Thursday, July 3, 2008

Skyrocketing fuel prices eat mine's profits

Having a hard time dealing with rising fuel prices?

Be glad you’re not trying to pay the fuel bills for Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Co., which operates a fleet of 10 300-ton dump trucks that haul gold ore from its open-pit mine between Cripple Creek and Victor to a nearby crushing facility. Each of the mine’s trucks burn three-quarters of a gallon of diesel fuel a minute, which means each truck uses more than $200 in fuel during an hour of operation. That’s about $50,000 a day for the fleet.

Skyrocketing fuel prices have increased the cost of producing gold at the mine by a third during the past year, said Larry Newcomer, general manager of Cripple Creek & Victor Gold. Every $1 increase in the cost of a barrel of oil increases the cost of producing an ounce of gold at the mine by about $1. That means the cost of gold being mined now will be more than $400 an ounce when it completes the production process in two years.

That wouldn’t be so bad if the mine’s parent company, AngoGold Ashanti Ltd., hadn’t sold off much of the mine’s production under hedging contracts at $450-$550 an ounce. That means gold produced at more than $400 an ounce will barely produce a profit and might even result in a loss depending on how much higher fuel prices climb in coming months.

“Four years ago, we were paying 85 cents a gallon for fuel and now we paying $4 a gallon. The price of gold hasn’t kept up,” Newcomer said, noting gold prices have gone up a little more than a third as fast as fuel prices during the same period.

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