By Samantha James

AUSTRALIAN gold output in 2015 reached a 12 year high according to new information from mining consultancy Surbiton Associates.

Production of more than 10 million ounces (285t) of gold for 2015 was almost 7,000oz (2t) more than 2014 and the highest annual total since 2003.

Gold is also Australia’s best-performing commodity in 2016, jumping almost $150 in the four weeks from 13 January to 8 February to just over $1700/oz and peaking at $1788/oz three days later – the highest since September 2011.

Surbiton director Dr Sandra Close said the falling local currency — which had dropped from US$0.95 in mid-2014 to just over US$0.70 in December 2015 – was cushioning the local gold sector.

Combined with lower energy costs and reduced pressure on wages, which led to lower contract rates for mining and ore haulage, producing mines were looking more robust and companies were eyeing mothballed operations.

“If you factor higher prices and tighter cost containment into the overall equation, margins have increased,” she said in the statement.

“Much of the local gold sector is travelling quite well for the moment.”

Dr Close said mothballed operations coming back into production would soon add to gold output, and toll treatment of ore by small companies was also on the rise.

In mid-February 2016 Saracen Mineral Holdings began producing from the previously-mothballed Thunderbox mine in WA, adding another 150,000oz of gold to WA’s tally for 2016.

Metals X is ramping up its revived Murchison operations near Meekatharra to 200,000 ounces per annum of gold after restarting operations in October, and the board of Blackham Resources approved the development of a stage 1, 100,000ozpa gold operation at the historic Matilda mine in the Wiluna region.

First production was expected during the third quarter of 2016.

In October 2015 Newmont approved investment of $500 million to expand Boddington to at least 2025.