After 500 years Bolivian silver mountain risks collapse

Oct 21, 2010 by Jose Arturo Cardenas
A general view of the Cerro Rico - called Sumaj Urqu in native quechua (meaning majestic hill) - one of the largest silver deposits in the world and a symbol on the Bolivian coat of arms, in Potosi. The Cerro Rico is in critical condition from sections collapsing and landslides caused by five centuries of exploitation, which have left more than 600 pitheads and 90 kms of shafts.

The mountain holding one of the world's greatest silver deposits is at risk of collapse after five centuries of exploitation, Bolivian officials say, calling for moves to save the historic site.

"It looks like an hour glass that is slowly sinking," said Celestino Condori, president of the civil committee of Potosi, an organization dedicated to enforcing sustainable procedures for the rampant mining that is hollowing out the mountain in a bid to reach its silver, lead, zinc and tin.

Potosi, once South America's wealthiest city due to the silver mine within the conical mountain which looms above it, is now even more treacherous for miners than usual, because of regular prompted by some 90 kilometers (55 miles) of tunnels within the hulking Cerro Rico, or "rich hill".

Around 12,000 workers enter the mines each day, including many children from poverty-stricken homes who lie about their age in order to earn a daily wage of just over one dollar.

View of a collapsed section at the Cerro Rico mountain - one of the world's biggest silver deposits, in Potosi. The five-century exploitation of the deposit which left more than 600 pitheads and 90 km of tunnels is causing severe subsidences and landslides.

The vast wealth hidden within the hill was once said to be enough to build a bridge of silver from this town all the way to Spain -- thousands of kilometers (miles) away across the South American continent and the Atlantic Ocean.

The process sees some 4,300 tons of mountain -- earth and precious minerals -- removed every day. After five centuries of continuous operation, there are now 619 open pit mines, including 120 that are currently in use, and an extensive tunnel network.

Landslides, tunnel collapses, falling rocks and the unpredictable release of toxic gases have led to 20 miner deaths since early 2009, according to the Federation of Mining Cooperatives (Fedecomin).

On Tuesday a 17-year-old miner died after inhaling a lethal dose of carbon monoxide while retrieving zinc deep in the Cerro Rico hillside.

The deaths have left Fedecomin head Julio Quinones wondering: "What is the national government doing" to help?

The demand for better safety regulations and to prevent further deterioration of Cerro Rico kicked off a 19-day civic strike in Potosi in August, prompting the government to launch a study on how to save the mountain.

The dismay of local residents and officials alike at the reticence of President Evo Morales to uphold stricter regulations has only sharpened, however, since the triumphant rescue this month of 33 trapped miners in neighboring Chile.

A group of miners are seen inside the Cerro Rico mountain - one of the largest silver deposits in the world and a symbol on the Bolivian coat of arms, in Potosi. The Cerro Rico is in critical condition from sections collapsing and landslides caused by five centuries of exploitation, which have left more than 600 pitheads and 90 kms of shafts.

Morales gave Carlos Mamani, the 23-year-old Bolivian miner who was trapped with his Chilean comrades for a record 69 days, a hero's welcome this week at the Quemado presidential palace in La Paz.

"What bothers us," Quinones told AFP, "is that the president can mobilize immediately to get involved (in the Chilean saga), but when such accidents occur in Potosi or elsewhere in Bolivia, which sees collapses with tragic results, (Morales) never gets involved."

Mining generates billions of dollars in revenue for mineral-rich Bolivia, and the government has taken an especially hands-off approach to this historic symbol of wealth, in operation since 1545.

First exploited by the Incas, it was taken over by Spanish colonists and their tens of thousands of indigenous and African slaves, then the Bolivian government and now by private firms.

Despite the centuries of mining, authorities however estimate vast riches still remain to be found.

Arnulfo Gutierrez, secretary of mines for the Potosi department, told AFP the exploitation has "exposed eight levels of the mountain," each measuring some 30 meters (98 feet) deep within the structure, yet there are still "10 levels more" containing the precious minerals.

"The is huge, and its wealth is incalculable," he said.

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User comments : 19

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Vendicar_Decarian
2.3 / 5 (9) Oct 21, 2010
A collapse is impossible. 500 years of free market mining and regulation free extraction is by definition the perfect form of mining. No miner would ever exploit a resource to the extent of harming it.

That is just not financially rational and hence impossible.

Hence this article is wrong, and proves that it is physically impossible for there to be a collapse.

