Michelangelo’s unrealized marble dream becomes reality in Italian quarry

August 5th, 2017

By Alessandro Bianchi

QUERCETA DI SERAVEZZA, Italy, Aug 2 (Reuters) – In 1517, Michelangelo climbed Mount Altissimo in Tuscany and found the marble of his dreams.

It was, the Renaissance master wrote, “of compact grain, homogeneous, crystalline, reminiscent of sugar”. He deemed it perhaps even more precious than that from nearby Carrara, where he had obtained marble for some of his most famous statues.

With the blessing of Pope Leo X, Michelangelo designed a path that could get blocks of the white marble down from the mountain to be transported to Florence to be used to decorate the facade of the church of San Lorenzo.

In exchange for getting a quarry operation going, Florentine authorities granted Michelangelo the right to take as much marble as he wanted from Altissimo – which in Italian means both “most high” and “God” – for his use for the rest of his life.

“There is enough here to extract until Judgment Day,” he wrote to a contemporary.

But it was never to be.

After several years of work to carve out a road, Pope Leo, who was of Florence’s Medici family, relieved Michelangelo of his commission and the project was abandoned. The church of San Lorenzo still has no facade.

Today, the quarries of 1,589-metre-high (5,213-feet) Altissimo, in Italy’s Apuan Alps, buzz with the kind of activity that even a genius like Michelangelo probably could not have foreseen.

Carving out Michelangelo’s marble dream

Pietrasanta, Italy

Modern cutting and extraction techniques have produced a surreal landscape similar to some Cubism paintings, a dizzying array of upside down staircases and sugar-cube structures looking heavenward.”The primitive technology consisted of human labour and beasts of burden,” said Franco Pierotti, director of extractions.

“The primordial instruments such as levers, chisels and hammers later evolved with the introduction of helical wires in the 19th century and now we have diamond-tipped wires and saws and heavy earth-moving equipment,” he said.

Before the extracting begins, experts known as “tecchiaroli” hang on ropes from the sides of the mountain and pick at its sides with pointy iron bars to remove loose rock that could fall and hurt workers in subsequent phases of the extraction.

In the three centuries following Michelangelo’s time, the Altissimo quarries went through cycles of abandonment and re-discovery.

In 1821, Marco Borrini, a local landowner, teamed up with Frenchman Jean Baptiste Alexandre Henraux to start a new company and it has been active in the area ever since.

The venture brought new life to the economically depressed area, employing hundreds of quarrymen, squarers, sled men, stone cutters and cart drivers, who guided oxen trains.

In the 19th century, the tsars of Russia chose Altissimo marble for the construction of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg and more recently, it was used in the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, which opened in 2007.

Today, the Henraux company owns the entire mountain, employs about 140 people and extracts marble from five active quarries.

Over the years artists such as Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Joan Miro and Isamu Noguchi have used Altissimo marble for their sculptures.

Michelangelo would be proud.

(Writing by Philip Pullella; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Henry Sapiecha

A Canadian mining discussion. Barrick & Goldcorp PODCAST

July 10th, 2017

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Henry Sapiecha

Ranking the 20 top mining schools of the world

March 15th, 2017

The QS World University Rankings by Subject released this week lists the world’s top universities in 46 individual subject areas.

The rankings are based on data for academic reputation from a survey of more than 70,000 academics, research citations per paper and its so called H-index which measures the impact of a scholar or scientist.

The engineering – mining and mineral field has 51 entries and the top tier is dominated by US, Australian and Canadian universitiesWhat sets QS apart from similar rankings of educational institutions is a fourth component of the ranking – employer reputation. A survey of over 40,000 employers ranks schools according to the quality of recruits.

The mineral and mining engineering ranking was introduced for the first time ever last year.

The QS engineering – mining and mineral field has 51 entries and the top tier is dominated by US, Australian and Canadian universities. Top rated Colorado School of Mines, established in 1859, is placed well above the competition with a score of above 90.

Established in 1986 Curtin University in Western Australia’s mining faculty shot up the rankings from 19th to second place ahead of Queensland University which also moved up 7 places in the rankings.

Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals fall just outside the top 20 while South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand is in joint 22nd after falling 4 places.

Indian School of Mines (ISM) University, Dhanbad ranks 24th while the top ranked Chinese school, the University of Mining and Technology based in Xuzhou is placed 27th.

