Mazapil, Zac. Nothing can stop the gold industry in Zacatecas, not even Covid-19. Every 24 hours, with gigantic machines, 500 thousand tons of rocky materials are extracted from the heart of the Peñasquito mine, the polymetallic deposit owned by the American Newmont that the consortium presumes as
of World class, matching it with its projects in Australia.
To this wasteland located in the Mazapil Valley, in the northern desert of the state, amid yuccas, bushes, cacti and a lot of dust, thousands of workers and contractors come to provide their services, coming from different parts of Mexico, and some from Canada, Chile, Peru and Germany, despite the risks due to the global health emergency.
To operate, the company implemented a strict health plan – in which it has invested more than 24 million pesos in recent months – to protect its employees and prevent the spread of the virus among its staff, because although it has amazing machines and advanced extraction systems, its workers remain its main asset. Without them, no gold would be produced.
Thus, after a strong investment in equipment, supplies, tests and medical personnel contracted to contain the contagions – all financed by Newmont with a global fund created expressly, and despite the reduction of manpower in its operations -, Peñasquito is now , paradoxically, four times more productive than before Covid-19.
Until April 2019, this mine was owned by the Canadian multinational Goldcorp, but Newmont acquired it to position itself as one of the main gold producers in the world, within the exclusive group of 28 members of The World Gold Council, including China Gold. , Barrick and Royal Gold Inc.
Although in the first quarter the pandemic overshadowed Newmont’s plans in Peñasquito, due to the sanitary restrictions imposed by the Mexican government, which forced it to stop operations in April and May, since June 1 (when federal authorities declared mining
essential activity), their gigantic machines roared again to extract the valuable minerals from this deposit.
In a chain of processes that does not stop, day and night hundreds of thousands of tons of rocks are subjected to phases of breaking, grinding and metallurgical methods – depending on their characteristics – in two huge sulfide plants, or with the Merrill method. Crowe, which includes the process of heap leaching, with a solution of water and cyanide (questioned by environmentalists around the world), to obtain gold and other valuable by-products.
Behind this boom is a geopolitical engine: the trade war between China and the United States, as well as the global economic crisis due to the pandemic, which pushed the price of gold higher this year, to an average price of $ 2,000 an ounce ( 30 grams) last August.
In addition, the projection of some economists is that, despite the downward variations, in the medium term the gold metal will continue to climb in international markets, as the demand for physical gold has also increased.
In addition to these incentives, Newmont faces, with the Covid-19 pandemic in tow, the challenge of not giving up on the ambitious task that its investors planned just before the Covid-19 lockdown in February 2020: substantially increasing productivity from Peñasquito to bring it to the same level as Boddington Gold, the second largest gold mine in Australia, also owned by him.
Artificial mountains, footprint of open-pit mining
Dozens of kilometers before reaching the mining complex, there are hills of sterile stone, tepetate and earthy waste from metallurgical processes, known as tailings, which have accumulated in more than a decade of operations. That is the footprint of mining extractivism in the region.
The largest artificial hill is precisely the tailings store, a 100-meter-high mountain with an 11-kilometer perimeter, rectangular in shape, designed by engineers to contain a volume of more than 822 million tons of rocky materials.
After the visual impact caused by the mining waste hills when arriving at the Newmont deposit, located 300 kilometers northwest of the capital of Zacatecas – very close to the border with Coahuila -, the camps installed on the site stand out, perfectly aligned, with signs that order silence.
They are the dormitories for the army of mine workers, and now a part of them are rooms to isolate the employees infected with Covid-19.
Hundreds of rooms, almost all of them rectangular, resembling a military camp because of the sparseness and the alignment of the prefabricated barracks; for its uniform and almost monochromatic color, white and light beige.
At this site, Newmont owns the mining concession granted in 2007, during the government of Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, to explore, exploit and benefit the minerals found in a 5,462-hectare polygon, rented out to peasants from five ejidos.
Due to its territorial size and its proven and probable precious metal reserves, for the US company, Peñasquito already represents 20 percent of the global gold production that its subsidiaries produce in the world: Australia (20 percent), the Nevada mine Gold (18 percent); South America (17 percent), other projects in North America (14 percent) and Africa (11 percent).
There are 5,300 direct employees working in the Zacatecan enclave: 2 thousand 99 unionized, in addition to another 763 non-unionized – trusted workers classified as
collaborators– and about 2,300 workers who provide service at the site and depend on external subcontractors (outsourcing). Currently the mining complex operates with 50 percent of its personnel; even so, it is more productive than before. It is the capitalist ideal: to produce more with less.
Today Peñasquito has proven reserves of 8.1 million ounces of gold, which will extend the life of the deposit for the next 12 years, not counting its silver, zinc and lead reserves.