Gold Mining in Mongolia. Entry in Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures.

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Gold Mining in Mongolia. Entry in Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures.
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  Pre-copyedited version! Final version published in   Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures .  Gold mining in Mongolia Compared to many other parts of the world, Mongolia is remarkably rich in minerals. More than 6,000 large deposits have been discovered, numbering at least 80 different minerals (Husband and Songwe 2004:3). The most economically significant of these are gold, copper, molybdenum, and fluorite. The country also has extensive coal reserves, combustible deposits, and gemstone occurrences. Apart from limited hard rock (lode gold) deposits, Mongolia is particularly rich in placer gold (alluvial deposits). These deposits have srcinated elsewhere and been moved to their more recent locations, often by the force of water or sand. Since placer gold is not geologically integrated with its matrix, it is relatively easy to extract and does not require further crushing, milling, or the addition of chemicals such as mercury or cyanide. Instead companies use various forms of opencast mining and tunnelling to extract the placer gold. In areas where water is available, a method known as ‘hydraulic mining’ or ‘hydraulic sluicing’ is  used which separates the gold from the gravel. Rockers, trommels, sluice boxes, and other techniques are used in various combinations to recover the loosened gold. Since many of Mongolia’s  placer formations are long, narrow, and relatively shallow, mining companies have rapidly advancing mine faces and, correspondingly, rapidly abandoned mined-out areas. Apart from making the long perimeters harder to police, Mongolia’s ‘ribbon - like’  placer deposits can in some instances be difficult or unprofitable for mining companies to excavate (MBDA 2003:49). The geological formation of gold thus  provides artisanal and small-scale gold miners with lucrative opportunities for both  prospecting and mining. Moreover, many mining companies have used technical equipment that was srcinally developed in the early 1930s in the USSR and therefore not only out-dated, but also intended for mineralogical conditions dissimilar to those of Mongolia (Farrington 2000). Given the low gold recovery rates of these companies, they have provided a relatively rich and readily accessible resource for artisanal and small-scale gold miners. When droughts and disastrous weather conditions occurred between 1999 and 2002, causing catastrophic livestock losses among the nomadic pastoralist population, the placer deposits attracted growing numbers of people and it eventually grew into a nationwide large-scale gold rush.  Pre-copyedited version! Final version published in   Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures .  Placer gold is likely to have been mined as early as the 11 th  century in Mongolia (Murray and Grayson 2003:15). Historical sources describe a long-standing resistance towards mining activities, which were seen to transgress fundamental taboos related to the land (High and Schlesinger 2010). Amidst local opposition, the first industrial mines were opened in 1899 by the joint-stock mining company Mongolor, which had a recorded production of 771 kilograms of gold before closing in 1913 due to civil unrest and lack of political support (Atwood 2004:357). Soviet geological expeditions surveyed the country in 1930-1931 and a systematic mapping of the country’s geology was carried out in 1960, documenting gold deposits in all regions. Only in 1978 did mining become a major branch of the national economy with the opening of a copper and molybdenum mine in Erdenet. When annual gold  production figures were made public in 1991, it was recorded at 722 kilograms. In 2005 Mongolia ’s gold production peaked with a recorded annual production of 24,122 kilog rams, making the country the world’s top 19 th  producer of gold. Mongolia’s mineral -rich economy has experienced severe boom and bust cycles in recent years. When global commodity prices and external demand began to plunge in 2008-2009, it shocked the country’s economy and exposed its structural volatility. With mineral revenues accounting for one-third of fiscal revenues, 70% of industrial output, and almost 80% of exports in 2011, the economy has been at risk of Dutch disease, whereby non-mineral related sectors of the economy lose their competitiveness from the large mineral sector exports and revenue flows (Reeves 2011, World Bank 2012:15). This risk is particularly acute with the 2013 production launch of one of the world’s largest copper and gold mines, the Oyu Tolgoi deposit in the South Gobi province (Wacaster 2012). Measured and indicated mineral resources include more than 650,000 kilograms of gold and almost 780,000 kilograms of inferred gold, which is set to make Mongolia one of the fastest growing economies in the world (Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. 2012:13). In Mongolia mineral resources are the property of the state. In addition to numerous laws and guidelines, the Minerals Law of Mongolia regulates the prospecting, exploration, and mining of minerals. However, the existing legislation only confers licensee-rights onto registered mining companies and does not explicitly refer to artisanal and small-scale mining activities (High 2012). In 2001 and 2002, the government attempted to accommodate  Pre-copyedited version! Final version published in   Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures .  