CASPER — Wyoming was founded, in part, on gold. But a small exploration and development company thinks it can bring gold — and copper — mining back to the state.
Decades have passed since the gold and copper industries peaked and then faded, falling victim to the then-futile economics of hardrock mining. The state’s reserves are still there. It’s just been too expensive for companies to reach them.
Over the years, exploratory mining projects have come and gone, enticed by the metals’ presence but driven away by prospective costs. Near Laramie County’s Copper King Mine alone, about 20 miles west of Cheyenne, at least seven companies have conducted exploratory drilling campaigns since the mine shuttered just before WWII.
Unlike its predecessors, however, Nevada-based U.S. Gold Corp — the current mineral lease owner for the site of the old copper mine and one of just two companies conducting gold exploration projects in the state — may succeed.
“The rise in wind turbines and electric cars and modernizing the grid, that some say is leading to sort of a downturn of our traditional coal industry, it’s really causing a huge jump in demand for copper and gold and those metals that go into these new energy technologies,” said Jason Begger, the project spokesperson. “The price of copper and gold has just really spiked here in the last couple of years. So it’s kind of a perfect storm.”
U.S. Gold Corp announced this week that its $4 million pre-feasibility study — the second of three increasingly thorough site analyses — had yielded encouraging enough results to merit a full feasibility study.
The pre-feasibility study, completed by third-party analysts over the last year and a half, evaluated factors like project costs, resource availability, permitting requirements and environmental impacts. The feasibility study will zoom in on those details.
Ascertaining actual costs, for example, will require getting specific bids and quotes for construction and equipment.
The open-pit mine is expected to be about 80-acres wide and 800-feet deep, Begger said.
Inside the pit, rock would be ground up, mixed with water and added to a flotation tank, where the gold and copper particles would be separated out using bubbles — a relatively new technology that U.S. Gold Corp believes will bring down production costs.
On-site, Begger said, the final product would be a concentrate made up of roughly 26% copper and containing about three ounces of gold per ton, which would then be shipped off for processing elsewhere.
Transporting the concentrate off-site is partly an economic decision, Begger said, and partly an effort to minimize local environmental harms.
Because the lease is on Wyoming state lands, permitting will be overseen by the state.
U.S. Gold Corp hopes to complete the feasibility study and submit its permit applications in 2022, receive authorization in 2023 and begin operations by early 2025.
“In the world of mining, this is moving fairly quickly,” Begger said.
U.S. Gold Corp is also working on other exploratory mining projects in Nevada and Idaho. But the Wyoming site is currently its priority.
“We pivoted the company to focus on development of the CK Gold Project, setting aside, for now, the compelling exploration portfolio we have in Nevada and Idaho,” founder Ed Karr said in a statement. “This decision has proven to be exceptional as we are poised to capture improvements in the gold and copper market in a project that can be brought to book in short order.”
All of the gold and copper produced at the U.S. Gold Corp mine would be subject to a 5% state production royalty, in addition to the state’s 2% severance tax and other assorted taxes and fees. If the venture succeeds, the company estimates that the mine will generate upwards of 150 permanent jobs and more than $50 million in revenue for the state over its planned 10-year lifetime.
And, if it succeeds, more mines are likely to follow.
“With this increased demand for gold and copper, and the prices where they are today,” Begger said, “there are a lot of companies giving some of these older properties in Wyoming a second look.”