Speaker for 1st December 2015

Photo: President John Graham greets Mark Patton, with Club Members Jim Hillis (L) and Nigel Semple (R)

Talk by Mark Patton on 'Sperrin Gold'

When the Coleraine Probus club President John Graham introduced Mark Patton to the members, he said that everyone wanted to know if "there's gold in them there hills!". The short answer in Mark's fascinating talk is "Yes, BUT!". Mark, who is a minerals geologist working for the 'British Geological Survey' (BGS), then took the members on a journey, discribing the geological structure of Northern Ireland and how it was formed hundreds of millions of years ago.

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The Sperrin Mountains - once a high as the Alps (we were told)

Originally from mapping data and geological field data it was possible predict that certain areas of Northern Ireland had the right mix of rock structure for gold to be found. However, this was not that easy to pin point without a huge amount of test drilling. In the early 2000s the BGS initiated a special aerial survey of NI called 'The Tellus Project'. This was completed in 2007, and made NI the most geologically accurately mapped country in the world.

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Mark showed the club fantastically detailed maps generated from the Tellus Project (like the one above), and it was from these that fairly precise locations, with a high probability of containing certain mineral deposits, could be identified. The only way to be certain that the minerals - gold - can be found is then to do some test drilling. To date there are four companies that have done just that in the Sperrins and other areas of NI.

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Drilling to get a core sample for analysis

The astonishing fact is that gold has been found, not only that, the test drillings show that the density of gold in the samples could MAKE THE SPERRINS FIND THE 7TH RICHEST GOLD FIELD IN THE WORLD.

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The test sample is removed for inspection
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And this is what they found!

It is then we get to the 'BUT'. The 'But' is, how to finance the process and just how do you get the gold anyway? The 'rich' Sperrins gold find has been tested to contain between 10 and 20 Grams per Tonne of rock mined - yes, that tiny amount in all that rock. Mark told the members that many gold mining operations say it is commercially viable at only 5gm per tonne, and some even work on 1gm per tonne. But think of the impact to the environment! Below is an Australian open cast gold mine…

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,,,and to give an idea of mine size, the little speck in the centre
of the red circle is the size of a double decker bus,

To give the club some idea of how the gold recovery operations work, Mark then described the various processes involved and showed slides illustrating the vast scale of some gold fields. However, Mark did feel that if the example of current mining in Alaska were adopted here, then it could be economically possible that in the next five or ten or more years we could all be benefitting from the wealth generated by 'Sperrins Gold'.

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Under ground at the Pogo Mine, Alaska
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