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1 Introduction Gold is a precious metal that is mined for investments, jewelry, and technology (see Figure 1-1). The primary use of gold is for investing purposes, by individuals who buy gold and gold-backed exchange-traded funds as a hedge against inflation and market volatility, or by national central banks that hold gold reserves to support the value of the national currency and stabilize financial markets. In contrast, the most important technological use of gold is the production of corrosion-free microcircuitry in electrical devicesâevery cell phone, for example, contains an average of 0.03 g of gold (EPA, 2022d; USGS, 2006). Despite its significance to modern society, gold is not considered a critical mineral because its supply chains are not particularly vulnerable to disruption given current levels of domestic production, resources in reserve, and the number of reliable foreign sources (USGS, 2022c). Gold is one of the least abundant of the nonradioactive elements and is estimated to occur in the Earthâs crust at a concentration of only about 4 parts per billion (Lide, 1999). However, it is not uniformly distributed. Geologic processes have concentrated gold into âlodeâ deposits within bedrock, and the gold in these lodes can be released from the rock by weathering and then transported and concentrated in streams to form âplacerâ deposits. Grades for lode gold mines, which reflect the amount of gold obtained relative to the amount of ore needed to obtain it, currently range from approximately 0.2 to 30 g/t (grams/metric ton1) with an average of 1.5 g/t for ores mined in the United States (Butterman and Amey, 2005). The high unit value of goldâ$1,500 to $2,100 per troy2 ounce since 2021 (GoldPrice.Org, 2022)âcan make it economically profitable to mine and process at grades that would be uneconomic for most other metals. The methods employed to mine and process gold depend on the type of deposit. Placer deposits often only require minimal processing that is based on the gravity-based separation of gold, because gold is much denser than most other rock-forming minerals. Historically, these efforts were aided with a process called amalgamation, which involved the addition of mercury to form an alloy with gold. This process was used in Virginia gold mines in the 1800s and early 1900s, but is no longer used in the United States because of mercuryâs high toxicity and persistence in the environment. Modern, more complex, processes used for commercial gold production in lode deposits are described in Chapter 3. The United States currently ranks fourth among the worldâs top gold-producing countries (see Figure 1-2). Approximately 74 percent of gold produced from the United States in 2021 was mined in Nevada (USGS, 2022d), though several states have long histories of gold mining. 1â A metric ton or tonne is equivalent to 2,204 lbs and a ton, short ton, or avoirdupois ton is equivalent to 2,000 lbs. In this report, metric ton is abbreviated as t (e.g., grams per metric ton or g/t), whereas ton is not abbreviated (e.g., ounces per ton or oz/ton). 2â Gold and other precious metals are measured in troy ounces. One troy ounce is approximately 1.097 avoirdupois ounces. 9
10 THE POTENTIAL IMPACTS OF GOLD MINING IN VIRGINIA FIGURE 1-1â Global utilization of gold is primarily for investments, jewelry, technology, and purchases by central banks (figures as of 2020). SOURCE: Image modified from Natural Resources Canada (2022). GOLD MINING IN VIRGINIA Virginia was one of the first gold-producing states in the nation and it claims a long history of exploration and mining of gold (Laney, 1917; Lonsdale, 1927; Pardee and Park, 1948; Park, 1936; Spears and Upchurch, 1997; Sweet, 1971, 1980, 1995; Sweet and Lovett, 1985; Sweet et al., 2016; Taber, 1913). Most of the gold deposits in Virginia occur in the Piedmont region, which runs northeast to southwest along much of the state from just south of Washington, DC, to midway between the James and Roanoke Rivers. Other gold deposits occur in the Virgilina district in the south-central counties of Halifax, Charlotte, and Mecklenburg (see Figure S-1 and Chapter 2). FIGURE 1-2â A ranking of the top 10 gold-producing countries in 2021 places the United States as the fourth largest producer. SOURCE: Data from USGS (2022d).
