Nevada leads the nation in the production of gold, silver, mercury, and barite. Nevada's production of $2.54 billion in nonfuel minerals in 1991 is exceeded by only two states, California and Arizona. The national and international recession resulted in a 6.7% downturn in the overall value of nonfuel mineral production in Nevada from 1990 to 1991; oil production decreased 20% in value and geothermal production increased slightly.
Nevada produces about 60% of all gold produced in the United States and about 9% of all gold produced in the world. Our gold production makes the United States the second leading gold producer in the world and a net exporter, thereby helping the international balance of payments. In 1991 Nevada produced 5.8 million troy ounces of gold worth $2.13 billion, a 1% decline in amount and a 3% decline in value from 1990.
Published resources, including mineable reserves and perhaps subeconomic deposits, totaled about 135 million ounces of gold and 497 million ounces of silver at the end of 1991. Both figures reflect modest increases in reserves during 1991; exploration found more new reserves than mining removed. Existing reserves probably are sufficient to sustain the gold mining industry at present levels in Nevada for at least another 20 years if prices do not drastically decline and government regulations do not force closure of existing mines or prevent opening of new mines.
The trend of continually finding more gold than is mined is not likely to continue indefinitely, especially given the decline in overall exploration activity in recent years. The number of new claims in Nevada filed with the Bureau of Land Management has decreased from a high of 83,389 in 1988 to 21,624 in 1991 indicating a sharp decline in exploration activity since 1988. Relatively low gold prices, uncertainties regarding the access to federal lands, and increasingly more restrictive state and federal regulations are some of the causes for this decline.
Although only one or two mines in Nevada are currently being operated primarily for silver, most Nevada gold mining operations produce some silver as well. These mines produced 19 million troy ounces of silver worth $76 million in 1991, a 12% decline in amount and a 30% decline in value from 1990. Similarly, no mines are currently being operated for mercury but several gold mining operations are producing mercury as a by-product.
Other metals produced in Nevada in 1991 include 6.1 million pounds of copper, 1.3 million pounds of lead, 21 million pounds of zinc, and an undisclosed amount of molybdenum.
The most important industrial minerals in Nevada in 1991, in order of value produced, were aggregate, diatomite, lithium carbonate, lime, cement, gypsum, barite, clay, silica, and magnesia. Production of aggregate (sand, gravel, and crushed stone) was 23 million short tons in 1991, a 12% decline from the all-time high of 26 million tons in 1990. Gypsum production decreased from 1.6 million short tons in 1990 to 1.4 million tons in 1991. Slowdown in the construction industries in California and Nevada contributed to declines in production of aggregate and gypsum. Nevada continues to lead the nation in total barite production, shipping 385,000 short tons in 1991.
Nevada produced 3.4 million barrels of oil worth $51 million in 1991, 15% less in quantity and 20% less in value than in 1990 but greater than all previous years. Although no new fields were found in 1991, four new wells became producers in established fields in Railroad Valley. Many areas in Nevada remain untested for oil and gas.
Nevada's commercial geothermal power production reached an all-time high of 895,000 megawatt-hours worth $76.5 million in 1991, a 1% increase in amount and a 5% increase in value from 1990. Geothermal power generating capacity in Nevada increased from 132 megawatts in 1990 to 147 megawatts in 1991, primarily due to the completion of a second plant at Soda Lake. Eight additional geothermal power plants with a gross capacity of 183 megawatts are expected to be on line by 1996, bringing Nevada's total capacity to 330 megawatts.
For more details on Nevada's 1991 mineral production and related topics, see NBMG Special Publication MI-1991.
---Dick Meeuwig, Editor