JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Australia has surpassed the US as the world’s second-biggest gold-producing country in the first half of 2009, and is on track to maintain that ranking for the full year, Melbourne-based mining consultants Surbiton Associates said at the weekend.
China is the world’s number-one producer of the precious metal, with South Africa – which was the top gold-producing country for more than 100 years – slipping to fourth place.
Australia held the title as the world’s second-largest gold producer in 2005 behind South Africa, but it was overtaken by the US in 2006, and by China in 2007, putting it back to fourth place, explained Surbiton Associates director Dr Sandra Close.
“But with the continued decline in South African output and lower production in the US in the first half of 2009, Australia has regained the number-two spot.”
Surbiton’s figures showed that Australia produced 112 t of gold in the first half of 2009. By comparison, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology recorded Chinese production at 147 t for the first half of 2009, while the US produced 105 t, according to the US Geological Survey.
The South African Chamber of Mines reported that output was around 103 t for the same period.
“Few people seem to realise just how important the gold industry is to Australia,” Close said.
“Currently, the value of our mine production of gold at around A$7,5-billion is equal to the value of Australia’s exports of wool, wine and dairy products combined.”
She added that Australia had regained its ranking as the number-two world gold producer prior to the increase in production expected from new mines in the next few quarters.
Earlier this month, Newmont Mining achieved commercial production at its new Boddington gold mine in Australia, which will produce an average of one-million ounces a year.
Boddington, located 120 km south east of Perth, poured its first gold at the end of September and will be the Australia’s largest gold mine.
“For some time, Telfer and the Super Pit have each produced between160 000 oz and 190 000 oz a quarter,” Close said, but added that both operations would be “well and truly overtaken” when Boddington reached full its production of 250 000 oz a quarter.
Surbiton Associates reported that Australian gold output totalled 56 t, or 1,8-million ounces in the September quarter 2009. This was a one-ton less than in the previous quarter and about half a ton less than in the September quarter in 2008.
Close noted that production had been relatively stable for several quarters.
Operations with lower gold output in the September quarter included Newmont’s Tanami mine, down 19 000 oz and the Super Pit, down 16 000 oz.
Increased output came from the East Kundana joint venture, which was up 19 000 oz; Canadian miner Barrick’s Yilgarn South operations, up 13 000 oz; and South Africa’s AngloGold Ashanti’s Sunrise Dam mine, which was up 8 000 oz.
“Most of Australia’s gold comes from mines which predominantly produce gold but some 6% to 7% comes from operations where gold is a by-product,” Close said.
“Recently, we have seen a rise of some two-thirds of a ton per quarter of by-product gold owing to the contribution from Oz Minerals’ Prominent Hill operation.”
She added that although the US dollar gold price had risen to record levels, Australian gold producers had not received the full benefit of the rising price owing to the exchange rate impact. Australian gold prices peaked at A$1 547/oz in February compared with a current Australian gold price of around A$1 300/oz.
“Back in February, the Australian dollar was worth around $0,64,” Close said.
“Today, it is over $0,90. Even though the gold price in US dollar terms has been setting a new record on a regular basis, for Australian producers much of this benefit has been eaten up by the rising exchange rate.”