INTRODUCTION 11 FIGURE 1-3â Gold production in Virginia in ounces and dollars at the time of mining from 1825 to 1960. SOURCE: Figure modified from Virginia Energy (2021). The earliest known reference to a gold discovery in Virginia was in 1782, when Thomas Jefferson described a 4-pound gold-bearing rock that was found along the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg (Sweet, 1971). Then, in 1806, the first lode gold occurrence was reported at a deposit in western Spotsylvania County that would later become the Whitehall Mine (Sweet et al., 2016). Several small gold mines were operating in Amherst County and elsewhere along the James River as early as 1825 (Sweet et al., 2016), and by 1836 gold mines were being operated in Spotsylvania, Orange, Louisa, Fluvanna, and Buckingham Counties (Park, 1936; Sweet et al., 2016). A total of approximately 100,000 ounces of gold was produced from 1804 to 1947, and peak gold production occurred between the mid-1830s and the mid-1850s (see Figure 1-3). The large majority of these gold mines were first operated as small open pits or trenches (see Figure 1-4) that exploited the near-surface oxidized ore (Sweet, 1980) containing free gold. The free gold in oxidized ore was more easily mined and processed than the deeper unoxidized ore, which often required underground mining and more intensive processing because the gold is bound to other minerals. Virginia gold production began to decline with the onset of the California Gold Rush in 1849 (Sweet, 2007), but another peak occurred in the 1930s, when gold was produced in Virginia as a by-product of sulfur mining. Following the last commercial gold production in 1947, when gold was produced as a by-product of lead and zinc mining in Spotsylvania County (Sweet, 2007), Virginia has seen only intermittent exploration activity and attempts to mine placers, including operations at Brush Creek and Laurel Creek in Floyd County in the 1980s (Sweet et al., 2016). Mineral mining activities in Virginia are primarily regulated by the Virginia Department of Energy (Virginia Energy), which prior to October 2021 was known as the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME). The Division of Mineral Mining was established in 1987 as part of DMME, by merging two preexisting regula- tory programs that were responsible for mine safety and reclamation (Virginia Energy, 2022a). Today, the Virginia Energy Mineral Mining Program administers the health, safety, and land reclamation programs for all noncoal mineral mining operations, which include quarries, sand and gravel pits, and surface and underground mines producing metals or industrial minerals (Virginia Energy, 2022a). There were approximately 440 active permits for nonfuel mines in Virginia as of 2021 (Virginia Energy, 2022a). These permitted areas produce more than 80 million tons of nonfuel commodities annually (Virginia Energy, 2022a). Most of these permits are for extraction of sand, limestone, granite, shale, and clay (see Table 1-1), and about 93 percent consist of open pit and quarry operations (see Table 1-2). Only one permitâthe Moss Mine in Goochland Countyâlists gold as the primary produced metal (see Box 1-1). Approximately half of all permits
12 THE POTENTIAL IMPACTS OF GOLD MINING IN VIRGINIA FIGURE 1-4â Photographs of the abandoned Bondurant Mine site in Buckingham County in January 2022. (A) Shallow surface depressions that are the remains of shallow trenches and open cuts used to mine oxidized near-surface ore at the site. (B) The surface expression of a shaft used to access underground ore. SOURCE: Photos by Robert J. Bodnar. are less than 50 acres in total permit area, and one-quarter are less than 10 acres (2020 data; see Figure 1-6). Only 2 percent of permit areas exceed 1,000 acres and these large operations produce limestone, granite, titanium, or kyanite. Although Virginia has seen very little gold production in the past 70 years, the rising price of gold (see Figure 1-7) has brought renewed attention to the potential for gold exploration and mining in the Commonwealth. Additionally, in recent decades, the efficiency of valuable minerals extraction has increased, which means that lower-grade materials can be profitably mined and processed. Increasing gold prices and extraction efficiencies mean that deposits that at one time were previously not economic may become economic. This has often resulted in mining companies returning to sites previously considered to be âmined outâ (i.e., all the mineral reserves at the time of active mining had been removed), and restarting operations to mine material that had previously been considered to be noneconomic or waste (see Box 1-1). According to Heylmun (2001), conservative estimates of Virginiaâs lode gold reserves and placer gold reserves are 378,000 and 274,000 ounces, respectively (see Box 1-2), although methods used to determine these values and uncertainties associated with the estimates are not discussed. Heylmun (2001) notes that âthe Piedmont region became sort of a âforgotten provinceâ after the American West opened up . . . [and that] there are good possibilities for commercial gold production in Virginia, as well as to the south in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Alabama. New exploration methods might uncover gold deposits in areas which have never been exploited.â In the fall of 2020, it became widely known that Aston Bay Holdings, Ltd., was performing exploration drill- ing on privately owned forestland in Virginiaâs Buckingham County with a goal of assessing the areaâs potential for gold mining. County officials were reportedly unaware of the activity and, when informed, believed the local zoning ordinance did not permit mineral exploration drilling. However, Buckingham Countyâs Board of Supervi- sors soon voted to retroactively allow exploratory drilling (Vogelsong, 2021). This and other renewed interest in mineral exploration and mining in Virginia has raised concerns among stakeholders regarding the potential impacts of such operations on the Commonwealthâs people and environment.
