By Dr. Ralph Pray, Mining & Metallurgy
Before you invite anyone to look at your mining claims, whether it's to find yourself a partner, to secure operating capital, or to interest a mining company, there are rock-bottom, basic requirements to consider. These are:
1. Proof of ownership
2. Government land status
3. Bona fide technical evidence of values
You may have other priorities, such as a road to the claims, or residence on the property. But the three basics listed above are minimum needs.
Proof Of Ownership
Ownership is by federal and state location recording or through historical patent. Assignment is by lease or option. Complete documentation is necessary to satisfy legal requirements. This includes copies of recorded annual affidavits from state and federal agencies. Ownership problems or lease conflicts must be resolved before inviting business visitors. Persons listed as locators on a mining claim location notice must be of one mind when an outside party is brought in. Where multiple locators are listed, one locator may accept notarized assignment agreements from all other locators. This simplifies later negotiations and presents a unified ownership to business venture capital.
Government Land Status
Government land status is critical to initiating mine activity. Many valuable mineral areas are closed to mineral entry (location). For example, the wide galena surface vein concentrate near Curia Dome in San Bernardino County, California, assays 1,200 opt (ounces per ton) silver, but the land is withdrawn for recreation. Only a few people know about either the rich silver vein or the impossible recreation site. Struggles to rescind the withdrawal have been fruitless, par for the course all over the West and Alaska. Other off-limits areas cover the western U. S. and Alaska like giant shades drawn by blind wall painters. Where the land is not withdrawn there may be ridiculous restrictions on what you can do on it, or public officials so adamant against free enterprise on those claims that life becomes one big headache. Mining claim operators who file a Plan of Operations with Interior or Agriculture on valid claims and are denied approval must respectfully request reconsideration. Rejections must be politely refused where the creation of new wealth is sought under our free enterprise system. Don't roll over! That didn't used to be the toughest part of this business. Now it is.
Technical Evidence Of Values
Where you do have your hand on the wheel is in obtaining technical evidence of values. You're the driver. There are two major groups of technical evidence. One is hard rock; the other is placer. Each has a bunch of sub-groups like geology, geophysics, reserves, hydrology, climate, assays, and metallurgy. Let's look at hard rock first. In an underground or surface hard rock mine the most important single factor is the assay. What is the rock worth per ton? Suppose it's a gold property. Now comes the biggest problem in the small mine business. Almost half the independent assayer's in one part of the country are magicians -- half-assayers. If you don't believe this, and are the least bit suspicious, send a sample in from your backyard or the playground sand box.
Forget Bre-X! That two billion dollar gold scam involved world-class but partially un-seeing assayers. The samples were salted -- 14,000 of them. Until you get to know your assayer send him a blind sample, real Leaverite. Or, split a sample into two bags with separate numbers. Don't settle for a Disneyland assay. Be suspicious of assay reports not your own. Copy machines are turning out some 2.0 opt beauties with great assay labs in the letterhead. Real tragedies have resulted from this.
The shadow cast upon the hobby and small mine industry by half-assayers does not fall on, or even close to, the professional fire assayers employed by major gold mining companies in the western U.S. These technicians are, in fact, the world's best and busiest fire assayers.
Assay samples can be small or large. Sampling methods are described in many books. Multiple samples tied to sketch maps and honest assay's are the most effective calling cards to introductory mine promotion. The promotion of a prospect generally falls within certain guidelines. For example, a small gold prospect with a four-foot vein assaying around 1.0 opt average has the potential to make a mine. A ten-foot vein may run 0.2 opt and make it. As the mineralized zone gets larger, and daily throughput increases, the opt can go down. The lowest ore grade is in the 0.025 opt range in Kern County, California, a large open pit with no crushing, heap leaching with cyanide -- running at a profit. These numbers are just guidelines for hard rock deposits, not the final word.
Placer Deposit Evidence
The other major group of technical evidence comes from a placer deposit. Now the fire assay almost disappears as evidence. It's unimportant, even misleading. The only time the fire assay applies to placer work is in the purity test of the free gold and in testing heavies for hidden values. What does that tell you?
Placer gold in the Mother Lode can be 900 fine, 90.0% pure, by fire assay. The same size gold particles from Marble Canyon, Inyo County, California, assay 800 fine. A short trip from there to Oriental Wash, Esmeralda County, Nevada, gives you the same size gold assaying 625 fine, with 20% bismuth and the remainder silver. The assay on the recovered metal is important, since you get paid for gold based on those fineness numbers.
But you need to know bank in values, dollars per cubic yard recoverable by gravity. The raw gravel samples cannot be reliably fire assayed. That's no news to placer operators. You must see the gold. Faith doesn't count here. If you can't see it, and the concentrates don't fire assay, drop it.
The best methods for taking placer samples below 20 feet for the small operator may be by bucket drill in dry ground where bedrock gravel is under four inches; by cribbed test shafts in coarse, dry bedrock; and by dragline in very wet ground. Sample evaluation methods are described in dozens of books.
Seismic work to establish bedrock contours is often of great value in testing a placer, and in discussing the property with potential backers. One certainly shouldn't forget the magnetometer in placer testing. Magnetite with placer gold is an immediate and true indicator and was used as early as the 1940's ahead of the gigantic Alaska gold dredges. (The same portable magnetometer w as perfected to detect submerged German U-boats from Allied scout aircraft early in WW II)
Economic guidelines for domestic placer gold mine sizes are more a matter of personal effort than of any formula. One person may do well on a gravel washing plant where another would give up in despair. There probably is not a single known placer deposit of over one million yards in the lower 48 states having plentiful water nearby that runs $4.00 or better per cubic yard from surface. Alaska does have these resources, remotely situated.
A quick look at success stories should give every reader a boost. Of course most operating mines were found by prospectors. What's seldom realized is that surrounding claims taken up by latecomers frequently make mines. Also, old prospects often show up better with new approaches or price increases. Millions have been produced from these old prospects in the Mojave Desert alone in recent years. Several of California's largest operating open pit gold mines were residual desert placers until the 1980's. Now they are world-class bullion producers.
A 1998 Success Story
There have been hundreds of mining success stories over the past thirty years in both metallic and non-metallic mineral ventures. Many of them are the result of individual efforts. The most recent came out this past November in California when John Massari, a film composer in Hollywood whose hobby is prospecting, signed a 50-page Mineral Lease Agreement with Glamis Rand Mining Company. John staked his claims in the vicinity of a ` working open pit gold mine following a thorough study of the location opportunity and land status. He sampled the surface on a grid pattern and concentrated his samples to a heavy fraction containing visible gold. These sample assays constituted his technical evidence of values.
John Massari's application of the three basic requirements outlined above resulted in a twenty-year lease with substantial monetary reward. He admits there was some luck involved, and he paid for a mining consultant during negotiations. But this was after some years of serious desert digging. His success, culminating just two months ago, should inspire every hopeful miner. The basic requirements are not new. They are the same ones Christopher Columbus tried to put before Queen Isabella when requesting funds for his second trip. "The land is ours. We can do anything we want with it." He had no trouble with the first two basics. It was the third one he stumbled over. "I just know there's gold someplace over there."