weglowa SA, the biggest producer in the European Union, explains why. Since debuting on the Warsaw Stock Exchange in 2009, Bogdanka has more than doubled in value as profits rose every year but one. It has done so even as the price of coal more than halved since 2008, when the global financial crisis took hold, pushing Kompania Weglowa to the brink of collapse.

Another year of diverging fortunes for the two miners underscores the contrast in an industry that’s struggled to adapt to the reality of the free market almost a quarter of a century after communism ended in Poland.

Bogdanka employs about 5,000 and analysts expect net income of 313.5 million zloty ($103 million) for 2013, making it the most profitable of seven Polish coal producers.

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