Sourcing Pebble gold could be difficult

Posted: Monday, April 19, 2010

KENAI - The nation's second largest jeweler recently announced it will boycott gold from the proposed Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska, but that could be a hard pledge to keep.

Tracing the origin of gold is no easy task, said Pat Taylor, a professor of chemical metallurgy and metallurgical engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Typically, when a mine recovers gold it is sent to a refinery. The refined gold is sold as bars, coin or other products.

"To keep track of gold is hard to do," Taylor said. "Typically when a gold mine recovers gold they send it to a refinery and it's largely mixed in one big pot. So how you would identify gold from one mine from any other mine is going to be very difficult."

Pebble is several years away from operations. Canada's Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. and London-based Anglo American are developing the mine. The companies are preparing to begin the permitting process next year.

Texas-based Zale Corp. joined a growing list of jewelers last week to say no to gold coming from Pebble. The mine is being scoped for development near some of the world's best-producing salmon streams.

Zale, whose principal brand is Zales jewelry stores, joined more than 30 other jewelry retailers that have said they will boycott the precious metal from the proposed gold and copper mine, citing its potential to impact critical salmon breeding grounds.

The move is being promoted by Washington, D.C.-based conservation group Earthworks as part of its No Dirty Gold campaign.

Scott Cardiff, the No Dirty Gold campaign director, admits that there currently are no mechanisms for jewelers to trace the source of their gold other than to establish an agreement with their suppliers to not use metals from a particular source.

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