These days, the biggest questions about the Golden Sunlight Mine are how long it will stay open and who will run the business.
Mine owner Barrick Gold Corp., one of the world’s largest mining companies, has expressed interest in selling the Golden Sunlight. The company reportedly hired a bank this past summer to put the mine on the market.
Amid questions about the stability of global gold prices, Barrick has unloaded some of its mines in recent years. Today, the company has 19 gold mines, compared with 27 just a few years ago, company spokesman Lou Schack said.
Schack, whose company is headquartered in Canada, said gold mines sometimes go up for sale, but that doesn’t mean transactions occur. In the Golden Sunlight’s case, “there doesn’t seem to be much happening as far as a national sale,” he said recently.
Since acquiring the Golden Sunlight less than 10 years ago, Barrick has developed a close relationship with the community of Whitehall and surrounding Jefferson County. The company is the county’s biggest taxpayer and employs nearly 200 people.
Some Whitehall residents impressed with Barrick’s tenure worry about how a new owner might run the mine just up the road.
“If it sells, you don’t necessarily get to have any say in that,” Whitehall general store owner Tim Mulligan said. “That’s the scary part for me.”
The possible sale is ironic because the mine is projected to close in 2017 after more than three decades of digging up gold.
Dan Banghart, the mine’s general manager, said the Golden Sunlight was supposed to operate only five years when it opened, but it has gained state permission through the years to continue as miners have found more deposits.
Banghart said the company could seek state approval to extend that life even further. That, however, depends heavily on whether gold prices remain high and miners find more deposits near Whitehall. Barrick has located additional areas near the existing pit that contain gold.
Although gold prices are down from highs approaching $2,000 per ounce three years ago, it is still more than $1,200 per ounce. That’s substantially above the $300 per ounce price in the late 1990s.
“It’s always a moving” target, Banghart said of the future of the Golden Sunlight. “We have knowledge about our deposits and what is in front of us. Then you run the economics and do the technical parameters – that tells you how much (life) you have left.”