INTRODUCTION 13 TABLE 1-1â Permits Issued for Mining Activities in Virginia in 2020, Listed by Commodity Commodity Number of Permits Permitted Area (acres) Disturbed Area (acres) Aggregate 2 677.8 438.4 Amphibolite 1 76.9 22.0 Aplite 1 223.5 119.8 Basalt 1 143.7 129.2 Clay 9 1,637.8 836.4 Diabase 2 427.6 303.3 Diorite 1 160.3 77.6 Dolomite 2 556.8 282.0 Fullers Earth 2 97.7 84.3 Gemstones 2 27.8 27.8 Gneiss 4 969.0 505.8 Gold 1 1.0 1.0 Granite 41 12,837.5 8,080.5 Gravel 5 121.6 82.8 Greenstone 2 859.2 205.9 Iron oxide 1 25.2 9.3 Kyanite 1 2,746.9 737.0 Limestone 71 16,825.9 8,917.9 Marble 1 14.7 14.7 Marl 2 39.6 34.3 Quartz 2 299.8 88.2 Quartzite 2 1,409.4 534.0 Salt 1 184.3 83.7 Sand 219 21,866.3 11,591.5 Sandstone 9 1,000.7 510.0 Shale 27 937.0 167.4 Silica 1 821.3 530.2 Slate 3 924.5 456.9 Soapstone 1 507.7 72.4 Titanium 2 6,168.6 3,893.8 Traprock 8 2,733.9 1,929.4 Unknown 1 17.0 17.0 Uranium 1 194.0 2.0 Vermiculite 1 199.7 132.2 NOTE: Only the primary commodity is listed for operations at which multiple resources are mined. SOURCE: Virginia Energy (2022d).
14 THE POTENTIAL IMPACTS OF GOLD MINING IN VIRGINIA TABLE 1-2â Mining Methods Reported for All Mineral Mine Permits in Virginia That Were Active in 2020 Reported Method Number of Sites Notes Dragline 14 All sand, 1 quartz Dredge 12 10 sand, others gravel + clay Exploratory 1 Uranium Open Pit 253 Many commodities Other 3 2 sand + clay, 1 salt Quarry 147 Underground 2 1 gemstone, 1 limestone SOURCE: Virginia Energy (2022d). BOX 1-1 Moss Mine The Moss Mine in Goochland County is currently the only permitted active mining operation in the Commonwealth of Virginia whose primary purpose is to recover gold. This operation provides an example of some reprocessing methods that may be implemented at other locations in Virginia to recover gold from historically mined materials and to possibly reclaim contaminated land. Moss mine was originally operated intermittently by several different owners between 1836 and 1936 (Mindat, 2022c). During an earlier phase of reclamation at the site, waste material was spread across a field. This waste material includes mercury as a result of the amalgamation method used to extract gold prior to 1936. Today, a ~1 acre op- eration site is being operated by Big Dawg Resources, LLC, to reprocess surface material to remove metallic mercury and extract gold. The material is collected and stockpiled using several large excavators and track loaders (see Figure 1-5A). FIGURE 1-5â Photographs of Moss Mine reclamation site, Goochland County, Virginia. (A) Photograph of some of the equipment used to collect rock and sediment materials for reprocessing. (B) Photograph of the crusher being used to process waste material at the Moss Mine. (C) Three jigs used to capture mercury, gold, and lead. (D) Recovered gold and mercury from the Moss Mine site. SOURCES: Photograph A by Robert J. Bodnar; photographs BâD by Paul Busch.
