Several of the world’s major gold deposits contain ever smaller reserves of gold. One example of this are the mines in South Africa, which until 2007 had the highest gold production in the world and historically produced 50 percent of all gold. Mining is now taking place at depths of up to 4,000 meters, which is both complicated and involves costs which in many cases make these mines unprofitable.
In 2016, China was the largest gold producer in the world accounting for around 14% of the total annual production followed by Australia with 8.8 percent, Russia with 8.4 percent, the U.S. with 6.9 percent, and Peru with 5.1 percent. The other top ten countries accounted for 20.3 percent of production, and Finland and Sweden accounted for 0.2 and 0.3 percent, respectively.
The depleting global reserves combined with high metal prices mean that more money has been invested in exploration in the Nordic region and other areas with good infrastructure, a stable political climate and, not the least, good geological conditions.
Production costs vary greatly depending on whether mining involves underground or open-pit operation. Significant factors affecting production costs are the gold content of the ore, the geology of the mineralization, total crude ore production, and metal extraction in the enrichment process. Much of the world’s gold is produced in open-pit mines producing ore with gold levels from less than one gram to around four grams per tonne. For underground mines to be profitable, the gold content usually needs to be higher.