Analysis: Social media empowers anti-mining activists

(Reuters) – Facebook and other social networks are making it easier for anti-mining activists to derail projects, helping them get their message out and organize more quickly against an industry that is already struggling with high costs and volatile prices.

From Romania to Peru to Canada, protest movements have disrupted projects in recent years, in part because activists have harnessed the power of social media and mobile technology, parties on both sides of the disputes say.

Civil unrest can spell disaster for mining projects at any stage, even after billions have been invested. That is not new. What has changed is activists’ ability to mobilize, a trend that echoes political upheavals that social media have helped fuel across the Middle East and North Africa.

The saga of Rosia Montana, the Romanian region where Canada’s Gabriel Resources Ltd wants to build Europe’s biggest open-pit gold mine, offers a clear illustration of how social media has shifted the balance of power.

Gabriel’s push to get the project approved suffered a series of setbacks in the autumn after activists used Facebook to organize demonstrations across the country.

“Our experience in Romania is not unique, but certainly the take-away is that the best project in the world can be portrayed as the worst unless the host government stands up to the vocal minority,” Chief Executive Jonathan Henry said of the impact of the Facebook campaigns against Rosia Montana.

The project has been in the works for nearly 15 years, and until Romania’s government backed it in late August, years had passed without major protests. But activists mobilized quickly on Facebook after the government showed support for the mine, and within days thousands hit the streets.

In November a parliamentary commission rejected a draft bill that would have allowed the project to proceed. A second attempt to approve the project as part of a new mining law failed in December.

With the support of many members of parliament from the governing coalition, Gabriel is still fighting for Rosia Montana, its only advanced project. But its shares have fallen by nearly half since large-scale protests started.

Without social media the protests would not have been as well-organized, Henry said.

VULNERABLE TO PROTESTS

Gabriel’s experience in Romania parallels what many other mining companies have encountered around the world. The industry is under pressure to meet stricter environmental standards and share more revenue with host countries and nearby communities.

In a report on risks to the mining industry last month, accounting and consulting firm Deloitte flagged intensifying demands from local communities, which it said have been “elevated” by social media. It said the mining industry’s access to new resources is “at risk like never before”.

It is difficult to measure the impact of the new activism because comprehensive data on project costs and the reasons for delays is not readily available, but examples abound.

In the past year, protests have hit Eldorado Gold Corp in Greece, Centerra Gold Inc inKyrgyzstan, HudBay Minerals Inc in northern Manitoba, and De Beers’ Victor mine in northern Canada, to name just a few.

The nature of the mining industry makes it vulnerable to protests. It takes years of work and millions of dollars to secure permits and begin construction, and legislators can stall approvals or impose new taxes before the investment pays off.

Forging ahead with a troubled project is often much cheaper than starting from scratch somewhere else, so in many cases, companies bend to public pressure.

In December, Centerra reached a tentative deal that could give the government ofKyrgyzstan a much bigger stake in its Kumtor gold mine, following riots and calls for nationalization in the Central Asian county.

In September, Anglo American pulled out of the Pebble copper-gold project in Alaska, which had been targeted by protesters and criticized by environmental regulators.

Newmont Mining Corp halted construction at its massive Conga copper-gold mine in Peru in 2011 after violent protests, and the company is still working to win the support of nearby communities.

Jamie Sokalsky, chief executive of Barrick Gold Corp, said in an autumn interview that social networks can help stir up social unrest, and that, in turn, emboldens governments in their dealings with mining companies.

“We have to do a better job of not only describing the true costs, but also the benefits, than we have,” he said.

Barrick’s recently mothballed Pascua-Lama project, on the border of Chile and Argentina, was unpopular with environmentalists from the start because of its proximity to glaciers. Nearby communities have staged street protests, and some activists have organized online.

LONG HISTORY

Rosia Montana was first a mining district more than 2,000 years ago. An abandoned open cast mine sits at the center of Gabriel’s site, but the company has proposed a much larger operation. It would dig four open pits and fill much of a nearby valley with tailings. Some local villagers would have to move; others already have.

Memories of a 2000 cyanide spill from a gold tailings pond in northern Romania are still fresh, and some want an outright ban on the toxic chemical, which Gabriel would use to process ore, a normal industry practice. For its part, Gabriel says it would abide by tough environmental standards, and tailings that contain small amounts of cyanide would be safely contained.