INTRODUCTION 15 The material is then fed through a crusher (see Figure 1-5B) and screened, with the fine material sent to jigs or gravity separators (see Figure 1-5C). Jigs retain the denser materials, including gold, lead, and mercury. The lighter fraction of feed leaves the bottom of the jigs and is pumped up to a wave table that further concentrates and removes any other waste, with gold and mercury collected at this point (see Figure 1-5D). The amalgam is retorted off-site to recover gold and mercury, and the mercury is shipped to a vendor for further reprocessing. The lighter fraction emerging from treatment is returned to the site. Although committee members were informed that mercury was not detectable in the material being returned to the site, the committee did not assess any analytical data on the chemical or mineralogical composition of the waste material before or after processing, or quantitative information on mass balances. Accordingly, the committee is unable to comment on the efficacy of the processing approach, or its long-term impact on the site and local environment. CHARACTERISTICS OF VIRGINIA RELEVANT TO GOLD MINING IMPACTS The following sections outline key characteristics of gold-bearing regions of Virginia with potential relevance to gold mining activities. Land Ownership and Mineral Rights in Virginia Approximately 84 percent of all land in Virginia is privately owned (Virgina DCR, 2022b), which means that in Virginia, exploration and potential development of gold resources is most likely to occur on private lands. The remaining land in the Commonwealth is owned by private organizations and local, state, federal, and tribal governments. Approximately 5 percent of Virginiaâs land (Virgina DCR, 2022b) is owned by the state govern- ment and is comprised of Wildlife Management Areas, State Forests, and State Parks. Some of these lands could be mined for gold if the project proponent were granted a lease by the state, but it is unclear which state lands in Virginia might be open to such mineral extraction. The federal government owns approximately 2.4 million acres FIGURE 1-6â Distribution of mining permits in Virginia by total permitted area. SOURCE: Data from Virginia Energy (2022d).
16 THE POTENTIAL IMPACTS OF GOLD MINING IN VIRGINIA FIGURE 1-7â Price of gold from 1915 to 2021 (dollars per ounce), adjusted for inflation levels in 2022. Note the significant increase in the price of gold in 1971 after the United States abandoned the gold standard. SOURCE: Graph downloaded from Macrotrends (2022). BOX 1-2 Gold Mining Definitions The meaning of the term gold mining might appear at first glance to be obvious, but a more rigorous definition is necessary for the purposes of this report. When mining companies explore for minerals, the eventual goal is to locate, delineate, and estimate mineral reserves that can currently be mined at a profit. A mineral reserve is âan estimate of tonnage and grade or quality of indicated and measured mineral resources that, in the opinion of the qualified person, can be the basis of an economically viable projectâ (17 CFR Â§ 229.1300). To achieve this goal, exploration must gener- ate enough data to allow mining companies to estimate mineral resources. A mineral resource is âa concentration or occurrence of material of economic interest in or on the Earthâs crust in such form, grade or quality, and quantity that there are reasonable prospects for economic extractionâ (17 CFR Â§ 229.1300). It is important to note that not every accumulation of gold qualifies as a mineral resource, but only those that have the âform, concentrations, and quantityâ to have âprospects of economic extraction.