Shootist
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 21, 2010
If true, it's time to strip mine the Silvery goodness.
El_Nose
3 / 5 (2) Oct 21, 2010
Your arguement i believe is flawed. You are stating that because a mining company would never exploit a resource to the point of harming the resource. This type of exploitation is financially irresponsible so it is impossible that the mountain will collapse.

The act of the mountain collapsing has nothing to with this generation of miners ... we are dealing with over 15 generations of tunnels. And even current mining practices often have the unfortunate result in a shaft collapsing. The biggest issue with mountain mining is the unknown... not knowing if a given section is weaker than it appears... if a fault is being hidden by a few feet of rock and you never know. Geologists try their best to map the best routes of excavation but accidnets happen. Many times a fault will hold up for 50 years before collapsing -- and this is near an earthquake prone zone... almost anything is possible ... never say never
Loodt
1.5 / 5 (6) Oct 21, 2010
Vendicar Decarian,

I see that in the article it is mentioned that ...First exploited by the Incas...

Were the Incas also free marketeers or did they have a neat socialistic system that only chopped hearts out of people lobbying for a free market?

All mining resources are finite, and that's why prices of all mining commodities will go-up as more and more people are released from the shackles of serfdom and subsistance farming!
Vendicar_Decarian
1 / 5 (4) Oct 21, 2010
"Your arguement i believe is flawed." - El Nose

Communist
Vendicar_Decarian
2.3 / 5 (6) Oct 21, 2010
"All mining resources are finite." Loodf

Wrong. According to the late economist Julian Simon, the earth's natural resources are infinite.

http://www.youtub...XYKUpv0I

Because when they grow scarce the economy uses less of them. Hence they will never run out.

Julian Simon was a Genius of Libertarian Economics.
jamey
4 / 5 (3) Oct 21, 2010
Actually, the "natural resources" of the Earth are finite, but that's no big deal, as it's not like we're actually disintegrating them. All that stuff is still around - just stored in landfills or washed out to sea. Face it, people - for ordinary processes, matter can be neither created nor destroyed. Save for a few hundred thousand tons of metal in orbit or in space probes, it's all still here - perhaps a bit harder to get at (but maybe not, in some cases!)
iknow
1 / 5 (3) Oct 21, 2010
There are more resources being created by Earth every single second.

Just that people see stuff as "just being there" not actually thought about how it arrived there in the 1st place.
Loodt
1 / 5 (4) Oct 21, 2010
Vendicar Decarian, I stated that all mining resources are finite, which you don't agree with.

Now let's take an orebody - note the correct technical spelling of orebody - that has a strike of 1000metres, a thickness of 4metres, and reach of 4000metres. That is a finite number, and once the orebody is worked out, it is gone. This is the arguement on a micro scale, that mining engineers and geologists understand, work to, and report on.

What your dead economist alluded to is that the resources of the earth is elastic, can be increased, by exploiting lower grade mineral projects, with the last resort being the oceans with all that suspended salts, ect. But, because Gaia has a finite dimension, it cannot be infinite.

My resources and mining stocks are doing very nicely, because all the high-grade orebodies have been depleted, and only low-grade deposits are remaining, and another 2,5 billion persons want access to modern services.

Resources prices are rising very nicely!
Vendicar_Decarian
3 / 5 (2) Oct 21, 2010
"There are more resources being created by Earth every single second. " - Tard

Absolutely, I have diamonds and uranium growing in my back yard right now.

I can't wait until harvest day.

God be praised.
Vendicar_Decarian
3.4 / 5 (5) Oct 21, 2010
"Vendicar Decarian, I stated that all mining resources are finite, which you don't agree with." - Loodt

If the earth's resources were finite then the great conservative economist, Julian Simon wouldn't have claimed they were practically infinite.

We will never run out of steel because iron is never destroyed, just as we will never run out of food because people can always eat their own dung.

"What your dead economist alluded to is that the resources of the earth is elastic" - Loodt

Elasticity is an economic concept relating the price of a commodity to it's scarcity. When the ratio of (delta scarcity)/(delta price) is large then the demand is elastic, and when the ratio is small, it is inelastic.

Oil is inelastic because our cars demand to be fed.

Food is relatively elastic because feeding our children is not so important as feeding our cars.

Vendicar_Decarian
3.4 / 5 (5) Oct 21, 2010
"My resources and mining stocks are doing very nicely, because all the high-grade orebodies have been depleted." - Loodt

That is impossible and hence not really true.