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Click here for detailed rankings.

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Henry Sapiecha

Four dead after armed robbers storm DRC gold mine in the Congo

March 3rd, 2017

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An armed attack on the Twanziga gold mine in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Tuesday has resulted in four casualties.

Among the dead are three policemen that were guarding the mine and one of the robbers, according to a statement on Banro Corp’s (TSX:BAA) website.

The incident occurred early Tuesday morning and involved an attempt by the seven-member raiding party to break through the gate. Police fired on the robbers, ending the assault. A security guard was also injured during the altercation. No items were stolen and the mine continues to operate normally, Banro said. The attempted break-in was recorded on security cameras and has been reported to authorities. An investigation is underway.

The open-pit mine, which started commercial production in 2012, is one of four gold mines operated by Banro in the DRC. It was expected to produce 110-120,000 ounces in 2016.

According to Reuters the mine has been “plagued by illegal miners squatting on the site and by armed groups, some of the dozens of militias that remain active despite the official end to a regional conflict in 2003.”

Banro’s stock, listed on the Toronto main board, lost 2.27% today to close at 21.5 cents a share.

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Henry Sapiecha

Chinese takeover buy of world’s largest mining project

October 29th, 2016

Simandou iron ore mine image www.www-globalcommodities.com

World number two miner Rio Tinto is exiting the world’s largest mining project, by selling its stake in Guinea’s Simandou iron ore  to partner Chinalco, potentially opening up a new path to development for the $20 billion project.

According to a statement by Melbourne-based Rio the deal is worth between $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion payable when Simandou starts commercial production and based on output. Rio says a final agreement could be inked within six months. In February this year Rio wrote down the value of Simandou by $1.1 billion, before deciding to shelve the project.

Rio owns  46.6% of Simandou south; Chinalco’s stake is 41.3% and the Guinea government holds 7.5%. Earlier this month the World Bank’s financing arm – the International Finance Corporation – sold its its 4.6% interest.

With complete control, Beijing-based Chinalco may revive the stalled project with the backing of the Chinese governmentRio has already spent more than $3 billion on the project having first acquired the property in the late nineties. With complete control, Beijing-based Chinalco may revive the stalled project, no doubt with the backing of the central government. In September Chinalco took private its Hong Kong listed mining arm, primarily focused on copper.

China consumes more than 70% of the world’s seaborne iron ore and is on track to import one billion tonnes of the steelmaking raw material this year. Imports have gradually displaced domestic production, pushing dozens of Chinese iron ore mines into bankruptcy.

The shelving of the project has been devastating news for Guinea. Simandou by itself would’ve been the world’s fifth-largest producer at 95 million tonnes per year.

Simandou with over two billion tonnes of reserves and some of the highest grades for direct-shipping-ore in the industry (66% – 68% Fe which attracts premium pricing) has a back-of-the-envelope calculation value of more than $110 billion at today’s prices.

The initial agreement signed in May 2014 called for a new 650km railway across the West African country to Conakry, Guinea’s capital in the north, plus a new deep water port at a conservatively estimated cost of $7 billion; infrastructure investments that would double the economy of the impoverished country.

The impoverished nation, which was one of the worst affected country’s by the recent Ebolo epidemic, and is in dire need of infrastructure to develop other parts of the industry, particularly the export of bauxite, the primary ore used to manufacture aluminum. Bauxite represents some 80% of the country’s export earnings. Chinalco is primarily an aluminum manufacturer.

Simandou’s chequered history

rio-tinto-guinea-simandou-signing-may-2014 image www.www-globalcommodities.com

Rio Tinto held the licence for the entire deposit since the early 1990s, but was stripped of the northern blocks in 2008 by a former dictator of the country.

BSG Resources, a company associated with Israeli diamond billionaire Beny Steinmetz acquired the concession later that year after spending $160 million exploring the property.

In 2010 BSGR sold 51% to Vale for $2.5 billion. The Rio de Janeiro-based company stopped paying after the first $500 million after missing a number of development milestones. Then the new Guinean government under Conde launched a review of all mining contracts awarded under previous regimes and launched an investigation into the Vale-BSGR joint venture.

The Guinea government withdrew the mining permit in April last year, accusing BSGR of obtaining its rights through corruption. BSGR has denied wrongdoing and filed an arbitration request in an attempt to win compensation from the Western African nation.

