Cripple Creek operators probe again for gold underground
CRIPPLE CREEK, Colo. — For the first time in more than two decades, the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company is looking for gold underground, a tentative departure from its open-pit mining operation.
Mine operators are probing an area north and east of the town of Cripple Creek to see if it could be profitable as an underground gold mine, said Jane Mannon, the company’s community affairs manager. Even if the area is found to be viable, the underground mine will be years in the making.
“We’re optimistic, but it is early in the process,” Mannon said Tuesday. “Everything is speculation right now.”
The company runs the state’s largest gold mine, a descendant of mines from gold-fever days more than a century ago that brought thousands of people to Teller County. Underground gold mining started to lag in the late 1980s, when the Cripple Creek company shut down its underground mines. The company’s new underground explorations are the first it has made since then, Mannon said.
“We are currently doing exploration from the surface — drilling — and we anticipate that we would start developing a portal, basically digging a tunnel in one of our high walls probably sometime during the first half of next year, April or May,” Mannon said.
If the probe is successful and the company operates a new underground gold mine, it could add around 100 jobs in 2017 or 2018, Mannon said.
The Cripple Creek mine, owned by South African mining giant AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., launched into an expansion project in 2013 when it announced that it would spend $585 million over three years adding a leach field, recovery center and mining facility. The project is 80 percent complete and on target to be finished by 2016, Mannon said. The expansions, which include a processing plant and a high grade processing mill, will bring the employee tally up to 600 by the end of 2015.
The company’s business plan projects that its mines will produce 290,000 ounces of gold this year. When the expansion is complete, operators hope to increase that to 350,000 ounces.
As mining operations pushed north, the company found it was in territory untapped during the turn of the 19th century.
“We are finding that we are in an area that didn’t have a lot of historic mining operations,” Mannon said.
The rock on the north end, south of Teller County Road 82, is of a higher grade, meaning it has more gold. If the company’s explorations are promising, it will be several bureaucratic levels away from opening the mine — operators must ask for funds from its corporate owner as well as get permits approved by federal and state governments.
Gold was discovered near Cripple Creek in 1891, and until World War I gold mining in the hills west of Colorado Springs boomed. When the Boer Wars shut down the South African gold mines around 1900, Cripple Creek became the richest gold mining district in the world, said Rick Sauers, the executive director of the Western Museum of Mining and Industry.
In later years, two world wars took workers away from the mines, which were forced to shut down temporarily. The Cripple Creek mining company started open-pit operations in the mid-1970s, said Sauers. The effort to restart underground mining again is variable, and has many steps to go before it’s a certainty, Sauers added.
“It’s going to cost a lot of money to go deep underground,” he said. “Before you go that deep under you better be sure there is something there worth going after.”
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