The great Conservative Economist Julian Simon repeatedly proclaimed that the cost of metals would continue to fall since they are constantly becoming more abundant.

Conservative Economists are the reason the the U.S. economy remains the greatest, most productive economy on earth.
Skepticus
3 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2010
Just strip-mine it from the top down to sea level and below, that's will avoid the mine collapsing issue! The tailings can be dumped nearby to remake another mountain!

...just kidding.
Loodt
1 / 5 (4) Oct 22, 2010
Skepticus, strip mining applies to mainly coal deposits, and some phosphate and manganese deposits. It entails the use of draglines to remove the burden from the usually horizontally layered seams, casting the spoil to the side so that the narrow strip of coal can be removed. The spoils can then be flattened with bulldozers and the landscape can be restored or rehabilitated. See the Peabody coal website for more information and prizes awarded to operations that did good work.

What you are suggesting is open pit mining, a la Bingham Canyon, near Salt Lake City, the Kalgoorlie Super Pit in Australia, or operations like Collahuasi, Escondida, Mantos Blancos, El Soldada, etc.

In all of the above examples the high-grade ore was extracted by underground means in the earlier part of the 19th century, followed by the more cost effective open pit mining of post WWII after big earthmoving equipment were developed by the Yanks.

And in addition, the hills were flattened to make lakes.
Loodt
2.3 / 5 (6) Oct 22, 2010
Vendicar Decarian, I never read any of the writings of Julian Simon, as my limited exposure to economic thinking was gleaned from chaps like Milton Friedman, Joseph Stiglitz and JK Galbraith.

What I can tell you is that 100 years ago the average grade of copper mines were close to 10%, and that today the average is closer to 1%. The high grade central cores have been worked out.

The great iron ore mines of the Great Lakes region are now reduced to mining iron ore with a grade of 30%, followed by beneficiation to make pellets with a grade of about 60%. The high-grade deposits of plus 60% Fe is a distant memory in those parts.

Physically, the resources of Gaia are finite, there can be no arguement about that. As to whether mankind will ever be able to extract it all, or run out of substitutes, is another arguement.

In the meantime my resources stocks are increasing in value very nicely, thank you!
Shootist
1 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2010
Skepticus, strip mining applies to mainly coal deposits,


Go to Colorado. We strip mine Gold, Silver, Palladium, Molybdenum, Platinum . . . leveling entire mountains for the wealth (Silverton, CO). It ain't pretty but it is glorious.
jamey
5 / 5 (1) Oct 24, 2010
Physically, the resources of Gaia are finite, there can be no argument about that. As to whether mankind will ever be able to extract it all, or run out of substitutes, is another argument.

While the resources are in fact finite, their usability is not. At some point, it becomes simply a matter of energy to recover 100% of the waste material that currently goes to landmines and other dumps. Those stocks will rise for a while, then they'll hit a peak - and then they'll drop, to never rise again.
Pkunk_
1 / 5 (1) Oct 24, 2010
Physically, the resources of Gaia are finite, there can be no argument about that. As to whether mankind will ever be able to extract it all, or run out of substitutes, is another argument.

While the resources are in fact finite, their usability is not. At some point, it becomes simply a matter of energy to recover 100% of the waste material that currently goes to landmines and other dumps. Those stocks will rise for a while, then they'll hit a peak - and then they'll drop, to never rise again.


Excellent analysis.
Most metals tend to follow this logic .. probably except Gold. Even Platinum which is acutally far more useful than Gold pales next to the lure of Gold when you see irrational price rise.

Loodt is forgetting that only 29% of the Earths surface is land. The remaining 71% is under water and there exist prime grade deposits of all metals below water. http://www.physor...831.html covers this in depth.
Shootist
1 / 5 (1) Oct 24, 2010
Physically, the resources of Gaia are finite, there can be no argument about that. As to whether mankind will ever be able to extract it all, or run out of substitutes, is another argument.

While the resources are in fact finite, their usability is not. At some point, it becomes simply a matter of energy to recover 100% of the waste material that currently goes to landmines and other dumps. Those stocks will rise for a while, then they'll hit a peak - and then they'll drop, to never rise again.


Just like so-called bio-fuels. It takes more energy to produce than will ever be recovered. Good point.

Assuming we haven't killed ourselves off, however, we'll find plenty of useful raw materials in the asteroids so conveniently placed about the Solar System.

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