All sides agree that social media has played a pivotal role in the conflict over the project.

“The protests and text messages and emails that my colleagues have received created a certain pressure on those who voted,” said Florin Iordache, a lower house member of the governing Social Liberal Union, who was part of the commission that rejected in November a draft bill to allow the project to proceed.

Gabriel also uses Facebook: its Romanian-language page has been “liked” more than 700,000 times. The company says it has the support of many local people, and mine supporters have staged some of their own protests over the years, though nowhere near the scale of those of their opponents.

GLOBAL NETWORKS

Social media is becoming a more powerful tool because more people, even in the less developed economies where many mining projects are located, have access to the Internet.

Stephen Letwin, chief executive of Iamgold Corp, a mid-tier miner based in Canada, said he now gets “friend” requests from his workers in Suriname and Burkina Faso.

“You go out to some of these villages … and see people with iPhones, riding their camels,” said Letwin, who believes social networks have helped Iamgold maintain good relationships with local communities and governments.

To be sure, social media is not an organizing tool in every conflict. Many who live in developing and emerging economies do not have reliable connections. And parallel trends, such as the spread of democracy, have likely played a role in heightening conflict over resource development.

But even where access is spotty, a quick phone call to someone who is online can get protesters’ messages to more political leaders, voters and investors than ever before.

Activists opposing Newmont’s Conga project phone in reports for local websites, which then share them widely. They believe the publicity has helped them win crucial support in Lima, Peru’s capital, and make demonstrations safer for protesters.

Marco Arana, a former Catholic priest and founder of Peru’s left-leaning Tierra y Dignidad party, said he was at a protest in March when several hundred armed police ordered activists to clear out.

He posted photos online and others called local radio stations, and the police backed off. He says that without the public scrutiny, “things could have gotten really ugly”.

“I joined Twitter because I’d been told it’s a good tool for showing the world what is going on and could prevent dangerous situations,” he said. “I never thought it would be so important.”

(Additional reporting by Mitra Taj in Lima, Peru and Alexandra Ulmer in Santiago; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Peter Galloway)

Canada looking to break into ‘critical’ rare earth elements mining

OTTAWA — Canada is quietly staking its claim to being a global leader in a growing multibillion-dollar industry largely unknown to most Canadians but deemed by the government as “critical” to the country’s economy.

Canadian extractive companies, in collaboration with the federal government and other groups, have launched more than 200 exploration projects targeting what are called rare earth elements (REE).

These potentially lucrative rare earths — which include the 15 lanthanide metals on the periodic table plus scandium and yttrium — are increasingly sought after by several major industries for manufacturing their products.

The rare earth elements are split into “light” or “heavy” depending on their atomic number. Rare earths, especially the “heavy” ones, are considered to be critical for manufacturing new technology, clean energy, aerospace, automotive, defence and many other industrial products because of their luminous, magnetic, catalytic and other characteristics.

For example, the materials have become imperative for wind turbines, hybrid and electric cars, cellphones, laptops, LCD screens, medical imaging equipment, rechargeable batteries and many other products.

Canadian deposits often contain much higher proportions of the valuable “heavy” rare earths, meaning Canada is poised to capitalize on extracting rare earth elements, say briefing notes prepared for Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver as part of last summer’s cabinet shuffle.

“Rare earth elements (REE) have been categorized by the government as being critical to Canada’s economy,” say the briefing notes, titled “Secret” and obtained by Postmedia News under access to information legislation.

“Canada could become a significant producer of rare earths over the medium term.”

Rare earths actually aren’t that rare. They are abundant around the world, but very rarely in concentrations that are economically recoverable.

A group of exploration companies, in cooperation with Natural Resources Canada, research centres and other partners, have just established the Canadian Rare Earth Elements Network — an industry-led group whose aim is to secure 20 per cent of the global supply market for critical rare earth products by 2018.

The critical rare earth elements especially sought after by industry — and defined by some governments as crucial — include europium, terbium, dysprosium, yttrium and neodymium.

The House of Commons natural resources committee has just launched a study of the rare earths industry in Canada, while CREEN officials say they have asked the federal government, as part of its 2014 budget considerations, for research and development funding focused on rare earths.

