Elko Daily Free Press
Despite being for sale, Barrick Gold Corp.’s Bald Mountain Mine continues to move forward with its expansion plans.
The mine’s draft environmental impact statement for the expansion was reviewed this fall, with the comment period ending Oct. 13.
Bald Mountain has the biggest land package of any mine in the U.S. Its current footprint is about a 10-mile by 25-mile area. The expansion is proposed for the North and South Operations Areas, in White Pine County and about 65 miles northwest of Ely. The North and South Operations are separated by about 14 miles, said Josh Roderick, environmental superintendent for Bald Mountain.
The proposed expansion project would be located on BLM-administered lands and include expansion of the Bald Mountain Mine North and South Operations Areas for an additional 6,903 acres of disturbance.
Combining and expanding the existing Bald Mountain Mine North Operations Area Plan of Operations boundary and the existing Casino/Winrock Mine Plan boundary into a unified plan boundary called the proposed NOA Project would increase the total surface disturbance from 9,381 acres to 13,727 acres and add four new heap leach pads.
In the South Operations Area, the existing Alligator Ridge Mine and Yankee Mine plans would be expanded and combined into a unified plan called the proposed South Operations Area Project, which would increase the total surface disturbance from 939 acres to 3,496 acres. The South Operation Area Project Plan of Operations would also include an electrical transmission line and an access road between the North and South operations areas.
The draft EIS describes four alternatives, but the plan that has the best chance of approval is the Western Redbird Modification Alternative. The alternative proposed additional surface disturbance for the NOA and SOA projects would be approximately 4,773 acres and approximately 2,220 acres of authorized disturbance would be withdrawn, which represents a 4,339-acre (63 percent) decrease in comparison to the proposed action, according to the Bureau of Land Management.
Roderick said the biggest challenges at the site are a mule deer corridor and sage grouse habitat.
Several local outfitters had brought concerns about a deer migration corridor to the BLM. The Redbird Alternative seems to be the solution to this issue.
“A lot of hard work was done,” Roderick said. “We worked with the different agencies, NDOW, BLM, and we were in contact with Nevada Coalition for Wildlife, different groups, that’s how we got to the Western Redbird Modification Alternative. We reduced the size of the Redbird Pit and allowed for some migration of deer movement to occur between the actual pit and rock disposal area. Also the Numbers facilities were essentially eliminated from the plan.”
The site also has to deal with sage grouse, Roderick said. A “large majority” of North Operations is either in priority or general habitat but there aren’t any leks in that portion of the mine site, he said.
“Down in the South area there are some leks in somewhat close proximity that we will have to mitigate for, with noise monitoring,” Roderick said.
The main mitigation is noise monitoring. If the area is over a certain threshold then mitigation is required. Roderick said they don’t have a “detailed” plan for the mitigation. He said it would be at the discretion of the BLM.
While the possible expansion would not increase the workforce, it would allow the employees to work longer at the site. Bald Mountain has 450 employees and about 35 haul trucks in its fleet, said Richard Curnow, engineering superintendent. The fleet consists of 240-ton Komatsu trucks, 289 Caterpillars that are 190-ton and 785 Caterpillars that are 150-ton. The average grade at Bald Mountain is 0.022 ounce per ton and all of it is oxide ore.
“As we get closer to finishing one pit and starting another, you start doing a little more exploration work around the area, trying to expand the pit,” Curnow said. “We just try and open up as many of these pits as we can, of course that all depends a lot on gold price and mining costs.”
If the expansion is approved, the life of mine is 2020. Without the expansion, the mine life is done by 2017.
“Next year’s life of mine we’re looking at – through some incentives and some improvements and different processing, and different hauling places – we’re looking at 2022. So as time goes on it keeps expanding.”
Bald Mountain has already reclaimed about 500 acres this year, Roderick said. Rock disposal areas, roads and exploration areas are being reclaimed. The pits are not being reclaimed, but none of them have been dewatered so they won’t create pit lakes. However, Top Pit 3 has a small amount of dewatering, Roderick said.
The site hopes to see the final EIS for comment by the first part of January, Roderick said. The BLM said a record of decision may be out by April, he said. Barrick began the permitting process for this expansion in 2011.
Curnow said operations are moving smoothly, but challenges at the site continue.
“Changing gold price, changes the overall look of Bald Mountain as far as mine planning,” Curnow said. “We also have challenges from the environmental group, all the mule deer corridor stuff that we have to make sure that our roads stay away from, those are our biggest challenges.”
The other challenge that never goes away — at any site — is safety.
“Overall we’ve been doing good” on safety, Curnow said.
There’s a continued emphasis on safety. The site has been focusing on fatal risks and life-saving controls and Courage to Care. Trying to identify risks before an incident occurs.
“Those life-saving controls have to be in place otherwise the work doesn’t proceed,” Roderick said. “Courage to Care is about an emphasis on building relationships, caring about not only yourself, but the team and the site — ensuring that everyone goes home safely.”
About 60 percent of the employees live in Elko and Spring Creek, about 25 percent live in Ely and the rest are from surrounding areas.