Everyone loves a gold rush, or loves to think he might get rich during one. There were the Forty-Niners who headed for California in the middle of the 19th Century, and 50 years later fortune hunters headed for the Yukon's Klondike. The promise of gold (and diamonds) in the last decades of the 19th Century forever changed the face of southern Africa. Prospectors struck it rich twice in northern Ontario, at the Dome in 1910 and again in Hemlo in the mid-1980s. As the new millennium dawned, modern gold hunters successfully combed the Andes Mountains of South America.
Today the celebrated gold rush is in Mongolia. It is still too early to tell, but there may be large fortunes hidden in the land of yak butter and yurts. If the Gobi Desert's cold, remote location and language can be overcome, the reward is a share of the 160,000 tonnes (or better than 5.1 billion oz) of gold the Mongolian government estimates are hidden within its borders.
Mining is important to the Mongolian economy; it provides about 55% of that country's industrial output and over 40% of its export earnings. Coal, tungsten, fluorspar, copper and, of course, gold are mined there. But it is the 10-fold increase in gold output over the last 10 years that has foreign companies so interested. (Check the website of the Mongolian National Mining Association at www.MiningMongolia.mn for facts and figures.)
Toronto's CENTERRA GOLD became the first foreign-owned gold producer when its Boroo mine opened on March 1, 2004. This is also the first significant foreign investment for any kind of industrial development in Mongolia since 1979. Boroo is expected to produce 220,000 oz by the end of this year. Only 35 km away, the company is examining its Gatsuurt property in the hopes that the oxide portion of that deposit can be treated at the Boroo mill.
Robert Friedland's Singapore-based IVANHOE MINES made its first widely-publicized foray into Mongolia in 2000. Friedland is well known in Canada as the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada's Developer of the Year in 1996 and as the personality behind the sale of the Voisey's Bay nickel-cobalt deposit to INCO LTD. His company still maintains its corporate offices in Vancouver.
Ivanhoe is now in the midst of pushing the Oyu Tolgoi (Turquoise Hill) gold-copper project toward production in Mongolia, only 80 km north of the border with China. An integrated development plan for the project is expected late in the second quarter of 2005. If all goes according to plan, initial commercial production could begin in mid-2007 from what the company believes is the "world's highest-grade copper porphyry discovery", the Hugo North deposit.
With the promise of high grades, it is no wonder junior companies such as ENTRE GOLD of Vancouver have sent crews to Mongolia. Entre assembled a land package that completely surrounds the Oyu Tolgoi project. Ivanhoe has taken an option to earn a substantial share of Entre's Shivee Tolgoi (Lookout Hill) property where several gold and copper targets are being drilled.
Other Canadian juniors, undeterred by the frigid Mongolian winter, are also active.
ERDENE GOLD of Halifax holds several exploration licences scattered around the country and is drilling at least one of them. Earlier this month, Erdene acquired the Zuun Mod molybdenum-copper project and uranium prospects from Gallant Minerals, a private company controlled by Mohamed Al Fayed, owner of the Harrods Group of businesses.
Vancouver-based ASIA GOLD CORP. has two prospects, notably the Oyut Ovoo property 300 km north of Oyu Tolgoi. Assays from trenching at Oyut Ovoo have returned gold and copper values, and the company is planning a reverse-circulation drill program and other work there. Factoid: Ivanhoe Mines owns 51% of Asia Gold.
The list goes on. Among the Canadian companies with properties or licences in Mongolia are Planet Exploration, QGX Ltd., Jinshan Gold, Western Prospector Group, Fortress Minerals, Bell Coast Capital, UGL Enterprises, Maximum Ventures, Golden Patriot Mining, Bayfield Ventures, General Minerals, Golden China Resources, Magnum d'Or Resources, Minco Mining, Samba Gold and Walloper Gold.
The roster of Canadian companies wanting to strike it rich in Mongolia will change as properties are optioned or sold and new discoveries are made. Maybe 5 billion oz is enough gold for everyone.