Until 2013, China produced 97 per cent of the world’s supply of rare earths (and 100 per cent of the “heavy” supply).

Canada has more than 200 exploration projects searching for rare earth elements, representing more than half of the world’s exploration projects on REE.

While Canada does not currently produce any rare earths, it could be a key player over the next four to six years, the briefing notes say.

Eleven of the Canadian projects are considered to be at an advanced stage of development, according to federal officials, with seven containing elevated concentrations of the valued “heavy” rare earths.

“Everything green has a little black in it,” said Ian London, chair of the Canadian Rare Earth Elements Network, explaining the importance of rare earths to clean-tech and high-tech industries.

“All of these green technologies that people are talking about are based on products that come out of the ground and/or are processed.”

Like with any extractive project, there are environmental challenges. Many of the REE mines are open pit, while rare earths are generally accompanied by uranium and thorium — radioactive elements, albeit in low quantities.

Building and opening a rare earth mining and processing operation costs between $1.5 billion to $2 billion per mine, London said, although the downstream production value would be tens or hundreds of billions of dollars due to the importance of rare earths in manufacturing new technology.

At least one of the advanced projects, from Avalon Rare Metals, is expected to begin production in 2017, with four other projects potentially starting production between 2017 and 2019, explain the briefing notes.

Avalon’s flagship mine is in the Northwest Territories, while other companies like Quest Rare Minerals and Matamec Explorations are proceeding with projects in Quebec.

“Canada may become a major producer of the valued “heavy” rare earth elements by the 2017 to 2020 time period,” say the briefing notes.

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) is working closely with industry and academia to develop a rare earth industry in Canada, including the training of needed workers.

Any foreign investment in rare earth elements is subject to a national security review under the Investment Canada Act to ensure potential acquisitions don’t pose national security risks.

“NRCan will continue to closely monitor the global rare earth industry and cooperate with other departments to manage future production and shipments of these resource materials consistent with the government’s strategic objectives.”

METALS-Copper climbs to 6-month top on hopes of Chinese demand

* LME copper jumps 1 pct to highest since June

* Global economic optimism fuels price gain

(Adds details, quotes)

SINGAPORE, Jan 2 (Reuters) – London copper kicked off the new year on a positive note on Thursday, rising to its highest since June on expectations that economic recovery in top consumer China will drive demand.

Copper on the London Metal Exchange (LME) rose more than 4 percent in December, its biggest monthly gain since September, 2012, riding on the hopes of economic optimism.

Three-month LME copper was trading 1 percent higher at $7,432.25 a tonne on Thursday, its highest since June 6. The most-traded March copper contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange added 0.5 percent to 52,560 yuan a tonne.

China has said industrial output may have grown 9.8 percent in 2013, and economic growth could come in at 7.6 percent, just above the official target of 7.5 percent and slightly below the 7.7 percent pace in 2012.

In addition to Chinese demand prospects, shortages of refined copper are also supporting prices.

“Robust demand continues to draw down on stocks, not just on LME but globally on all exchange warehouses,” said Joyce Liu, an investment analyst at Phillip Futures Singapore.

“Demand outlook is particularly optimistic because much of the social and environmental reforms that China is looking at are copper-intensive.”

The rally in copper came even as China’s factory activity expanded at the slowest pace in three months in December, weighed down by shrinking export orders, a private survey showed on Thursday.

The final HSBC/Markit manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) slipped to 50.5 in December from 50.8 in November, unchanged from a preliminary reading.

China’s official manufacturing PMI, released on Wednesday, also showed growth in factories slowed slightly in December as export orders and output weakened.

Copper fell 7.2 percent in 2013 but the decline was more modest than many expected as an anticipated surge in new mine production faced processing backlogs, creating delays for refined product such as cathodes used in high grade applications.

LME copper stocks <MCUSTX-TOTAL> extended their decline on Tuesday to 366,425 tonnes, the lowest since January.

