Cripple Creek And Victor Mine Expands Operations
Domestic Mine article by Harold Hough
The Cripple Creek Mining District has seen many boom and bust times in the last 120 years. But, with gold over $1,500, the Cripple Creek and Victor Mine (CC&V) expanding operations, things are looking more like the boom times of old.
In 2009, construction began on a mine life extension (MLE1) project. The project was to increase the production capacity of the heap-leach pad, which is one of the largest in the world. As a result, production for 2011 is expected to increase by over 300,000 ounces of gold.
But, expanding the pad isn’t the only improvement. In 2008, drilling samples from the heap leaching pad indicated that the heap leaching solution wasn’t recovering all of the gold deeper in the pad. In order to improve recovery, the mine changed its solution injection into the pad in order to improve gold recovery. They installed lines that inject the leaching solution deeper into the pad. That allowed more cyanide to reach the lower levels of the pad and gold recovery rates improved dramatically.
However, pad improvements aren’t enough. The mine is also in need of new ore bodies to extend the life of the mine. That resulted in planning for second mine-life extension (MLE2) in late 2010. This new project will involve exploiting new ore deposits, milling the higher-grade ores, and heap-leaching the lower-grade ores in a new valley leach facility. The MLE2 project will, after receiving all required approvals, extend the mine life to 2025 and possibly beyond.
The focus hasn’t been totally on production. CC&V has been involved in a continuous upgrading of the mine’s safety program. It started with the STOP for Safety Program, developed by DuPont, which is credited with dramatic improvement in the mine’s safety record. STOP emphasized awareness and communication among the employees, and the responsibility that safety is everyone’s job. The program encouraged employees to watch what’s going on around them and their fellow workers, and to talk to each other about creating a safe working environment. The first principle of STOP is that all injuries and occupational illnesses can be prevented.
In 2010, the mine developed and implemented its own Safety & Environmental Observation Program where all employees provide written observations on best practices, as well as on deficiencies at the operation. In addition to immediate responses to these deficiencies, the employees’ observations are reviewed and acted on by the management team at weekly meetings. The programs have been implemented to ensure continued improvement in the safety performance at CC&V. Another safety program, Project ONE, was rolled out in 2009.
As a mine in a historic mining district, CC&V has been actively involved in preserving the mining history of the region. It has teamed up with the Lowell Thomas Museum to provide tours of the mine. The Museum is named after the pioneering reporter, radio and TV commentator who grew up in Cripple Creek and started his journalism career with the Victor Daily Record.
Cripple Creek’s mining history began in the 1880s when Bob Womack, a drifter who was described once as “part time cowboy and full time drinker,” became convinced that the area was home to a major gold deposit. Although his neighbors thought him crazy, Womack continued his search until he found the first serious gold strike in the area; a 500 ounce placer deposit at Poverty Gulch. That started a gold boom that started long before the Yukon Gold Rush and continues today.
Since Cripple Creek was so thoroughly mined in the early 20th Century, miners are constantly reminded of their heritage. When a new level was opened up at the bottom of the pit, miners would see backfilled excavations, rusted rails, and voids from drifts and shafts. In fact there are supposedly thousands of miles of unmapped drifts, shafts, and stopes in addition to abandoned prospecting holes, town sites, and waste piles. This actually poses a hazard to miners as trucks and loaders can fall into a collapsing void, and during the early days of the operation, three incidents occurred where mining equipment fell into voids. Although no one was hurt, the equipment was damaged and the mine decided to use ground penetrating radar before digging.
As the mining operation goes over old ground, the mine is careful to preserve much of Cripple Creek’s mining heritage. In order to encourage tourism and preserve the community’s heritage, the mine has gone to great pains to preserve and restore old mining equipment. The mine relocated the Cresson Mine headframe to the Victor Gold Bowl, a softball field built by the mine. It has also helped place the Independence Mine headframe on the National Register of Historic Places. In all, the mine has invested millions of dollars to retrieve historical and culturally significant artifacts from their property.
The mine is also involved in restoring much of the environmental damage done by previous mining. This includes recountouring and revegetating barren ground. The mine has even broken new ground in the science of high altitude revegetation (the mine is at 10,000 feet). They have also been very successful in lowering cyanide levels at abandoned heap leaching pads to below that acceptable in drinking water.