Nevada Gold Deposits and the Unique Geology of the Great Basin
The unique geology of North America’s Great Basin can be found in Nevada’s gold trends.
Nevada’s rich gold deposits offer one of the most geologically diverse mining jurisdictions in the world.
Nearly every type of rock known to geologists can be found in Nevada’s desert landscape. The Silver State contains a wealth of precious metals, and it ranks as the fourth-largest gold producing jurisdiction in the world. Nevada is also an important source of many of the world’s most critical base metals, including copper, zinc and molybdenum.
Nevada owes its unique geology and prolific gold production to the complex tectonic history of the North American Great Basin, which gave rise to its widespread landscape of fault-dominated mountain ranges and valleys. “The history of exploration says it all. A lot of major gold deposits have been found there due to its unique geology. With further exploration and the help of modern technology many more gold deposits will be found within the Great Basin,” said Gary R. Thompson, CEO of Gold79 Mines (TSXV:AUU).
Nevada’s gold deposits are primarily found in three major northwest-trending belts: the Carlin Trend, the Battle Mountain-Eureka-Cortez Trend and the Walker Lane Trend. These three trends have given rise to some of the world’s most important gold mining districts. Nevada hosts a variety of deposit types, including porphyry and skarn; however, the majority of the state’s gold production comes from low-sulfidation epithermal gold and sediment-hosted Carlin-type deposits.
It is this geological diversity that has shaped Nevada’s economy from the very beginning. The 1859 discovery of silver and gold at the Comstock Lode eventually drew in enough miners and prospectors to establish the state of Nevada five years later. Even with more than 160 years of mining history, Nevada’s diverse geological landscape still has plenty of potential for further gold discoveries. Besides this excellent geology, Nevada provides a number of benefits for today’s exploration companies.
“Both infrastructure and government support can make or break project economics as infrastructure costs have a direct impact on development costs, operating costs and the rates of return for the investors. All developers would prefer excellent infrastructure over none but ore deposits are where they are found. Risk capital tends to flow to the path of least resistance; if the government has too many hurdles or barriers to entry projects will simply not be built or may not even see any exploration, and thus there are no local economic benefits or jobs being created,” Thompson said.
Gold79 Mines has targeted Nevada and adjacent states for its rich geology and supportive government, developing a trio of properties in Nevada’s Walker Lane gold trend, which is home to a number of past-producing mines. The company is working to leverage an existing database of historical information generated on its flagship Jefferson project — located 7.5 kilometers from Kinross Gold’s (TSX:K,NYSE:KGC) Round Mountain mine — which saw extensive exploration between 1969 and 1986, including 134 drill holes totaling 17,979 meters of reverse circulation drilling. In addition to the Jefferson Canyon project, Gold79 Mines is developing the Tip Top gold project, which, after the new staking to cover the large alteration footprint, now comprises 139 unpatented mining claims including several low-sulfidation oxide-gold-silver epithermal veins located in the Walker Lane gold trend. Significant high-grade gold intercepts were encountered in past drilling at Tip Top.
Nevada’s gold trends and deposits
Nevada is best known for its Carlin-style deposits, named after the town of Carlin, which also gave its name to the Carlin gold mine Newmont (TSX:NGT,NYSE:NEM) first took into production in 1961. These are large sedimentary rock-hosted disseminated gold deposits that are highly attractive targets for mining, because they often occur near-surface and in clusters, with one large “elephant” deposit surrounded by a group of smaller satellite deposits with similar geology.
The Carlin Trend is estimated to be the second-largest gold resource in the world behind South Africa’s Witwatersrand, containing 180 million ounces. In comparison to Carlin-style deposits that often produce ore of less than one gram per ton, resources found in Nevada’s Walker Lane gold trend offer significantly higher grades. The Walker Lane trend hosts a number of high-grade gold districts including the Tonopah and Goldfield.
Explorer Newrange Gold (TSXV:NRG) is also targeting the rich geology of the Walker Lane trend, specifically the potential near-surface oxide gold resource located at the company’s Pamlico project. Based on the near-surface oxide gold mineralization found on the property, Newrange is optimistic regarding Pamlico’s potential to become a significant new discovery in the area.
The major players in Nevada’s Carlin Trend are Kinross Gold, Newmont and Barrick (TSX:ABX,NYSE:ABX). Kinross Gold’s Bald Mountain mine had estimated proven and probable reserves of 1,347,000 gold equivalent ounces at the end of 2018. Like Newmont, Barrick has been a major force in Nevada’s gold story since the mid-twentieth century. Through the Nevada Gold Mines joint venture formed in mid-2019, Barrick and Newmont now jointly operate the world’s largest mining complex in Nevada. The operation combines Barrick’s Goldstrike, one of the world’s top gold producers, and Newmont’s Carlin operation, which consists of three open pit and four underground mines.
Carlin-style gold deposits can also be found in the Battle Mountain-Eureka-Cortez trend, Nevada’s second most important gold belt. The intersecting fault systems of the trend host gold mineralization that stretches from SSR Mining’s (TSX:SSRM) Marigold mine in Humboldt County to Waterton Global’s Ruby Hill mine at Eureka. Barrick Gold, which owns the majority of the Cortez Hills mine, is one of the leaders exploring the Battle Mountain-Eureka-Cortez trend. Barrick has established a reserve of 10 million ounces of gold with an additional measured and indicated resource of 1.9 million ounces.
Nevada’s epithermal gold deposits
Nevada also hosts world-class examples of low-sulfidation epithermal gold deposits. In fact, it was an epithermal type system that kicked off the Nevada gold rush in the mid-1800s with the discovery of the Comstock Lode in what is now known as the Walker Lane gold trend. In addition to Comstock, several well-known deposits are associated with this trend, including Kinross’ producing Round Mountain mine; Hecla Mining Company’s (NYSE:HL) producing Hollister, Fire Creek and Midas mines; and the past-producing Tonopah and Goldfield deposits.
Epithermal vein-type deposits are among the world’s most important precious metals producers. In fact, they are the world’s second-largest source of gold, accounting for about 12 percent of annual gold production. Low-sulfidation epithermal deposits are often high-grade, making them excellent targets for both major and junior explorers. In fact, Hecla’s three Nevada mines are prime examples of low-sulfidation epithermal deposits and are some of the highest-grade gold mines in the world.
Nevada is one of the top gold producing regions in the world, offering significant exploration potential among the state’s many prominent gold trends. As resource exploration and development companies continue to evaluate the region, Nevada’s rich geological endowments and friendly mining policies are expected to continue the state’s solid track record for mining success.
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