PRICES

Three month LME copper

Most active ShFE copper

Three month LME aluminium

Most active ShFE aluminium

Three month LME zinc

Most active ShFE zinc

Three month LME lead

Most active ShFE lead

Three month LME nickel

Three month LME tin

(Reporting by Naveen Thukral; Editing by Richard Pullin)

Turkey’s gold imports reach new record high in 2013

ANKARA, January 3 (Xinhua) — Turkeys gold imports hit a new record high in 2013 because of the ongoing gold-for-gas trade with Iran and the slump of the gold price in the year

Turkey imported 302.3 tons of gold in the past year, data from Borsa Istanbul indicated a 150 percent rise from the previous years level of 120.78 tons

As for the monthly data, Turkey imported 31.65 tons of gold last December, increased by 64 percent compared to the previous month

During the past year, Turkey imported natural gas from Iran while paying it by gold. However, since Turkey did not produce much gold itself, it had to import more gold from other countries, according to analysts

Moreover, the sharp drop in gold prices, which fell 23 percent through 2013, also fueled Turkeys gold import.

Curis closes CAD $7 million private placement financing

VANCOUVER, Jan. 3, 2014 /CNW/ – Curis Resources Ltd. (“Curis” or the “Company”) (TSX: CUV) announces that it has completed the previously announced CAD $7 million non-brokered private placement of 11,666,667 common shares in the capital of Curis at a price of CAD $0.60 per share. The common shares are subject to a four month hold period. The private placement is subject to the final approval of the Toronto Stock Exchange.

About Curis

Curis Resources Ltd. is a mineral development company associated with Hunter Dickinson Inc., a diversified global mining company with a 25-year history of mineral development success.  Curis is focused on the acquisition, development and operation of high-quality next-generation copper properties in progressive jurisdictions around the world.  It is currently focused on advancing its 100% owned Florence Copper Project in Arizona, USA to near-term production.

Michael McPhie
President and CEO

No regulatory authority has approved or disapproved of the information contained in this news release.

This release includes certain statements that may be deemed “forward-looking statements”. All statements in this release, other than statements of historical facts, that address exploration drilling, exploitation activities and events or developments that the company expects are forward-looking statements. Although the Company believes the expectations expressed in such forward-looking statements are based on reasonable assumptions, such statements are not guarantees of future performance and actual results or developments may differ materially from those in the forward-looking statements. Factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those in forward-looking statements include fluctuations in market prices, exploitation and exploration successes, continuity of mineralization, uncertainties related to the ability to obtain necessary environmental, land use and other permits, approvals, licenses and title on a timely basis and delays due to third party opposition, changes in government policies regarding mining and natural resource exploration and exploitation, the final outcome of any lawsuits, the continued availability of capital and financing, and general economic, market or business conditions. Investors are cautioned that any such statements are not guarantees of future performance and actual results or developments may differ materially from those projected in the forward-looking statements. For more information on the Company, investors should review the Company’s continuous disclosure filings that are available at www.sedar.com.

Canadian juniors regain allure: GoGold floats offer for B.C. firm

Halifax, Nova Scotia-based GoGold Resources (TSX: GGD) is dreaming big for 2014, after announced Tuesday it plans to make an $11-million bid to acquire Animas Resources Ltd. (TSXV: ANI) of Vancouver.

The proposed take over would replace a previously announced $5-million deal to purchase Animas subsidiaries that held mineral rights to the Santa Gertrudis gold mine in Sonora, Mexico.

GoGold CEO, Terry Coughlan, said the new offer allows the firms to own 100% of Santa Gertrudis without having to pay any royalties as previously provided under the former bid.

If the transaction is successful, Animas shareholders will receive seven cents in cash and 0.0851 of a GoGold common share for each Animas common share.

GoGold said the premium to Animas shareholders is 142% based on the 20-day volume-weighted average share prices of both companies.

GoGold also intends to acquire all Animas warrants by offering one GoGold common share for each 94 cent of in-the-money value of the Animas warrants.

The proposed deal, which is subject to regulatory approvals, also includes the 27,000-hectare Desierto exploration property in Sonora.

The news confirms expectations of a global increase in deals for 2014. Last month, Ernst & Young said that most companies see he global economy improving, with 55% of miners focusing on growth — compared to only 38% by the end of 2012.

India beefs up customs in a bid to slow smuggling

In a bid to cut down on the rampant gold smuggling, customs formalities at Indian airports have been beefed up. Beginning January 1, all passengers arriving at the country’s 19 international airports have to fill out a new, detailed customs form that asks them to specifically declare prohibited goods and dutiable items, including gold jewellery, gold bullion and Indian currency exceeding the permitted limit.