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Shortly after BSGR’s rights were stripped Rio filed a lawsuit for billions of dollars against both Vale and BSGR in New York courts for what it called a “steal” of its previously-owned concession. Rio alleged BSGR paid a $200 million bribe to Guinea’s former minister using funds from Vale’s initial payment.

The US district court threw out the case in November last year saying Rio “had waited too long to file the lawsuit” under the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act, which calls for a four year time limit.

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Henry Sapiecha

US miner on the hunt for rare earths in the Cook Islands

October 14th, 2016

 

Rising demand for hard-to-find rare earths (REEs) needed for high tech gadgets, green energy and batteries used by hybrid vehicles continues to push mining companies to scour the ocean floors.

The latest of them is Ocean Minerals LLC, a deep sea mining firm based in Houston, Texas, which announced Wednesday that it has inked an agreement with the Cook Islands government for exclusive prospecting and exploration rights around the country’s seabed.

According to Ocean Minerals, a recent study of alternative sources of REEs conducted by Houston-based Deep Reach Technology, indicates there are potential new sources of rare earth elements and scandium in the South Pacific Ocean’s area.

The firm believes it has reserved “the most promising areas,” containing important concentrations of heavy REEs and scandium. The later, when added in small quantities to aluminum, creates a metal alloy extremely light, strong, corrosion resistant, heat tolerant, and weldable.

Texas-based Ocean Minerals LLC believes it has reserved “the most promising areas,” containing important concentrations of heavy REEs and scandium.The use of such an alloy in automobiles and aircraft could yield fuel savings while protecting lives, the company said in the statement.

The announcement comes on the heels of a 15-year contract between India and the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which grants New Delhi exclusive rights to explore for Polymetallic Sulphides (PMS) in the Indian Ocean.

From 2001 to 2014 the United Nations’ ISA issued over 30 exploration permits for the Pacific, Mid-Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Since then, more and more companies have been applying for rights to scour the oceans’ floors.

The heightened interest pushed ISA to update its proposed regulatory framework for deep-sea mining in 2014, which translated into allowing private firms to apply for minerals as well as oil and gas extraction licenses beginning this year.

Scientists have expressed their concern about the potential impacts of deep-sea mining in unique and fragile ecosystems. Through the MIDAS project, a group made up of researchers, industry actors, NGOs and legal experts from 32 organizations across Europe, they are currently gathering data to determine what damage, if any, might be done by mining and so inform regulators of what needs to be put in place to protect the deep sea environment.

The Cook Islands are a chain of 15 islands about 4,800 km south of Hawaii and about 3,200 km northeast of New Zealand. Ocean Minerals’ rights are in the island nation’s exclusive economic zone, or the 200-nautical-mile zone extending from a country’s shores that gives it rights to undersea activity.

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Henry Sapiecha

USA remains just about fully dependent on China rare earths

October 14th, 2016

Molycorp-Rare-Earths-facility-in-Mountain-Pass-California.-image www.www-globalcommodities.com

A new report BMI Research says the Chinese government will continue to ramp up rare earth metal exports in a bid to regain control of rare earth pricing policy. The country produces more than 85% of the global supply of the 17 elements.

A surge in exports from China  since a ruling by the WTO deemed the country’s export quotas illegal and particularly after the lifting of exports tariffs in May, caused a further slide in prices which have been declining rapidly from peaks reached in 2011.

Among the hardest hit have been dysprosium and cerium, which saw prices fall from $65,865 a tonne and $883 a tonne, respectively in May 2015, to $37,524 a tonne and $685 a tonne by September 2016 , respectively according to BMI.

China’s policy of consolidating domestic producers and processors while encouraging exports saw the sole US producer of rare earths Molycorp fall into bankruptcy in July last year. While Australia’s Lynas has withered the storm, projects in Greenland, which has the potential to rival China’s biggest production centres, Russia, India and elsewhere have struggled to gain traction amid the low price environment.

As a result the US will continue to be beholden to China for more than 90% of its rare earth imports.

us-rare-earth-import-destinations chart image www.www-globalcommodities.com

Henry Sapiecha

Africa gold reserves said to be worth $1.5 TRILLION

September 23rd, 2016

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A new report by SNL Metals and Mining shows Africa at the top of tables when it comes to the value of gold still in the ground.

Using the combined value of reserves and resources reported by explorers and mining companies active on the continent, the research company, calculated a figure of $1.48 trillion for primary gold projects.

