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Golden Predator joins search for environmentally friendly mining techniques

Golden Predator, a company active in Yukon gold mining, has joined others in the industry to research and develop a more environmentally friendly mining technique.

Company active in Yukon gold mining joins others in research and development venture

Janet Lee-Sheriff of Golden Predator Mining says wellheads like this are used to recover metals from deep underground. (Submitted by Janet Lee-Sheriff)

A mining company active in Yukon says it hopes to lead the way on more environmentally friendly gold mining techniques.

Golden Predator Mining and two other companies have formed Group 11 Technologies to research and develop the use of in-situ mining on gold deposits.

Janet Lee-Sheriff of Golden Predator said in-situ, also known as in-place, mining involves drilling holes into a mineral deposit, putting in a water-based solution that breaks down the metal and then recovering the solution and separating out the metal.

There are no open pits, tunnelling or heavy equipment needed.

Cyanide is often used in gold mining to separate gold from the rock. Lee-Sheriff said putting it into groundwater is not acceptable.

It was Golden Predator's work in Yukon that led to another possible solution, she said.

The company was testing a bulk sample it took from a mining property near Watson Lake. Lee-Sheriff said they were looking for a solution other than cyanide to recover the gold from the sample when they found a water-based solution made by a company called EnviroLeach Technologies.

An illustration from Group 11 Technologies showing an example of in-situ mining. Drill holes are used to recover metals instead of open pits or tunnels. (Group 11 Technologies)

The solution is harmless enough that people can drink it with no ill effects, she said.

Lee-Sheriff said it also successfully leached out the gold in the sample.

She said history was made that day at their processing facility in Watson Lake.

It led to a discussion about the solution's use for in-situ mining and to a company called enCore Energy. It has a lot expertise in in-situ mining in the uranium industry and was interested in EnviroLeach's solution for use in mining gold and other metals.

Together, the three companies formed Group 11 Technologies.

Their plan is to acquire gold properties in the U.S. to begin research and development using the water-based solution for in-situ mining, according to a news release from Group 11 Technologies.

Lee-Sheriff said if it's successful, use in Canada would still be years away.

There are no regulations in place in Canada that allow it, so it cannot be done until there are regulations, she said.

Lee-Sheriff says this processor in Watson Lake, Yukon, was used to successfully test a water-based solution for its ability to leach gold from rock, eliminating the need to use cyanide. (Janet Lee-Sheriff)

Scott Dunbar, a professor and department head at the University of British Columbia's institute of mining engineering, said developing regulations would involve a lot of scrutiny and possibly public opposition.

He said people are nervous about anything being put into groundwater.

Another issue, Dunbar said, is finding a way to get the solution to the gold.

"I mean, you could drill a hole and not intersect any gold at all," he said. "And then a couple of metres away you could drill another hole and intersect a large amount of gold."

He said ways would have to be found to fracture the rock underground or find a deposit in naturally-fractured rock.

"It's tricky, but that's I think the main impediment," he said, "is getting to the rock mass in-situ."

Utah-based geologist Dusty Earley researched in-situ mining for the U.S. government between 1988 and 1996.

He said other than in uranium mining, and to a lesser extent copper, there has not been much interest from the mining industry. That's probably because conventional methods were seen to be more profitable, Earley said.

Even though the industry is improving, he said, there's growing pressure on mining companies to operate in a more environmentally friendly way.

That's revived interest in in-situ mining, Earley said. It led him to write a book on the process. It was published in March.

Along with potential environmental benefits, he said, it's far less expensive than conventional mining.

He said gold deposits that are too small to be profitable now, could suddenly become money makers.

"All it requires is drilling rigs and and some pump equipment and a surface processing facility," he said.

"So I think, yes, in-situ for a remote environment like the Yukon would be very attractive from that standpoint," said Earley.

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