The aim is to help authorities check duty frauds and cases of under valuation as well as keep a record of the gold jewellery and bullion being brought into the country.

Customs allows male passengers to carry gold worth up to $801 (Rs 50,000) and female passengers, twice that much. Passengers will also have to give details of the countries visited in the past six days and mention their passport numbers on the new form, which was not there earlier.

Worried at the high instances of gold smuggling, the authorities are also aiming to crack down on Indian jewellers who have been trading cash to buy the precious metal from smugglers.

The end of 2013 witnessed high drama at the Mumbai international airport. Customs officials at the Mumbai airport made a $124,976 (Rs 7 million) gold haul over a period of 24 hours. Six different cases of gold smuggling, starting from Friday night and continuing on Saturday, involved Indian passengers who had flown in from Thailand and the Middle East.

A Thai Airways passenger flying in from Bangkok was found to have a particularly heavy purse with a heavy gold chain. The buckle of the belt worn by the passenger was also made of gold and was coated with a silver coloured metal to hoodwink customs. The authorities confiscated the chain which was found to be made of 820 grams of gold.

The next case was of a man who had arrived from Dubai, concealing half kilo gold in his rectum. In the next three cases, gold bars were hidden in a stereo, inside the battery cavity of an emergency light and in LED lights.

Another flyer from Dubai tried to smuggle in 628 gram of gold broken into 46 pieces hidden in capacitors of speakers, laptop chargers, transistors, LED lights and a radio.

As if passengers smuggling in gold weren’t not enough, airline staff have also been caught with their hands in the till. The Director General of India, Najeeb Shah, has asked Air India to check gold smuggling by its staff.

Stating that there have been growing instances of gold smuggling by some Air India staffers, the General has sought immediate steps to ensure such incidents do not happen.

The General is understood to have sought a detailed enquiry regarding those staffers held for illegally bringing gold into the country. An Air India air hostess and her friend were arrested at the end last month from the Calicut International Airport for allegedly trying to smuggle in 6 kilograms of gold.

In October, 32 kilograms of gold biscuits were recovered from the lavatory of an Air India flight, when it reached Chennai from Dubai.

Incidentally, smugglers have also devised a new route to ensure that gold is brought in legally into the country. Smugglers are turning to non resident Indians to bring in the precious metal after paying duty. Any non resident Indian who has stayed abroad for more than six months, is allowed to bring in 1 kilogram of gold.

What triggered the authorities to the dubious technique was that in the last week of December, almost every passenger on a flight from Dubai to Calicut was found carrying 1 kilogram of gold, totalling up to 80 kilogram, worth  about $3 million (Rs 240 million). At the Chennai airport, 13 passengers brought the legally permitted quantity of gold into the country.

Ongoing investigations have revealed a band of smugglers have engaged with the non resident Indians to bring in the bullion.

Authorities added that more than 1,000 kilogram of gold has reached the Calicut airport in the last three weeks of December. Traders said most of the gold goes to jewellery makers in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in South India.

On Thursday, the government reduced the import tariff value of gold and silver to $392 per ten grams and $638 per kilogram, respectively. The tariff value on imported gold earlier stood at $398 per 10 grams, while on silver it was at $643 per kilogram.

Gold in Singapore, which normally sets the price trend in the local market,  was trading at $1,224.11 an ounce and silver at $20 an ounce on December 2.

Volatility, margins and Mexico’s royalty tax – Thompson

The Mining Report: Your research reports make it clear that mine operating costs are creeping up. For investors, which should be the bigger concern, lower commodity prices or climbing operating costs?

Chris Thompson: Both are a concern, but right now operating margins are an investor’s biggest concern. For producers, volatility in the metal prices has led to rapidly changing operating margins. Companies are demonstrating their ability to reduce costs, but how far they need to reduce these costs will be determined by the commodity price.

TMR: Do you have a threshold for operating margins; a minimum that you want to see?

CT: It depends on the metal price forecast, but we’re happiest with a 50%+ operating margin on the company’s total cash cost.

TMR: What are your gold and silver price forecasts for 2014?

CT: We have silver at $25/ounce ($25/oz). Historically, that is not unrealistic, although it is a significant premium to today’s ~$20/oz price. Our gold forecast is $1,400/oz.

