The Baia Mare Cyanide Spill

Without a doubt, gold mining can be a boon for local economies – but only if it’s done responsibly. If the operation is poorly planned or managed, the disastrous results won’t be worth the gold recovered.

A strong example of this would be the cyanide spill that occurred in Baia Mare, Romania back in 2000 – which many experts consider to be the worst European environmental disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Aurul, a joint-venture of Australian company Esmeralda Exploration and the Romanian government, were working to process and dispose of mine tailings (leftover ore from which most gold had been extracted). Their plan was to use gold cyanidation to extract any remaining gold, then dispose of the tailings. Aural stored its waste products in a dam near the Someş River.

In January, heavy snowfall caused the damn to break, spilling 3,500,000 cubic feet of its toxic contents into the Someş, which flows into the Tisza River, which flows into the famous Danube River. The environmental damage along the Someş and Tisza were catastrophic. Luckily, the volume of the water in the Danube was able to dilute the levels of cyanide, so it was not impacted as badly. But, it was little consolation to the Romanians and Hungarians who watched their two most beautiful rivers die almost overnight. The legacy of the spill is a strong reminder on the importance of environmentally safe gold mining techniques.

How Much Gold is There? It Depends Who You Ask.

Question: How much gold is in the entire world?

Answer: Thomson Reuters GFMS (Gold Field Mining Services) produces an annual survey of the world’s gold estimates. Last year’s figure for all the gold in the world was 171,300 metric tons. If it were all gathered in one place and melted down, it could form a cube 68ft on each side. If you shipped that cube to our refinery (remember, no job is too large or small for us!) your payout would be in the neighborhood of $6,694,414,604,000 – a few trillion less than the GDP of China.

Speaking of China, that’s one of the reasons why worldwide gold estimates vary. Many countries (such as China and Switzerland) don’t fully reveal the size of their gold reserves. Other factors include gold mined during pre-history, illegal mining operations, undiscovered treasure, and differing mining efficiencies.

Depending on who you ask, you’ll get estimates ranging from 155,244 tons to as much as a whopping 2.5 million tons – which totals to about a mind-blowing $97,702,433,923,000. That’s more than six times the GDP of the United States!

Those estimates only account for the amount of mined gold. According to the US Geological Survey, there is still approximately 52,000 tons (about $2,032,210,625,000 worth) of gold still left to be mined, with more likely to be discovered. And since nearly all of the world’s gold is continuously recycled, estimates aren’t likely to decrease for a long time.

Detecting Dark Matter with Gold

Once again, precious metals are at the forefront of technological development as a team of physicists and biologists announced gold as a critical component in their dark matter detector.

Dark matter is theorized to be the most abundant substance in the universe, but it cannot be observed because it does not emit or absorb or react with light in any way. Deep underground where other signals or radiation won’t interfere, the above-mentioned scientists are developing a dark matter detector using a thin gold sheet, Mylar sheets, and specially engineered DNA.

Strands of DNA hang from the gold sheet forming a kind of “forest.” The scientists theorize that any present dark matter particles will smash into the gold’s heavy nucleus – pushing it out of the gold sheet and through the DNA forest. Each DNA strand has a unique identifier, so scientists can trace the path of the gold nucleus with extreme precision.

The design still has some kinks that need to be worked out before it starts detecting dark matter. First, scientists aren’t sure exactly how a fast-moving gold nucleus will interact with a strand of DNA. Secondly, the DNA needs to be engineered so it can both hang straight (DNA is usually curled into its iconic double-helix) and absorb the energy of the gold nucleus. But once scientists can create the type of DNA they need, gold could play a critical role in a major scientific discovery.