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April 18, 2024
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Licence granted to prospect for gold again in south-west France

A five-year licence for gold prospecting has been granted for a 40km² plot straddling the Dordogne and Haute-Vienne in south-west/central France.

UK firm Aurelius Resources, which specialises in the rehabilitation of old mines and mineral exploration, applied for an exclusive research permit last year. 

Mine was closed 20 years ago

The area in question straddles Jumilhac-le-Grand, Le Chalard and Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche.

It is the site of the former Bourneix mine, which closed more than 20 years ago, bringing to an end centuries of mining for gold and other precious metals in the area.

A firm named Orano, 90%-owned by the French state and specialising in uranium, now controls most of the old mine sites. Other parts of the concession are owned by local farmers.

As well as gold, Haute-Vienne used to produce uranium from mines to the east of Limoges before they were closed because it was cheaper to buy it from African mines.

Read more: Rare gold nugget found in Pyrenees hills

‘Mining techniques have evolved tremendously’

The prospecting licence – permis exclusif de recherches – was granted at the end of January.

It says most of the prospecting will be around the old Bourneix mine, and suggests there are potentially “important” seams of gold and silver, as well as copper, lead, zinc, antimony, tungsten, bismuth and lithium.

Dominique Fournier, a mining research consultant for Aurelius, told The Connexion: “France used to be a great mining country but, for various reasons, all prospecting and nearly all metal mining has stopped over the last 40 years.

“Now there is interest again. Meanwhile, prospecting methods and mining techniques have evolved tremendously. 

“This old Bourneix mine has long been rumoured to have potential, so they are having a look.”

He said “several hundreds of thousands of euros” had been invested so far in the venture.

Read more: Hope for French amethyst industry as friends open mine

Price of gold has risen 

The Bourneix mine operated mainly as an open-cast mine between 1982 and 2001, employing around 100 people.

Overall, it produced 28.4 tonnes of gold and 10.3 tonnes of silver, but was shut for economic reasons when gold prices before the September 11 attacks in the US were around $200 an ounce. 

Since then the price has risen, topping $2,000 an ounce for the first time in 2020 as traders looked for havens amid the pandemic. It hit a record high of $2,286 an ounce on April 1 this year.

There have been various attempts to revive interest in the mine over the years, but it has never been reopened.

A new mine would be underground, not open-cast

Much of the early work by Aurelius Resources, via its French subsidiary, will be in libraries, digging out old geology charts, underground surveying maps, and gold ore concentration reports. 

Further exploration, such as digging deep shafts, will require special permits and a public inquiry. 

If the company decides to press on with the reopening of the mine, another public inquiry will be needed.

“Once a decision to start mining is made, it is usually five to 10 years before the first ore starts coming out of the ground,” said Mr Fournier. 

He added that the company’s plans for ‘Nouveau Bourneix’, should it reopen, would be for an underground, rather than open-cast, mine.

Read more: Permit granted for sustainable ‘white’ hydrogen search at French site

Mayor and council yet to be convinced

Mayor of Saint-Yrieix, Daniel Boisserie, told The Connexion: “It is in the national interest that we start looking a lot closer at what we have under our feet, and we know that, locally, our ground has great potential.”

However, he added: “I have reservations about the next stage – opening a mine if they find something. 

“The old one was bad for the environment and left a legacy that has still not been cleaned up. 

“I understand new techniques have since been invented which are cleaner. The council will need to be convinced of this to give support.”

The region’s gold industry is remembered by a museum, the Maison de l’Or en Limousin, in the commune of Chalard. 

It tells the story of 2,500 years of gold mining in the area.

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