TMR: Do you calculate the correlation of equities to the daily spot price?

CT: We calculate correlation coefficients for equity valuations and market valuations relative to metal prices. At the moment, pure play precious metal producers, especially the silvers, correlate very well in many respects with the silver price.

TMR: Some miners publish cost-per-ton numbers; others don’t. How does the average investor calculate cost-per-ton for silver?

CT: That’s a metric I use a lot because from an operating perspective, it’s one of the most relevant metrics in the metals space. It’s a metric with a lot of components, including mining costs, processing costs and general and administrative costs—all calculated on a per-ton mill basis. Adding those components together gives you a cost-per-ton milled, which is a pure reflection of mine site operating costs per ton.

TMR: What would be a favorable cost-per-ton in today’s market environment for a silver mine and a gold mine?

CT: You need to recognize that the operating cost on a per-ton basis is only one part of the story. We need to look at the metal value or the metal that’s encased in rock and the company’s capacity to beneficiate that metal.

To answer that question, you have to look at grade, as well as metallurgical recoveries. On a cost-per-ton basis, a mine may be a very high cost producer, but it may also be very profitable based on high grade and good metallurgical recoveries.

TMR: Looking at Mexico, what about the new royalty coming into play in the country: a 7.5% flat tax on EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization deductions). How is that affecting Mexican silver producers and how are you factoring it into your calculations?

CT: The net effect is marginal for marginal producers operating marginal mines. Unfortunately, for operators that enjoy healthy operating margins, it has a much more significant effect on their ability to generate cash flow. It’s very much a leveler.

Furthermore, it is a deterrent on investment in Mexico. Companies have to, and are, thinking twice about exploring for, building and operating mines in Mexico.

TMR: Nonetheless, you have buy ratings on just about every company that you cover there.

CT: Our buy ratings are based on our metal price forecast for 2014, and many are driven by multiples to cash flow. Remember, our 2014 silver price forecast is $25/oz, a full 25% higher than spot. This is reflected in high target prices relative to current market prices. Our target prices are more a reflection on valuations should silver prices strengthen to ~$25 oz.

TMR: Should investors expect more volatility in precious metals prices in early 2014?

CT: Absolutely. The one thing we can expect in 2014 is pretty much what we had this year. We’ll be in a very volatile space for quite some time.

My advice to investors is stay with quality; stay with good management teams that have good asset bases in geopolitically secure regions. Stay with companies that can demonstrate what I call “realistic executable organic growth plans.”

TMR: In other words, projects already in the pipeline that should be relatively easy to finance and bring into production with high recovery rates and controllable costs.

CT: Absolutely. That is the most risk-averse focus a company can offer investors right now. In an environment where money is tight, there’s little chance of projects being financed, but if they carry palatable capital costs, are attractive and the company has the right skill set to advance the assets to production, that’s what the company needs to do. And it’s what investors need to look for.

TMR: That makes sense for midcap or small companies. For the slightly larger players, is there enough confidence in precious metal prices for them to enter a fresh round of mergers and acquisition (M&A) activity?

CT: Broadly speaking, there’s very little confidence for M&A at the moment. However, within management groups that have in-house expertise to deliver on value, there is a much better appetite for M&A.

TMR: What’s one thing investors in the precious metals space can look forward to in 2014?

CT: More volatility, I’m afraid, if that’s something to look forward to.

You need to play the volatility. This is the time for people to buy stock in solid, high-quality names when the silver metal price is $19–$20/oz. If the silver price strengthens to ~$25/oz, which we think it might, it will be time to lighten the load or offload names.

Often, the little stories that can deliver on all fronts are the stories that investors should gravitate to, regardless of the metal price. You have to play the volatility and acquire positions in good, solid companies when metal prices are low. At these metals prices, there’s more upside potential than downside risk.

TMR: Chris, thank you for your time and your insights.

Chris Thompson is an analyst who specializes in the mid-cap precious metals sector. He was trained in South Africa and has over 20 years of industry experience working as a geologist for major through to junior mining/exploration companies, in addition to a stint working as a mineral economist for the South African State. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of the Witwatersrand, a graduate degree in engineering, a masters in mineral economics and a PGeo designation. Thompson received the 2011 Starmine No. 1 Stock Picker award for the Canadian Metals and Mining Sector.

