Mexico is the world's premier silver exploration and mining country for several reasons:
- It is historically and presently the world's number one silver producer with a historic production record of over 10 billion ounces of silver and current annual production closing in on 100 million ounces a year. Most deposits are high grade and amenable to low-cost underground and surface mining.
- Mexico has a 500-year mining history and mining is an integral part of the national and local economies. This takes on increasing importance as migration from rural areas to cities increases due to lack of rural employment opportunities: Mines create economic anchors wherever they are found, which mitigates this effect locally and allows rural residents to maintain well-paid, dignified and productive occupations.
- Politically, Mexico is the most stable country in Latin America, with favorable tax structures and a strong government commitment to natural resource development. Mexico radically overhauled a nationalistic mining law structure in 1990-1992, for the express purpose of attracting foreign mining investment...and this has been very successful. This overhaul was accompanied by privatization of virtually all of the Mexican governmental mining holdings and an active retreat from competition with the private sector in mining exploration and development.
- Mexico has demonstrated a strong commitment to increasing transparency in all aspects of government...and the regulation of the mining industry is arguably the most successful of these. Foreign companies now compete with Mexican companies on an equal basis.
- Culturally, Mexicans are friendly towards mining at all levels. This means mining explorationists and developers can expect to be welcomed when they enter an area...in start contrast to their reception in many other parts of the world.
- The Mexican mining community is well trained, both at the professional and skilled laborer levels, and fully in tune with the latest mining technologies. Specialized and normal mining equipment is readily available with good technical support.
- Mexico has strong environmental laws and a commitment to uphold them, but effective obstructionist environmental organizations are few. This means that mining outfits, who follow the Mexican laws and internationally accepted environmental practices, can expect to advance their projects without undue interference.
- Despite this, Mexico remains under-explored. Major discoveries have been made over the last 20 years by application of modern geological and geophysical concepts and methods...with every expectation that exploration will continue to reveal important new deposits.
- The exploration down-turn of the last 6 years has seen a return to more reasonable expectations on the part of property holders as well as the release of large numbers of expired claims. This has allowed consolidation of land positions in many important districts making acquisitions of district-scale exploration plays economically feasible.
The Mexican Silver Belt, a.k.a. La Faja de Plata, is easily the world's most productive silver district with well over 10 billion ounces of silver production...and between 63 and 75 million ounces of accompanying gold production. Many of the major mines in the belt, including Pachuca, Guanajuato, Zacatecas, Fresnillo, Tayoltita, Santa Eulalia, Parral-Santa Barbara-San Francisco del Oro, and Charcas have been in nearly continuous production since the 16th century and the first four of this list have produced over a billion ounces of silver each! The belt currently produces about 100 million ounces a year from a combination of epithermal vein and carbonate replacement deposits (CRDs) with production grades ranging from 5 to 30 oz/T silver (plus substantial Au, Cu, Zn and Pb co-production) at mining rates of a few hundred to 7500 T/day. Almost all of the profitable mines are underground operations.
Despite 500 years of intensive exploitation and exploration, discoveries and production advances continue to be made. Since the mid-1960s entirely new ore zones have been discovered in historic districts such as Guanajuato (1968), Fresnillo (1976), Bolaños (1985), Dolores (1996), San Martin-Sabinas (1996), Concepcion del Oro (1996, 2001), and Tayoltita (1992, 1997). And entirely new districts have been found such as La Cienega (1989), San Sebastian-Saladillo (1996), and Platosa (2001) in Durango. Some of these discoveries have resulted from application of novel geologic concepts and have spawned exploration models that have revived exploration activity in districts long thought thoroughly defined...or exhausted. Other advances have come from application of new mining and metallurgical technologies that have allowed much larger scale exploitation than had historically been possible. Districts such as San Martin, Santa Barbara, Charcas and Fresnillo have been proven to be exploitable at rates of up to 7,500 tons per day, an increase of over 700% from their mid-1970s production levels.
Opportunities abound in the belt. A mantle of alluvial cover that remains virtually untested by modern geophysical and geochemical prospecting techniques covers extensive parts of the belt. Modern ore deposits models indicate that many districts are larger and more complex than previously thought, opening exploration potential to depth or laterally from existing headframes. And many major districts, until recently covered by a bewildering patchwork of claims, have been consolidated...opening the potential for applying district-scale exploration concepts for the first time in nearly 100 years. There are even opportunities to assume control of producing (but under-explored) mines where exploration can yield nearly immediate mill feed to existing infrastructure.
Put all of the above in the context of Mexico's stable political climate, a 500 year mining history, rational environmental policies, excellent infrastructure and a firm government commitment to natural resources development and it is hard to see why silver exploration dollars would be invested anywhere else in the world.
"This article has been re-printed with the permission of its' author, Peter Megaw and Mag Silver Corp.