â Mining companies typically com- mission technical studies (prefeasibility or final feasibility studies) to evaluate technical, economic, and legal factors to determine whether mineral reserves exist and, if so, to estimate the quantity and value of such mineral reserves. In this report, the committee considers gold occurrences that, even if they are not considered mineral resources or reserves today, could be deemed mineral resources or reserves with more exploration or changes in economic conditions. One example of this is the properties of Aston Bay Holdings, Ltd., who have not yet reported mineral resources or reserves at their exploration project in Buckingham County. Mineral deposits can be described based on the ore mineralogy and elements being recovered. In a very general sense, metal mineral deposits in the gold-pyrite belt and in the Virgilina district of Virginia may be classified as âgold deposits,â âbase metala deposits,â or âpyrite depositsâ (see Chapter 2) and, depending on factors outlined above, gold could be mined from any of these deposit types. It is important to note that there is a continuum between different types of deposits. In fact, in some individual deposits, such as the London and Virginia Mine in Buckingham County and the Cofer Mine in Louisa County, mining companies produced both gold and base metals. In this report, the committee considers gold deposits to be those deposits where gold is a primary metal of material economic interest, where âmaterial economic interestâ refers to an economic interest that could, or might reasonably be thought to, influence judgment or action. a A base metal is a metal (e.g., zinc, lead) of comparatively low value compared to precious metals (e.g., gold, silver).
INTRODUCTION 17 in Virginia, or approximately 9 percent of the Commonwealth (CRS, 2020), but most of these lands are managed for conservation and recreation purposes. Other large tracts, like military reservations, are closed to mineral explo- ration and development. There are currently no tribal reservations in the areas of Virginia that are most favorable for gold mineralization, although historic tribal lands cover the state and tribal communities maintain strong ties to a number of areas (see Chapter 5). As a result, the committee focused its deliberations on private and state-owned lands and did not focus on considerations specific to gold mining in tribal reservations or federal lands in Virginia. In general, the owner of the surface estate in Virginia also owns the underground minerals. However, because the ownership of the underground minerals can be sold or disposed of separately from the surface estate, there can be situations where the surface and subsurface resources are owned by different parties. Such âsplit estateâ scenarios can lead to conflict between the surface estate owners and the owners of the subsurface mineral rights. Population Demographics Population density and demographic characteristics vary widely in the gold-bearing areas of Virginia. MetroÂ politan communities in northeast Virginia have relatively higher population densities (e.g., Fairfax County has approximately 2,941 people per square mile). In contrast, many of the stateâs rural areas have relatively lower population densities (see Figure 1-8)âfor example, Buckingham County has fewer than 30 people per square mile (U.S. Census Bureau, 2020). Future mining and exploration activities are likely to be concentrated in the more rural areas of the Commonwealth, which also have different demographic characteristics from the state overall. As discussed in Chapter 4, approximately 1 in 5 Virginia residents are African American, 1 in 10 are Hispanic, and around 10 percent live below the poverty line (U.S. Census Bureau, 2020), but certain regions have higher populations of minorities and underserved populations (see Chapter 5). For example, in Buckingham County, where recent exploration activity raised concerns, 32 percent of residents are African American and 21 percent are living below the poverty line (U.S. Census Bureau, 2020). FIGURE 1-8â Population density in 2020 for all counties in Virginia. NOTES: Overlain on the map are historic gold mines (red dots) and the gold-pyrite belt and Virgilina district outlined in black. The large yellow circle denotes the location of Aston Bayâs exploration property in Buckingham County. SOURCES: Population density map from 2020 Census data and locations of gold deposits from Sweet (2007).
