Here's Why The Trillion-Dollar Afghan Mineral Discovery Is Bogus

by Louis James, Casey Research
Jone 14th 2010

Jun. 20, 2010

People around the globe are reading widely circulated reports today of a tremendous mineral discovery in Afghanistan. Details are sketchy, but many rare and important metals are mentioned, and a potential value of $1 trillion dollars is mentioned in a New York Times story on the subject. This figure, at best, cannot be anything more than the wildest of guesses.

One does not have to be a geologist or an engineer to understand why. When geologists find outcropping mineralization, or other signs that an economic deposit of minerals may be present, that is not called a discovery. Even if the signs come from the latest scientific equipment flown over the country, as the U.S. government appears to have used, the result is still just an anomaly: a hopeful indication of where to look. And anomalies are like opinions: everybody has one.

Once an anomaly is identified, it takes extensive, and very expensive field work to determine the best locations for drilling holes in the ground, which you have to do to calculate a volume of mineralized rock, from which you can estimate the metal contained. It usually takes at least a year, and often several, to identify targets for drilling. And drilling off a deposit of any significant size takes several more years, usually after many false starts and setbacks, because you canít see through rock and know where the goods are.

But even after you drill off a deposit, and know how big it is, how deep it is, and roughly whatís in it, you still donít know what itís worth. For that, you have to conduct extensive testing on the mineralized material, not just to quantify the metals or other desirable minerals within, but also to see if there are contaminants, or other elements present that can complicate, or even make impossible the economic recovery of the valuable mineral.

In short, until you know how much it would cost to mine and process any sort of mineralized material into a salable product, like gold bars, copper concentrate, etc., you cannot say what itís worth. Even a huge deposit of gold may be completely worthless, if the grade is low and thereís lots of carbon that would mess up the gold recovery.

Now, back to Afghanistan. A "small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists" cannot possibly have drilled off these deposits, let alone done the engineering required to value them. The NYT article described airborne geophysical surveys and a little surface work Ė no drilling. This is not a discovery Ė no serious exploration geologist would call anything a discovery until enough holes have been drilled into it to outline a significant volume of potentially economic material.

What we have here is a regional survey that may or may not lead to significant new discoveries.

Where do they get the trillion-dollar figure? We can only guess, but given their own description, they have not done the work necessary to generate any reasonable estimate. Itís worth pointing out that the vast majority of mineral outcroppings and other anomalies never lead to economic discoveries, much less mines. Even a very rich vein sticking right out on surface can turn out to be the last dregs of a system that has been eroded away, leaving nothing but a tease behind. For gold, the odds of an anomaly leading to an economic discovery are often cited as being on the order of 300 to one, against.

No responsible geologist would circulate a valuation figure at this stage of the process in Afghanistan. In fact, if a public company put out a press release like this story in the NYT, the exchange would likely reprimand them severely and require a retraction.

Now, the soldier quoted admits that "there are a lot of ifs," but that does not excuse putting out the $1 trillion figure, a number that there is no reasonable way to support at this point.

Note that this doesn't mean the minerals are not there Ė Afghanistan has, for obvious reasons, not seen any modern exploration, or even antiquated exploration, for decades. It is, in all likelihood, a terrific place to look for minerals. But the governmentís story sounds like the sort of PR stunt put out by Pink Sheet scammers.

It will take time for any real new discoveries to be made, especially given the time required to see if the Afghanistanís new mining law will work, not to mention for physical security to be established in the country. It would be a great benefit to the people of Afghanistan, and of the world, if this would happen.













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