Not long after the rise of civilization, mankind set to work collecting, extracting, and mining for gold. Throughout the centuries human beings have found more-and-more creative and effective ways to scour the Earth’s surface for the prized lustrous metal.
While there are some promising new developments in gold recycling and precious metal recovery technology on the horizon, most of the gold that comes into use is generated by active mining operations. Yet, gold is still a finite resource. This means that there will inevitably be a day when there simply is no more gold to be extracted from the Earth. At least not in this geological era!
While gold exploration continues to create new mining opportunities, we still have to wonder just how close we are to the end of productive gold mining? There might not be any hard and fast conclusion to draw but investigating some important questions might give us a ballpark idea.
What Are The Most Productive Gold Mining Regions?
When the Earth formed the surface was molten, and most of the gold sank to the bottom with iron and other heavy metals. When the primordial planet cooled and the crust formed only a trace amount of gold was left on the crust layer of the Earth.
Geological, volcanic, and tectonic changes have brought gold and other trace minerals to the surface, where they were trapped inside of the rock. Some eroded away over the eons to settle in streams, rivers, oceans and other bodies of water, that may or may not have dried up. Other gold deposits remained trapped inside the rocks. There have also been deposits that have fallen to the earth from space or meteor strikes that brought molten forms of gold to the surface.
Historically the largest single source of gold ever found was in South Africa’s Witwatersrand Basin. It’s an interesting geologic formation which is believed to be the result of an ancient meteorite. Mining in this region started in 1886. Since then it has produced a staggering 1.5 billion troy ounces of gold! While it is still an active mining region, it’s production has been waning since the early 1970s. In recent years the total South African gold output has dropped below 170 tons per year.
Of course, there are other major gold production regions that are doing well. Some are even seeing an increase in annual production. Some of these honorable mentions include
- The deep Mponeng mine in China
- The Super Pit mines in Australia
- The Newmont Boddington mine in Australia
- The Grasberg Mine in Indonesia
- The Carlin Unconformity region in Nevada
There are also productive mining operations in regions throughout Canada, Russia. In recent years Peru has started to emerge on the scene for hard rock and plaster gold mines.
When we add all of these regional operations together, global gold mining produces around 2,500 to 3,000 tons of new gold for world markets in a single year.
Are There New Sources Of Undiscovered Gold?
Over the course of the last twenty years, gold exploration efforts have steadily increased, yet new gold discoveries continue to decrease. In contrast, the last fifty year of the 20th Century saw productive discoveries of new sources of gold around 10 million troy ounces or more!
While new veins of gold and deposits are still being found, large untapped deposits are becoming increasingly rare. This means that a lot of the gold production coming into the market is coming from older mines. At the same time, active operations are coming up with new and innovative ways to more efficiently extract gold from existing mines.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that there may very well be massive deposits of gold deep in the Earth’s crust. It’s just that our current exploration and mining technology isn’t capable of exploiting them. The known gold deposits on the content of Antarctica represent another example of gold that is currently inaccessible. There are also very likely massive gold deposits on the ocean floors throughout the gold. Some like the Nome, Alaska gold fields are just offshore and barely accessible, while others are deep at the edge of the continental shelf.
Is There Such A Thing As Peak Gold Production?
Chances are you’ve heard the term “Peak” applied to the world’s oil production, which is the point where oil extraction has reached its max and will continue to decline into depletion. This conjures up the question of whether or not there is a Peak Gold production, and whether or not we are Past Peak Production?
This is a topic with a great deal of debate surrounding it. The underlying truth is that there is no hard and fast way to really tell. There are some experts who say we are already past peak gold production, yet there are those believe new technology on the horizon will allow us to tap into major deposits in currently inaccessible locations.
If we can’t find a way to efficiently tap into those deposits, experts speculate that global gold production will reach depletion in the next 40-years. Or that the remaining amounts of accessible surface gold simply won’t be cost effective to mine.
What Happens When All Gold Production Stops?
Based on current estimates gold production on a global scale should be near depletion or at a point where it isn’t a sustainable endeavor around the year 2060 or the decade following. At that point, the current gold circulating the market won’t increase. This will likely drive up gold’s price per ounce. Just how long this period lasts is hard to say at this point. Yet there will likely be those holding gold who will be able to turn a massive short-term profit.
Gold recycling technology today is in its infancy. Yet as we get closer and closer to the end of active global gold production, it is likely to evolve rapidly. This will help to reduce the amount of gold that is lost to casual disposal when people discard out of date electronic devices.
Indeed, there might even be new technologies at that time, which will be able to essentially mine, old landfill sites to recover gold and other precious metals from discarded phones, laptops, and other consumer electronic devices.