Canada and the US came in second with gold in situ values as at September 8 of $1.26 trillion.

For gold in non-gold primary projects, Asia-Pacific was the key contributor in terms of resource value, accounting for $692 billion of the total according to SNL.

When it comes to the value of gold resources where it is mined as a secondary product alongside other metals, Africa falls down the rankings with less than $100 billion on the books.

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As for revenue, calculated by multiplying 2015 total gold production from primary gold mines with the 2015 average gold spot price, Asia-Pacific and Africa are once again the most as most valuable gold regions, with gold revenues of $20.2 billion and $16.1 billion, respectively.

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Henry Sapiecha

World’s largest, newest diamond mine to inject $5.2bn into Canada’s economy

September 9th, 2016

worlds-largest-newest-diamond-mine-to-inject-5-2-billion-into-canadas-economy-300x250 www.www-globalcommodities.com

Gahcho Kué, co-owned by De Beers Canada and Mountain Province Diamonds, is located at Kennady Lake, about 280 km northeast of Yellowknife. (Image courtesy of De Beers Group)

Gahcho Kué, the world’s largest new diamond mine due to begin production later this month, is expected to contribute $5.2 billion (Cdn$6.7 billion) to Canada’s economy and provide 1,200 new jobs, a report released Thursday by majority owner De Beers shows.

Gahcho Kué is expected to contribute $5.2 billion (Cdn$6.7 billion) to Canada’s economy and provide 1,200 new jobs.

Situated almost 300 kilometres east of Yellowknife, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, the mine — a joint venture between De Beers Canada (51%) and Mountain Province Diamonds (49%) — has so far provided a $341 million (Cdn$440 million) boost to the NWT economy, the reports says. It has also contributed a further $272 million (Cdn$350 million) to the rest of Canada, according to the figures released by De Beers.

But what makes the mine especially important is the fact that two of Canada’s major diamond mines — Diavik and Ekati — are approaching the end of their productive lives, and —although it’s smaller— Gahcho Kué would be able to offset the production drop-off.

debeers-diamond-mines-map image www.www-globalcommodities.com

Courtesy of De Beers Group.

The report, which looks into the socio-economic impact of the Anglo American-owned diamond company in Canada, also highlights De Beer’s contribution to the country’s economy over the past 10 years:

  • More than Cdn$7 billion to Canada’s gross value added (GVA), with exports supported by DeBeers mining operations bringing Cdn$4 billion in foreign currency into the country’s economy. In 2015, they represented 28% of Canada’s export earnings from diamonds.
  • Cdn$55 million in support to First Nations through Impact Benefit Agreements (2006-2015).
  • An expected Cdn$24 million contribution to Alberta’s economy by the recent move of headquarters from Toronto to Calgary.
  • Cdn$750 million in exploration across Canada since 1961, supporting almost 100 jobs each year on average.
  • Responsible for the discovery of more than 170 kimberlites to date.

“In the 50 years we have been in Canada, we have seen how our business can be a catalyst for delivering both economic and social value, locally, regionally and across the country,” De Beers Canada’s chief executive Kim Truter said in a statement.

He noted that, only last year, De Beers’ activities contributed Cdn$1.2 billion ($930 million) to the Canadian economy.

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www.worldwidediamonds.info

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Henry Sapiecha

Prospector discovers $300,000 nugget at Ballarat Victoria Australia

August 25th, 2016

gold-nugget 5 kilo ballarat vic image www.www-globalcommodities.com

January 18, 2013

A 5.5kg gold nugget estimated to be worth up to $300,000 has been found by a prospector in bush near Ballarat.

The prospector, who wished to remain anonymous, discovered the nugget on Wednesday at a depth of 60cm and footage of the discovery was soon posted on YouTube.

Once the signal had been tracked through an expensive metal detector, the prospector kicked off leaf mulch from the surface and decided to dig after the ground looked in original condition.

News Limited reports Ballarat Mining Exchange Gold Shop owner Cordell Kent said the prospector initially thought he had found a car bonnet, but detected a glint of gold after he started digging.

“He cleaned the top of it and the gold kept expanding … he saw more and more gold … he couldn’t believe what he was seeing,” he said.

The nugget is worth about $282,000 in weight, but is worth more because of the rarity and size of the nugget.

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Henry Sapiecha

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