Kevin Creel knew by late 2009 that the exploration program near Barrick’s Cortez mine in Nevada held promise, but he did not know yet that it would turn into the Goldrush deposit, one of the largest gold discoveries in the past decade.
Creel and the 25-person team responsible for the discovery are the recipients of this year’s Thayer Lindsley Award presented by the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada to an individual or exploration team that makes a significant mineral discovery. The Goldrush discovery in northeastern Nevada is nothing short of astonishing. At more than 15 million ounces and counting, it is one of the few discoveries to exceed 10 million ounces since 2001, and it boasts the third-highest grade among those discoveries. The last great discovery in Nevada is located at what is now Barrick’s Cortez mine.
Creel, then Barrick’s Chief Exploration Geologist at Cortez and now Country Exploration Manager for Chile and Argentina, joined the company by way of Barrick’s Placer Dome acquisition in 2006. That acquisition vastly expanded Barrick’s Nevada land holdings, including a seven-kilometer stretch in Horse Canyon in the Cortez district. Placer had done some early exploration in the area, and Barrick followed up with a more aggressive program, drilling 150 holes in a deposit known as Red Hill through 2008. The results, while encouraging, did not suggest a world-class discovery.
Then, in late 2009, Creel and his team analyzed rock chips from drill-hole CRTB09-01. At 400 meters, it was one of the deeper holes drilled to date and it was located about two kilometers south of Red Hill in an area that would soon be known as Goldrush. “The results were significant,” Creel says.
In particular, the analysis found several tell-tale signs of gold, such as an abundance of pyrite and fine grain quartz. If lab tests confirmed that gold was indeed present, it meant that the size of the deposit was potentially far greater than initially suspected. “We were pretty excited by that point,” Creel says.
Creel placed a rush order on the lab tests and the results arrived within days, revealing, in geologist parlance, what is known as a significant intercept of gold mineralization. In layman’s terms, it meant that thar’s gold in them thar hills — lots of it.
Creel, who analyzed the results with Cortez District Geologist Mark Bradley, now Chief Exploration Geologist at Cortez, says they celebrated with a vigorous handshake and pat on the back, refusing even then to get too excited. “It’s a good idea to double-check the initial lab results,” he says. “So we reran the samples and made sure they were accurate, and then we called the boss.”
Rob Krcmarov, Barrick’s Senior Vice President of Global Exploration, greeted the news with a bit more enthusiasm. “I was thrilled,” he says.
Krcmarov green-lighted further drilling to define the size of the trend, and that drilling continues today. In 2011, Barrick announced Red Hill and Goldrush as two separate discoveries. Further drilling in 2012 revealed that Barrick had in fact discovered one large deposit and they were merged into the present-day Goldrush deposit. To date, more than 600 holes have been drilled.
“This was clearly a significant find and we’re still looking for the ultimate boundaries of this trend,” Krcmarov says. “What excites the team isn’t just the size and grade of the discovery, it’s how this deposit secures another generation of jobs and community benefits for Nevada. It feels great to contribute something of this magnitude.”
Mining’s impact in Nevada is significant. The Nevada Mining Association reports that, in 2012, mining directly contributed $1 billion in wages and another $200 million indirectly. The mining industry also benefited the state by paying $239.8 million in taxes in 2012, with the gold industry accounting for 97 percent of those taxes. Communities also benefited through charitable giving, receiving $12.1 million in donations, educational scholarships and other contributions.
“It gives you a good feeling inside knowing that as an individual and as a team, you have the ability to make an impact on employment, the community and at the state and company level,” Creel says. “As a geologist you go into business thinking you’ll make an impact and when you do, it feels good.”
The lead members of the Goldrush exploration team are: Kevin Creel, Country Exploration Manager for Chile and Argentina; Mark Bradley, Chief Exploration Geologist at Cortez; Alejandro Ly, Senior Geologist; Mike Penick, Director for U.S. Mine Site Exploration; Glenn Asch, Manager for North American Generative Exploration; François Robert, Vice President and Chief Geologist; Ed Cope, Vice President of Exploration for North America; and Rob Krcmarov, Senior Vice President of Global Exploration.