The national Gold 2 programme envisages two separate geological research projects for the western and eastern regions of Mongolia. BUM-Gold 2019, executed by Monpolymet, is responsible for thematic research on gold mineralization and prospects in the Western, Southwestern and Khangai regions -- covering the 12 aimags of Bayan-Ulgii, Uvs, Khovd, Zavkhan, Gobi-Altai, Bayankhongor, Uvurkhangai, Arkhangai, Khuvsgul, Bulgan, Dundgovi and Umnugovi. The project started in August, 2019 and covers an area that is 1/3 of the total territory of Mongolia, giving an idea of how large its scope is. It involves studying 5,000 to 6,000 individual sites in the region, such as primary and placer gold mining occurrences, scattering ranges, and geochemical anomalies.
“We have just started a large-scale thematic research of gold mineralization and prospects in southwestern Mongolia. The more effective this work is, the more it will be possible to discover deposits and reserves in a short period of time at a low cost,” said F. Tungalag, Chief Geologist of the project.
In addition to determining the types of gold mineralization and patterns of regional location, the types of origin will be included in the international classification and an assessment made of whether an ore field has gold occurrence and can be registered in the Mongolian Minerals Database. It may also be called a study of gold metallogeny. At the same time, data from previously completed stage-wise surveys in the region will be studied and reviewed in detail.
The western part of our country has regularly received Mongolian geologists for about 100 years. Many scientists from the Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and other countries also studied different aspects of the geology of the area, following mostly the Soviet methodology. This was quite different from how those from Western countries do similar work.
D.Ganzorig, Senior Geologist at BUM Gold, says, “Our project is conducting a gold mineralization research according to the so-called Western practices, followed in Canada, Australia and the United States. Data from previous geological surveys will be classified by type according to this method in a systematic way. There was no GPS device in Mongolia during the time of the 1: 200,000 scale mapping. Everything will be reviewed and revised, if found necessary. All gold-related geological data will be updated. The work is thus extremely important for valuating Mongolian gold projects on the world stock markets to raise funds.”
The geologists further explain that while previous research reports were based on the Russian geosynclines theory to account for the origin of gold, the BUM-Gold project would study plate-tectonic isotopes and absolute age of the metal. This will help clarify the distribution patterns in a single field with large deposits. Oyu Tolgoi, for example, is a group of deposits that discovered a single ore body first, and other surrounding ores during later exploration. Similarly, BUM-Gold 2019 would identify prospecting areas for occurrences that follow the large gold deposits. In this sense, the project team believes, the work is important in advancing the chances of future discovery of gold deposits and occurrences by a stage or two.
In the first year, work was done in the Bayankhongor region, and the focus shifted to the Mongol Altai region in 2020. This year it moves to the lake region, starting from Uvs aimag, Gobi-Altai, Khovd and Zavkhan. More than 500 surveys have so far been conducted on more than 40 percent of the project area, including small-scale 1: 1000000, 1: 500000, 1: 200,000 mapping, aerial geophysics, and general preparations for 1: 50000 mapping.
The field work in the past two years has led to detailed exploration of many new areas with prospects. Detailed studies are made using geochemical and geophysical methods, and samples are analyzed in foreign and domestic laboratories. Among the latter are the Central Geological Laboratory SOE, SGS Mongolia, Khan Lab, the laboratories of the Magma and Ankh Erdene companies, and the laboratory of the National University of Mongolia. Dr. S.Oyungerel of the Centre for Earth Studies of the Mongolian University of Science and Technology has also helped.
The main samples are analyzed at the SGS Mongolia laboratory using high-precision western instruments. Gold in some rocks is sent abroad because it is not possible to locally analyse when and how it was formed.
“Gold, gold-copper streaks were on the table”. The rocks look ordinary, but any or all of them could be an ore, promising wealth. Interestingly, analysis will determine not merely the presence of minerals in the rock, but also their total absence. From basic research to geochemistry, geophysics, analysis, exploration, and drilling, it takes a lot of funding and many geologists’ time to discover deposits. This is why geological exploration takes precedence over mining, and that is why BUM Gold’s findings would determine the future of mining in Mongolia. Oyu Tolgoi and Tavan Tolgoi would be unknown deposits but for geologists who worked to find them 40-50 years ago.
The BUM-Gold 2019 project team consists of 57 people. There are 3 field research classes. Leading gold experts such as State Prize winners Dr. G. Dejidmaa, Dr. G. Ukhnaa and Dr. J. Gan-Ochir are working as consultants. It can be said that G.Dejidmaa did almost all metallogenic studies of minerals in Mongolia. J.Byambaa has been working in the field of tectonic research all his life. Dr. J. Gan-Ochir, specializes in fracture structure studies. The project leader, Dr. G. Jamsrandorj, is one of the leading figures in Mongolia in the field of rare earth elements, uranium and gold, who discovered the Olon Ovoot gold deposit. F.Tungalag and D.Ganzorig, who discovered the Gatsuurt gold deposit, are leading a team that includes experienced geologists like D.Khash-Erdene, O.Odbayar and Ch.Narmandakh, who have worked on Mongolia’s main export minerals, such as gold, copper, iron, zinc and coal.