18 THE POTENTIAL IMPACTS OF GOLD MINING IN VIRGINIA FIGURE 1-9â Percentage of population on private wells by county. NOTES: Overlain on the map are historic gold mines (red dots) and the gold-pyrite belt and the Virgilina district outlined in black. The large yellow circle denotes the location of Aston Bayâs exploration property in Buckingham County. SOURCE: Map modified from Virginia Department of Health (2022b) and locations of gold deposits from Sweet (2007). More than 3 million Virginians rely on drinking water intakes downstream of the gold-bearing regions in Virginia (Maest, 2022). Additionally, whereas Virginians who live in more urban areas are generally served by public water utilities, ~20 percent of the Commonwealthâs population and a majority of households in some rural areas use private wells (VanDerwerker et al., 2018; see Figure 1-9). Private well owners generally do not receive the same water treatment and monitoring services compared to those provided by public utilities (EPA, 2022k). Instead, private well owners are responsible for ensuring the safety of their own water. Therefore, people who utilize private wells often have higher risks of waterborne contaminant exposure than those who receive water from regulated public utilities (MacDonald Gibson and Pieper, 2017). Climate Virginia has a humid, subtropical climate, receiving an average of more than 42 inches of precipitation annually (NCEI, 2022). Many of its countiesâincluding those in the gold-pyrite belt and Virgilina districtâare subject to extreme weather events including hurricanes and tropical storms, thunderstorms, and heavy rain and snow events. From 1851 to 2021, 27 hurricanes and tropical storms made landfall in Virginia (AOML, 2022a,b), including Hurricane Camille in 1969, which brought 27 inches of rain to the central part of the state, and Hurricane Irene in 2011, which brought approximately 12 inches of rain to central and eastern Virginia (NWS, 2016). Future changes in climate may affect overall temperature and precipitation trends as well as the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events in Virginia. The Sixth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental
INTRODUCTION 19 Panel on Climate Change shows that Eastern North America will very likely experience increased average and extreme precipitation in the future (IPCC, 2021), leading to more severe flooding and flooding outside of cur- rent floodplains. Some studies estimate that before the end of the century, extreme summer thunderstorms in the southeastern United States will result in between 40 and 80 percent more rain than the same storms do today (Prein et al., 2017). To account for these changes, the Virginia Department of Transportation updated its guidance for bridge construction in 2021 (VDOT, 2020), requiring engineers to anticipate a 20 percent increase in rainfall intensity and a 25 percent increase in discharge. Seismicity Earthquakes and seismic activity can damage mining infrastructure, including open pits, underground work- ings, processing facilities, tailings storage facilities, and waste dumps (Lenhardt, 2009). While the East Coast of the United States experiences far less seismic activity and fewer large earthquakes than the West Coast, significant earthquakes have occurred historically. Around 6 to 12 earthquakes per year originate in Virginia and one or two of those is large enough it can be felt (Virginia Energy, 2022b; VTSO, 2021). Most earthquakes in Virginia occur in three zones: the Central Virginia seismic zone, the Eastern Tennessee seismic zone, and the Giles County seismic zone (see Figure 1-10). The Central Virginia seismic zone, between Charlottesville and Richmond, overlaps with much of the gold-pyrite belt. Earthquakes documented in this zone include a magnitude 5.8 earthquake in the town of Mineral in 2011, a magnitude 4.8 earthquake northwest of Goochland in 1875, and a magnitude 4.5 earthquake in Powhatan County in 2003 (Tarr and Wheeler, 2006). There is also evidence for earthquakes of magnitude 6 or higher between 350 and 2,800 years ago (Tuttle et al., 2015, 2021). Seismic activity in this region is relatively frequent, but generally low magnitude. However, because seismic waves propagate much farther in the eastern United States (Frankel et al., 1990; Pollitz and Mooney, 2015) than â¢ Historical Earthquake Epicenter - Central Virginia Seismic Zone Gold-pyrite belt Eastern Tennessee Seismic Zone Giles County Seismic Zone / ' Virgilina district FIGURE 1-10â Locations of the Central Virginia, Eastern Tennessee, and Giles County seismic zones showing historical earthquake epicenters. NOTES: Overlain on the map are the gold-pyrite belt and Virgilina district outlined in black. The Central Virginia seismic zone overlaps with much of the gold-pyrite belt. SOURCE: Image modified from Virginia Energy (2022b).
