Small-scale mining in Mongolia – a survey carried out in 2004. World Bank.

Young boy panning for gold

Young boy panning for gold

Summary

  1. In 2003 World Bank carried out a survey: Mining sector Sources of Growth study. The Sources of Growth study dealt briefly with small-scale mining, but the Bank decided that further investigation into the sector was warranted. However, in 2003 a very comprehensive baseline survey of small-scale mining was carried out in Mongolia financed by Canadian funding. Another relevant study on small-scale mining and its role in mercury pollution in Northern Mongolia was published in 2003. Since a recent baseline study of small-scale mining had already been carried out it was decided that the present World Bank project should describe the development and changes in the patterns of small-scale mining during 2004 with emphasis on the objectives of a needs assessment. The present survey was financed by Danish trust funds and carried out by a consultant from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), Copenhagen, Denmark. During both in country visits the consultant leased closely with officials from several ministries.
  2. Small-scale mining also termed artisanal mining did not start in Mongolia until 1998. The popular term for these miners in Mongolia are Ninja miners. This term comes from the circular green pans many of the gold miners hang on their backs while walking from the gold fields, making them resemble the ‘Ninja turtles’ of movie and cartoon fame. The Canadian funded report estimated that 100.000 small-scale miners were active in Mongolia in 2003.
  3. There has been a significant change in the distribution patterns of small-scale miners in Mongolia. Prior to 2004 virtually no small-scale mining was carried out in the Gobi desert. Early 2004 very rich vein gold deposits were discovered in the southern part of the Gobi desert. Some of these occurrences unfortunately occur in protected areas. This, however, did not deter small-scale miners to move in and start mining. The government immediately sent in the police and military to clear the area. Shortly after having been forced out a new group of small-scale miners moved in and this has been going on ever since. The area was visited during this mission and several small-scale miners were interviewed. This took place during night since the small-scale miners only work at night in order to avoid being caught by the police. There are strong indications for the police receiving bribes from the small-scale miners. Small-scale mining for placer gold is rapidly increasing in the Gobi desert. An estimate based on talks with officials from several aimags and what was observed during a field trip through Gobi desert gave an excess of 5000 small-scale miners active in the area.
  4. Some of the hard rock small-scale miners in Gobi claim that they truck ore either to Ulaan Baator or even further north in Mongolia for extracting the gold. Newspapers have indeed reported that several large trucks carrying gold ore have been spotted and confiscated by the police in Ulaan Baator. Several of the hard rock ninjas in the Gobi desert, however, only truck their gold ore to nearby milling centers. These centers are not located in villages or soum centers, but far away from populated areas.
  5. Mercury is used widely in Mongolia for extracting gold. It is so far mainly used by hard rock miners and not by placer miners. This is in contrast to other countries e.g. Kyrgyz Republic where mercury is used by virtually all placer miners but not by hard rock miners. There are some placer miners using mercury and it is likely that many more placer small-scale miners will use mercury in the future since it increases their recovery of gold. During the field trip in the Gobi desert one milling and gold extraction center for hard rock gold ore was visited.
  6. One of the main problems encountered for hard rock small-scale gold miners and owners of local gold extraction centers is the release of mercury during the amalgamation process for extracting gold. Most of them are aware of the toxicity of mercury, but in most cases they have no knowledge of how to recycle mercury or knowledge of alternative methods of extracting gold without the use of mercury. When confronted with the method of recycling mercury most of them claim interest in learning this technique. One teaching and training course was held in the Bornuur area North of Ulaan Baator. This course was highly successful and several mercury-recycling devices (retorts) were given to the participants of the course.