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Gold price settles at $1,200 per ounce

The year 2013 hasn’t been good for the price of the yellow metal, with gold price set to witness its worst plunge in 30 years by the time this year gets over in a couple of days. Bullion which started this year at around the $1,700 per ounce levels will do well if it manages to remain above $1,200/oz on Tuesday, December 31, 2013.

Even that level will mean that gold will be down about 28 per cent from since the beginning of the year. Spot gold price recovered from a low of $1,187 per ounce on Thursday, December 19, to end last week at $1,205/oz, reflecting the investor community’s faith in the yellow metal.

The metal wasn’t doing very well even before December 18, 2013, when, according to Ole Hansen, Head of Commodity Strategy at Saxo Bank, “the last major roll of the financial dice in 2013 was carried out by the US Federal Reserve.”

On that day, the US Fed “sprang a semi-surprise on the market deciding to begin tapering its asset purchase program. Although the market had spent the past six months getting ready for this announcement, precious metals took it badly and ended up being the worst performing sector on the week,” Hansen noted in his weekly commodities report.

According to him, “a potential break [below the current levels] will put the next level at $1,155/oz. into focus”. The forthcoming New Year, at least initially, doesn’t bode too well for the metal, he said.

“The early stages of the New Year will undoubtedly become another challenging time for precious metals as positive fundamental price drivers are hard to come by. Investment holdings in exchange traded products backed by gold have seen increased reductions during December and whether this is a sign of investors gearing up to another year of losses or just some long liquidation in order to book losses and meet 2014 with fresh eyes remains to be seen,” he wrote.

Interestingly, analysts still remain split on the direction of gold price in 2014, with guestimates ranging between $900/oz and $1,500/oz. “I believe 2014 will be a year of consolidation following a dramatic slump at the end of a 12-year bull market. We could see some additional weakness during the first quarter as the taper theme and some potential dollar strength erode support but later in the year, gold could well recover as some of the negative drivers fade and finish up on the year,” said Hansen.

Despite its price demolition this year, we can be sure that no one will mind getting a bit of free gold, now would you? Yes, there’s gold to be mined in your old gadgets, and we can tell you how to do it.

It’s no secret that most electronic devices contain at least a small amount of pure gold – that, in fact, has been one of the primary reasons why gold has managed to remain above a threshold as more devices (think smartphones, tablets, notebooks, TV sets, etc.) mean that industrial demand for gold will remain good.

With more and more people owning at least one smartphone, one tablet and one laptop PC, we all own a bit of gold without actively investing in it. And as we occasionally move on to the next frontier in our devices, we tend to just discard the old ones. Precious mistake?
Let’s look at how five ways we can extract gold from our old gadgets.

#1 Burn It

This is the most harmful (yes, harmful and therefore not advised) way of extracting gold from gadgets. You burn the device down using an extractor, which will isolate gold from the other metals in the gadget. But burning plastic and other materials will emit fumes, some of them will be toxic. It’s bad for you, and the environment. Avoid this route.

#2 Make a soup

Well, not really a soup, but you could break the device (with a hammer, for instance), and after physically removing plastic etc., mix the rest with  a cornstarch solution, then isolate or distill gold ions. What’s best is that this, according to Popular Science magazine, is one of the greenest ways to extract gold from anything.

#3 Melt it

This is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to recover gold from e-waste. The aqua regia solution can be prepared by mixing one part of nitric acid and three parts of HCL (hydrochloric acid). Remember, though, that these acids are very corrosive and produce toxic fumes. So be careful while mixing them and avoid splashes as they can cause burns. Check out the entire process here. In any case, this is a messy process and you must be prepared to extensively tidy up behind you.

#4 Electroplate it, in reverse

This is the most effective way to reclaim gold from scrap components is to use a process referred to as reverse electroplating, or so says eHow. It involves ionisation and is the reversal of the process by which gold is fixed to the devices. The gold is attached to the siphon, and this is done by adding a battery. Later the gold is extracted by making it attracted to another metallic object.