20 THE POTENTIAL IMPACTS OF GOLD MINING IN VIRGINIA in the western United States (Nishenko and Bollinger, 1990), earthquake damage can occur at some distance from the epicenter. As an example, the magnitude 5.8 earthquake that occurred in Mineral in 2011 caused significant damage approximately 80 miles away in Washington, DC, including $15 million in damage to the Washington Monument and $34 million in damage to the National Cathedral. STUDY TASK AND APPROACH In response to citizen concerns over potential impacts of gold mining, the Virginia State Assembly passed House Bill (HB) 2213, which mandates a study of gold mining in Virginia. The workgroup to address HB2213 consists of two components: (1) a committee appointed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies) to evaluate the technical aspects and potential impacts of gold mining in Virginia (see Box 1-3) and (2) a committee formed by the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, the Depart- ment of Environmental Quality, and the Virginia Department of Health (âstate agency committeeâ) to focus on local equity and environmental justice issues and environmental and human health concerns of the local community. This report reflects the work of the first committee. To address the task, the National Academies appointed a committee of 13 experts from academia, industry, and state government with expertise in hydrogeology, geology, geochemistry, ecotoxicology, epidemiology, public health, environmental medicine, environmental policy, environmental law, mining regulations, environmental engineering, mining engineering, and geotechnical engineering (see Appendixes A and B). The committee held six virtual information-gathering sessions focused on the geology, mining, potential environmental and health impacts of mining, public participation in mine permitting processes, and the regulations of Virginia and other states. These sessions included presentations and discussions with representatives from industry, academia, community-based organizations, and governments. Information-gathering meetings featured case studies from a variety of places including South Carolina, Montana, Alaska, California, Canada, and Spain. Committee members also visited several sites where they received tours and presentations relevant to gold mining activities in Virginia and elsewhere in the eastern United States. This included visits to the Moss Mine BOX 1-3 Statement of Task An ad hoc committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will evaluate the impacts of gold mining in Virginia, with an emphasis on potential impacts of gold mining on public health, safety, and welfare. The committeeâs final report will include conclusions and recommendations based on the study. The study will: 1. Briefly describe the geologic and mineralogical characteristics of the main gold deposits in Virginia, and the types of modern gold mining operations used with comparable deposits in other domestic or international locations. 2. Summarize the Commonwealth of Virginiaâs existing regulatory framework for gold mining and processing sites (for example, bonding, reclamation, closure, and long-term monitoring) and compare to other states with current or recently closed gold mining operations. This summary will include a discussion of relevant air and water quality regulations, as well as Chesapeake Bay watershed protections. 3. Evaluate the impacts of potential gold mining and processing operations on public health, safety, and welfare in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This evaluation will include: a. Discussion of current gold mining operations at sites with comparable geologic, mineralogical, hydrologic, and climatic characteristics to those found in the Commonwealth, b. Potential impacts of different leaching and tailings management techniques on downstream communities in the Commonwealth, c. Whether existing air and water quality regulations in the Commonwealth are sufficient to protect air and water quality, and d. Whether existing bonding, reclamation, closure, and long-term monitoring of sites for potential gold mining are sufficient to protect air and water quality.
