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New Gold-Drilling Technology: Shale-Drilling Redux?

Before the implementation of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies, the domestic energy industry was in a state of steady decline.

Well, the same can be said right now of the gold mining industry, particularly in South Africa.

South Africa was once the premier producer of the precious metal, yet it now ranks sixth – and is still dropping.

But hope is on the way…

A new drilling technology is being developed that promises a brighter future for gold miners – not only in South Africa, but anywhere around the globe that performs deep level mining.

Reef-Boring Technology

AngloGold Ashanti (AU) is behind this new technology, which is called reef boring.

The company’s CEO, Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan, said that it’s “a game changer, or a paradigm shift.”

Indeed, the current processes for gold mining involve drilling holes many feet below the surface and using explosives.

Reef boring, on the other hand, involves using smaller and more agile machines.

These vastly reconfigured tunnel-boring machines are used to drill parallel access tunnels into gold reef deposits quickly.

Then, between the tunnels, the company drills smaller interconnecting holes. It then fills these holes with a solution that turns rock-hard within three weeks. This keeps the entire mining area stable.

In the end, this allows the company to remove only gold-bearing ore – and then replace it with a rock-hard solution that stabilizes the mine.

This results in shorter drilling times and the ability to operate 24 hours a day.

In other words, much lower overhead.

To show how transformative this new reef-boring technology is, consider the following:

  • Drilling that used to take 30 days is now taking a mere three and a half days! And the company is aiming to lower that to just two.
  • The company also expects that the new technique could extend the life of mines to 30 years – or double the current age.

To date, AngloGold has been employing reef boring only in no-go areas of mines that are deemed too dangerous for human miners to go.

But the experiment is going well so far.

Reef-Boring Promise

On February 19, AngloGold reported that it had produced 40 kilograms of gold from ore at one site – with an average grade of 90 grams of gold per ton mined. This includes enormously valuable gold grades of more than 200 grams per ton.

That’s very good news, indeed, for South Africa, which faces the potential for massive mine shutdowns in the years ahead – due to a decline in grade ores and other factors.

In effect, gold that was previously inaccessible to AngloGold can now be mined using this new reef-boring technology.

The experiment was such a success that AngloGold Ashanti is now rolling it out at five other sites.

The latest machines are being made to work even in the thinnest of reefs – and in the narrow reef platinum mines of South Africa.

In a boost for South Africa, the company doesn’t plan to keep this technology proprietary. It’s willing to share the know-how with other mining firms.

If so, the gold mining industry in South Africa – along with other regions around the globe – may enjoy a new renaissance in the years ahead. And we’ll be tracking any potential opportunities to profit as the trend progresses.

And “the chase” continues,

Tim Maverick

Tim Maverick

, Senior Correspondent

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