While Guatemala’s enormous mining wealth is no longer the well-kept secret that it once was it is still an industry very much in its infancy. Through its Marlin Mine operations, Montana Exploradora de Guatemala, a subsidiary of the Canadian firm Goldcorp, is working to ensure the country will soon be able to unlock its potential.
Possessing a land mass of almost 109,000 square kilometres, the Central America country of Guatemala shares its borders with Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador, as well as the Pacific coastline to the Southwest and a part of the Caribbean coastline to the east.
Boasting a diverse history, a rich and distinctive culture, and areas of immense natural beauty, Guatemala has, in more recent times, become just as well known for its enormous gold potential. Indeed in 2007 one mine alone processed some 1.7 million tonnes of mineral with an average gold content of 4.55 grams per tonne and 84.31 grams of silver per tonne, further confirming the country as a mining destination of particular interest.
Possessing a stable, macroeconomic backdrop, Guatemala is fast earning a reputation as having perhaps the greatest future mining potential of any Central American country. Other factors that are helping to attract the interest of international investors include the free movement of goods and trade, and a local labour force with a reputation for being hard working, fast learners.
Spanning the boundaries of the San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Sipacapa, located in San Marcos, the Marlin Mine was originally discovered in 1998 by two Guatemalan geologists. Acquired in July 2002 by Canadian Company Glamis Gold, it was they who, in conducting an exploration study, determined that the mine held a projected 1.4 million ounces of gold.
This projection spurred the Ministry of Energy and Mines of Guatemala into issuing a licence for the development and operation of the Marlin project, on 27 November 2003. Following the successful completion of the construction phase in the third quarter of 2005, the mine began producing gold and silver before the turn of the year.
During the three years between 2003 and 2006 approximately $300 million was invested into the operator’s exploration activities and overall preparations for exploitation. It was then in 2009 that Goldcorp invested an additional $69 million into the operation, with a similar figure being ploughed into the business in 2010. Such is Goldcorp’s commitment to the long-term success of the project that it intends to invest a further $150 million into Marlin Mine by 2014.
It is not just the mine that is benefiting from such investment and commitment however. Indeed the ripple effect created by this has spread throughout businesses in the local community with Marlin Mine today having more than 1000 suppliers, a figure that is helping to generate contracts worth over $907 million.
“One of the first things we recognised about this mine and what makes it so unique,” explains Marlin Mine General Manager, Christian Roldan, “is just how well the ore itself responds to metallurgical treatments. When it comes to gold we have extremely high recovery rates of about 98 percent recovery and more than 90 percent for silver. We also benefit from the fact that Marlin is located in a very strong mining district where, to this day, we continue to uncover new resources around the main Marlin vein.”
Average annual production at the mine is today estimated as being 250,000 ounces of gold and around 3.5 million ounces of silver, with current reserves exceeding 2.5 million ounces of gold and 36 million ounces of silver. In the five years between 2005 and 2010 it has been calculated that some 1.2 million ounces of gold, equivalent to over $1.1 billion, that originated from the mine was exported along with 18.2 million tonnes of silver, which generated $299.3 million in export revenues.
The production process of the Marlin Mine is divided into four phases, these being exploration, construction, operation and production, and technical closure and reclamation. “At present,” Roldan continues, “there are three main underground areas that we are mining. In order to extract the full potential of what the mine has to offer we have had to overcome a number of challenges. These have included creating ventilation systems for both on-going and future underground activities and establishing strong water controls around the mine site.”
Strong environmental controls have been a feature of the mine site since it first opened. Today these controls include the use of emergency response teams that are on call at all times of day to respond to all manner of events. These include responding to signs of increased sodium or sulphite levels in the surrounding water network or dealing with any issues that may arise during the transportation of hazardous materials. Such is the skill of the mine’s emergency teams that they were even called in to assist in the rescue and recovery efforts that followed the earthquake that struck the San Marcos area in November 2012.
In 2012, Montana Exploradora de Guatemala commissioned the building of a tail filtering plant near to the mine. The concept for the plant came about as a solution to how the operators could reclaim the open pit section of Marlin Mine that is no long in operation. The plant’s core function today is to dry the tailings from the mine in order for them to be used to fill pipes and cover the decommissioned pit wall in order to avoid further erosion or drainage.
The immediate future of Marlin Mine revolves around what Roldan calls an extensive aspiration programme. “We presently have a number of aggressive exploration programmes underway in many areas of the district surrounding the mine and we have been greatly encouraged by the results we have seen. This gives us great hope for extending the Marlin Mine network further into these parts of the region.”
In the meantime the operators also remain committed to setting a strong example of what responsible modern mining can bring to the country in the decades ahead, “On average,” national executive director, Mario Marroquin concludes, “mining in countries such as Chile and Peru accounts for as much as 12 percent of their annual GDP, while here in Guatemala that figure is more like two percent. If we were able to bring this up to just six percent, I believe the results of that would be more than enough to convince a great deal more people to begin accepting the industry and help them realise just how many positive benefits a strong, responsible mining sector could bring to the country.”