#5 Bioleaching

Bioleaching is the extraction of metals from their ores through the use of living organisms. This is much cleaner than the traditional heap leaching using cyanide, which was used before the make-a-soup method was stumbled upon. Bioleaching is one of several applications within biohydrometallurgy and several methods are used to recover copper, zinc, lead, arsenic, antimony, nickel, molybdenum, gold, silver, and cobalt.

Whatever method you choose to extract gold from your gadgets, be extremely careful, and make sure you know what you’re doing before actually starting off. One final tip – older electronics, like an old 386 or 486 computer, contain more gold than modern computers.

Mining threatens unique culture of Sweden’s reindeer-herding Samis

As winter approaches, the Samis of northern Sweden move thousands of reindeer down from the snow-covered mountains for lowland grazing. They have done so for centuries, but they wonder how much longer they can continue.

The mining industry is one of several modern threats to the unique way of life of the Samis, the only indigenous people in the European Union.

But one small, tightly knit community has decided to fight back.

The roughly 100 residents of the Jaahkaagasska area near the sub-Arctic town of Jokkmokk are deeply worried what will happen if the proposed Kallak iron mine, an open-pit project mostly located inside the district, is allowed to go ahead.

“There’s no way our reindeer herding will be able to continue,” said Niklas Spik, a spokesman for the Jaahkaagasska Sami community. “The natural straying won’t be possible if the reindeer can’t move freely.”

Roughly 80,000 Samis inhabit a huge swath of land stretching from Norway across Sweden and Finland to Russia.

Friction with the 21st century economy is not unusual, but rarely is it played out as dramatically as here.

Samis and environmental activists have protested against the plans for the mine the entire year.

Malin Norrby, 27, was fined 2,000 kronor ($300) this month for an incident in July when she and other activists tied themselves to a self-built wooden tower that blocked access to the mine.

“I went to Jokkmokk to protest against the mining boom and the unsustainable use of finite resources,” she said.

Norrby and other activists argue that the mine makes no allowances for the shape of a Sami district such as Jaahkaagasska, which is long and narrow, stretching through different types of vegetation suitable for different seasons.

Spik said a mine located in the passage between the mountain pastures in the west and the eastern winter grazing areas would prevent the animals from moving between the seasonal pastures, leaving them to starve.

“Sami villages already encounter so many forms of encroachment on their areas, from roads to windmills, that they just can’t take anymore,” said Mattias Aahren, head of the human rights unit of the Sami Council, an umbrella organization of Sami groups.

Mines in Kiruna and Roennbaeck, also in northern Sweden, likewise cut the reindeer grazing land in half and affect nearby areas with dust and transport, critics said.

“The mines are located at the worst site possible for reindeer herding,” said Aahren, who represents the affected villages, including one in Roennbaeck that submitted a petition to the U.N.’s human rights committee in September.

But Fred Boman, CEO of British Beowulf subsidiary Jokkmokk Iron Mines, Jimab, said he thinks the fears are exaggerated.

He expressed confidence the mine will be approved by the government.

“This is a very solid and large ore find, and the economic value of this weighs more than the local reindeer herding business,” he said.

“But (reindeer herding) has important cultural value, and we are absolutely convinced that we can get on with this together.”

The conflict between cultural heritage and mining is still being debated, and advocates of the mines argue that the industry will create jobs in areas otherwise troubled by high unemployment.

In Jokkmokk, with a population of 5,000, the Kallak mine would lead to 500 jobs, for at least 14 years, according to advocates.

But Tor Lundberg Tourda, a local activist, is not impressed, and sees it all as a continuation of a pattern of exploitation.

“The Swedish state has colonized these areas for over 300 years, [on] land that has been used by Samis for thousands of years,” he said, standing by one of the test holes on top of the kilometer-long deposit of iron ore.

What is more, it is not just the natural environment that the Samis seek to preserve.

They also hope to keep their culture, which has undergone enormous changes over time but has always maintained one constant: the close relationship with the reindeer.

Johan Andersson may just be 18 years old, but he is determined to help take the proud Sami heritage through the 21st century.

With other young Samis, he attends a boarding school in Jokkmokk where he learns the materials and techniques of traditional handicrafts and is taught how to distinguish between different kinds of reindeer and even between different types of snow.

“I like the handicrafts, studying the Sami language, the reindeer herding business and learning about nature guiding,” he said. “There are so many things that are useful to know.”