There is also one who can identify mineralized rocks and assess samples handed over to him by senior geologists. He is called B.Batsaikhan, and is the youngest of the project team, who has earned for himself the moniker “a geologist with eyes”. He is a 2018 graduate of the Mongolian University of Science and Technology with a red diploma in geology. This is a dream career start for anyone, working with geologists who are two generations senior to him.
The advantage of teams where three generations work together is that they combine the energy of youth with the rich experience of the old. What they achieve would be a permanent heirloom for all who come after. Nothing is more satisfying for a geologist than to start work in virgin territory, go through every stage of prospecting, exploration and drilling, be confirmed about the resources, and then to offer a mine to the state. Take the example of the Oyu Tolgoi deposit. Different companies held the licence at different times, but all turned to the work of D. Garamjav whose “discovery” the deposit was. This is what the government should never forget when developing the geological exploration sector. It must give due respect to the earlier work of learned and skilled geologists.
The team is preparing for fieldwork in May. Things on the ground are not always easy for them. It is common for the locals to criticize them for “digging and destroying our mountains and rivers”. Geological research is confidential work and local authorities are often not told in advance of such work in their area that is planned in Ulaanbaatar. In such cases, precious time can be lost in bureaucratic wrangling. Someone in the capital city has to be called, letters dispatched, and the permit signed only after the geologists’ claims are confirmed. All this takes time.
Even when a team has all permits and documents to satisfy local authorities, it may very well find that “ninjas” have preceded it and already worked in special protected areas. It is easy for them to access data from reports in the public domain and then to use GPS to find the right spot where a metal detector would lead them to where the gold is.
Their chaotic digging and sanding make it very difficult to carry out later geological work.
It is little understood how “human” geological work remains even in these days of rapid spread of technology and widespread use of drones and robots. Only a human can recognize a mineral by how it feels in their hands and look through their eyes. u
The sound of a hammer on it varies from rock to rock and it is a matter of intuitive skill and sensitivity to know which part of the rock would yield the best sample. Geology is of course a science, but it is a science that cannot do without human experience and sensitivity. This is what they are re-discovering all the time as they work, said the team.
How Monpolymet meets the special demands of this project
Many geological surveys have been conducted in western and southwestern Mongolia and have led to the discovery of gold reserves, occurrences, and deposits. Projects with private investment account for a very small part of the BUM-Gold research area. The team believes that its baseline study does indicate the likelihood of discovering new deposits and resources in the region.
There is an air of certainty that when the BUM-Gold 2019 project finally ends, the doors would be opened for a significant increase in Mongolia’s gold reserves and the sector’s future potential. Based on almost 30 years of experience, Monpolymet took a risk and has been carrying out this huge project for three consecutive years, though the climatic conditions of our country restrict geological field work to the few months of the warm season. There is a high risk of the work being interrupted and the project running behind schedule in the case of a funding delay. The Government is funding the entire work but the money is not always released in time, and then the company has to ask for bank loans. Geologists and other workers have to be paid their salary, food has to be arranged, vehicles, spare parts have to be provided, and fuel and security costs have to be met.
Only a company like Monpolymet, with its long experience and risk-taking ability, could take up such a large undertaking. It is one of the few private sector companies to have succeeded on merit and it has consistently contributed to the country’s development since the difficult years of Mongolia’s transition to democracy. Its Toson Hill and River gold mines in Tuv aimag have been operating for more than 20 years. These are standard gold production projects that have introduced different technologies and types of equipment suitable for the development of two types of placer mines. Now the mines are in the closure stage, after being a pioneer in environment-friendly extraction and proper rehabilitation, done after many years of ecological research. It was the very first mining company to establish an Environmental Department and has also been an example of how to work amicably with local people.
Those who have observed how Monpolymet functions, say not only did it do appropriate reclamation in their own mines, but also initiated and organized trainings and workshops to provide knowledge and information to other companies and local people. In their work over the last two decades, they have set the standard for rehabilitation in the mining sector and have become the face of responsible mining.
Monpolymet considers their human resources to be the foundation for their sustainable operation and successful implementation of large projects. Over the years, the company has trained a large number of mining professionals and it now has more than 1,000 employees. Monpolymet is currently building a large cement plant to substitute imports to meet domestic demand. Perhaps, all this helped the company in winning the tender for such a large-scale national project as BUM-Gold 2019.
Talking about the project, S.Enkhtuya, Director of Monpolymet, says, “It will be completed in July 2022 and our report will be submitted to the government. We are confident that it will serve as a model for all future gold geological research in Mongolia and be a landmark in geological work.”