informal sector mining by enacting interim regulations but they proved largely ineffective and were not renewed. In subsequent years, the government drafted an Artisanal Mining Law, which failed to gain parliamentary approval and was abandoned in August 2005. New drafts have since been prepared but, to date, none has been approved. According to a Swiss-funded  project that seeks to enable the formalization of artisanal gold mining in Mongolia, there is much reluctance among both government agencies and artisanal miners to support the formalization efforts. The main challenges have been lack of desire to pay income tax and limited access to viable mining land for miners (Singo 2011:5). At present, according to the Law, artisanal gold mining is thus still considered an illegal activity. Artisanal gold miners in Mongolia are locally known as ‘ninjas’. Their use of a green plastic  panning bowl, carried strapped to their backs on walks to and from the mines, apparently triggered this colloquial name. Their silhouettes were said to be reminiscent of the television cartoon series called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, popular in Mongolia at the time when informal sector mining surged (Grayson 2006:1). There is a wide range of opinions about the number of artisanal gold miners in Mongolia. This variation stems in part from the large size of the country, the practical difficulties of counting the number of artisanal miners at any given site, and the substantial seasonal fluctuations in their geographical distribution. According to published government figures, there are about 30,000 artisanal gold miners, but independent surveys suggest this to be a significant underestimate, proposing figures of at least 100,000 artisanal gold miners or twenty percent of the total rural work force (MBDA 2003:18, Navch et al.  2006:17). In addition to these, there are also smaller numbers of artisanal miners involved in the extraction of other minerals and rocks, such as fluorspar and coal (Baatar and Grayson 2009, Grayson and Baatar 2009). Given the scale of formal and informal sector gold mining in Mongolia, the environmental consequences are already severe. Dredges, settling ponds, and panning beds have affected rivers, contaminating them with sediments and other pollutants (Suzuki 2013). Groundwater resources have been removed at a rapid rate and dumps of topsoil, waste rock, and tailings have been left without any environmental rehabilitation (World Bank 2006:16). Since mining typically uses land and water resources more extensively than other industries, conflicts of interest have become increasingly frequent and fierce. Much of the opposition to the impact  Pre-copyedited version! Final version published in   Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures .  of mining has been voiced through ‘river movements’  that draw on and highlight people’s close ties to the locality as an economic, social, and cosmological basis for their livelihood (Upton 2012). As in the past, gold mining, in its various forms, is also today considered a  profitable, yet contentious, activity in Mongolia. Bibliography  Atwood, Christopher P. 2004. Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. Infobase:  New York. Baatar, Chimed- Erdene and Robin Grayson. 2009. “Mongolia’s Flourspar Rush on Google Earth”. World Placer Journal 9:1 -23. Farrington, John. 2000. “ Environmental problems of placer gold mining in the Zaamar Goldfield, Mongolia”.  World Placer Journal:107-128. Grayson, Robin and Chimed- Erdene Baatar. 2009. “Remote Sensing of the Coal Sector in China and Mongolia”.World Placer Journal 9:24 -47. Grayson, Robin. 2006. The Gold Miners Book - Manual for Miners, Investors, Regulators and Environmentalists: Best Available Techniques for Placer Gold Miners. Ulaanbaatar: Eco-Minex International. High, Mette. 2012. “The Cultural Logics of Illegality: Living Outside th e Law in the Mongolian Gold Mines”.  In  Change in Democratic Mongolia: Social Relations, Health, Mobile Pastoralism, and Mining. Dierkes, J. (ed.). Pp. 249-270. Leiden: Brill Publishers. High, Mette and Jonathan Schlesinger. 2010. “Rulers and Rascals: The politics of gold mining in Mongolian Qing history”. Central Asian Survey 29(3): 289-304. Husban d, Charles and Vera Songwe. 2004. Mongolia’s Mining Sector: Managing the future. Country Economic Memorandum on the Sources of Growth in Mongolia. Washing, D.C.: World Bank. Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. 2012. Oyu Tolgoi Project. Vancouver, B.C.: Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. Mongolian Business Development Agency (MBDA) in assistance with Eco-Minex International Ltd. and Murray Harrison Ltd. 2003. Ninja Gold Miners of Mongolia: Assistance to policy formulation for the informal gold mining sub-sector in Mongolia. Ulaanbaatar. Murray, William and Robin Grayson. 2003. Overview of Artisanal Mining Activity in Mongolia: Report prepared at the request of the World Bank. Ulaanbaatar.  Navch, T. and Ts. Bolormaa, B. Enhtsetseg, B. Munhjargal. 2006. Informal Gold Mining in Mongolia: A baseline survey report covering Bornuur and Zaamar soums, Tuv aimag. Bangkok: International Labour Office. Reeves, Jeffrey. 2011. “Resources, Sovereignty, and Governance: Can Mongolia avoid the ‘resource curse’?”.  Asian Journal of Political Science 19(2):170-185. Singo, Patience. 2011. Sustainable Artisanal Mining Project: Annual Report 2011. Mineral Resources and Petroleum Authority of Mongolia and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. Suzuki, Yukio. 2013. “Conflict between Mining Development and Nomadism in Mongolia”.  In The Mongolian Ecosystem Network. Yamamura, Norio and Noboru Fujita, Ai Maekawa, eds. Pp. 269-294. Osaka, Japan: Springer.  Pre-copyedited version! Final version published in   Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures .  Wacaster, Susan. 2012. “The Mineral Industry of Mongolia”. United States Geological Survey Minerals Yearbook. Reston, Virginia. World Bank. 2006. Mongolia: A Review of Environmental and Social Impacts in the Mining Sector. May 2006. Washington, D.C.: World Bank. World Bank. 2012. Mongolia: Quarterly update. February 2012.Ulaanbaatar: World Bank. Upton, Caroline. 2012. “Mining, Resistance and Pastoral Livelihoods in Contemporary Mongolia”.  In Change in Democratic Mongolia: Social Relations, Health, Mobile Pastoralism, and Mining. Dierkes, J. (ed.). Pp. 223-248. Leiden: Brill Publishers.
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