INTRODUCTION 21 in Virginia and the Haile Gold Mine and the Brewer Gold Mine Superfund Site in South Carolina, as well as examination of rock core from the Vaucluse mine in Orange County and samples obtained from exploration in Buckingham County. These activities helped the committee to better understand the geologic setting of gold deposits in Virginia (Moss Mine, Vaucluse Mine, and the exploration site in Buckingham County), presently operating gold mine operations (Haile Gold Mine), and historical operations that were unsuccessfully reclaimed (Brewer Gold Mine Superfund Site). The committee also benefited from public input obtained through two town halls, a tour of Buckingham County, and written comments. These written comments included a report from the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Dr. Ann Maest, Vice President of Buka Environmental. The committee carefully considered all information sourcesâincluding scientific studies, peer- reviewed publications, regulatory documentation, case studies, site visits, and public commentsâin determining the findings outlined in this report. A few clarifications are noteworthy regarding the committeeâs interpretation of the Statement of Task. Although the impetus for the study had its roots in events related to exploration activities in Buckingham County, the State- ment of Task indicates the study should have a statewide focus. The studyâs statewide focus limits the ability to draw site-specific conclusions. This report outlines general themes and procedures that are important to assessing potential gold mining projects in Virginia, but comprehensive and robust analysis of site-specific environmental baseline characteristics and evaluation of population and ecosystem health and social and environmental justice considerations are necessary in order to adequately assess the potential impacts of particular projects. As described in Box 1-2, the committee interpreted âgold miningâ to refer to the extraction of gold from a mineral reserve where gold is a primary metal of material economic interest. This includes historical mining sites in which waste rock3 and tailings from earlier activities could be mined again in the future as âgold depositsâ (e.g., Moss Mine, Box 1-1). The committee recognizes that there may be some gold deposits in Virginia that have not yet been discovered or well defined by exploration. Additionally, existing data on the geology and impacts of historic gold mines in Virginia is limited. Generally, modern geologists would typically visit an active (or recently active) local mine site to observe the mining operation, collect samples for laboratory analysis, and interview researchers and workers with intimate knowledge of the deposit geology. Unfortunately, such an approach is largely unfeasible for the gold occurrences in Virginia because much of the active mining occurred before the Civil War, and the most recent large-scale mining activities ceased before World War II. In addition, many former mine sites have been reclaimed back to a natural environment (see Figure 1-4), flooded, or covered by urban developmentâ making them largely inaccessible for study. As such, available information about the geology of the stateâs gold mining sites is limited. Therefore, the committee acknowledges uncertainties in its findings, where relevant. The committee interpreted the words âair and water quality,â which appear several times in the Statement of Task, to confer an emphasis on human health and ecological concerns rather than other societal and economic impacts associated with potential mining. Neither the potentially negative nor the potentially positive societal and economic impacts associated with gold mining are considered in this report, even though these impacts are extremely important when doing a site-specific environmental assessment prior to permitting. For more infor- mation on the societal impacts and the economic benefits and costs of mining see Cust and Poelhekke (2015), Ivanova and Rolfe (2011), Ivanova et al. (2007), Lockie et al. (2009), Petkova et al. (2009), Que et al. (2015), and Sincovich et al. (2018). Finally, the committee determined that the Statement of Task emphasized local and regional human health and environmental impacts, instead of global impacts like greenhouse gases. Additionally, based on guidance from the sponsor, the committee interpreted its Statement of Task to emphasize potential impacts of gold mining activi- ties on the people and ecosystems living near mining operations, rather than on mining industry employees and professionals. The committee recognizes the importance of clear and consistent safety training and certification programs, review and updates to safety regulations, compliance inspections, coordination with federal partners, and promotion of a safety-driven culture in the mining industry, but the committeeâs evaluation did not focus on the adequacy of occupational safety and health aspects of the relevant codes and regulations. 3â Waste rock is material which contains little or no gold and must be removed to access the ore from which gold will be extracted.
22 THE POTENTIAL IMPACTS OF GOLD MINING IN VIRGINIA REPORT ROADMAP The chapters that follow address the Statement of Task and present the committeeâs findings and recommen- dations. Chapter 2 summarizes the geologic setting of gold deposits in Virginia. Chapter 3 describes how those gold deposits might be mined and processed. Chapter 4 presents potential impacts associated with the mining of gold deposits in Virginia. Chapter 5 presents the committeeâs assessment of the regulatory structure of Virginia compared to other states and its assessment of whether the regulatory framework is adequate to ensure the pro- tection of air and water quality. Recommendations and conclusions are provided at the ends of Chapters 4 and 5. Given that no new gold mines are currently proposed in Virginia and that several more years of exploration and development would be necessary before a mine could be proposed, there is ample time for the Virginia General Assembly and state agencies to consider the conclusions and recommendations reached by both the National Academiesâ committee and the state agency committee before the state would need to evaluate permit applications.