What's the future of the world's gold mines?

 Gold bars are displayed at Shinhan Bank in Seoul on 09 January 2004. Gold prices hit 544.60 dollars per ounce on January 09, 2006, the highest level since January 1981, owing to geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and reports that China may increase its reserves of the metal. 'Geopolitical tensions continue to provide reasons to be positive on gold, with deteriorating situations in both Iran and Iraq, while the possibility of Israels Prime Minister Ariel Sharon not returning to office causes concerns over the Middle East peace progress,' said Barclays Capital analyst Yingxi Yu. AFP PHOTO/JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
 Gold bars are displayed at Shinhan Bank in Seoul on 09 January 2004. Gold prices hit 544.60 dollars per ounce on January 09, 2006, the highest level since January 1981, owing to geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and reports that China may increase its reserves of the metal. 'Geopolitical tensions continue to provide reasons to be positive on gold, with deteriorating situations in both Iran and Iraq, while the possibility of Israels Prime Minister Ariel Sharon not returning to office causes concerns over the Middle East peace progress,' said Barclays Capital analyst Yingxi Yu. AFP PHOTO/JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

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What's in the future of the world's gold mines? 02:29

Story highlights

  • The Obuasi gold mine is digging deeper tunnels and modernizing to stay profitable as the gold price falls
  • Gold prices have slipped from $1900 per ounce in 2011 to around $1200 per ounce in 2015

(CNN)The price of gold has slipped from highs of around $1900 per troy ounce in 2011 to below $1200 this year, and Ghana -- which depends to a large extent on the export of the metal and other commodities -- has suffered.

The Obuasi gold mine has been in operation since 1897, when it was started by three Ghanaian merchants who brought in the heavy equipment needed to extract gold. Today, as a low gold price bites, the miners have to dig deeper and cut costs to stay in business.
    The country is in the middle of an economic crisis, precipitated by a loss of export earnings, but the mine's managing director Frederick Attakumah says that there is still a lot of potential in the gold industry.
    "Ghana truly is a truly a blessed country," he says. There are still major unexplored parts of the country. We've seen gold being mined in the north, in the Upper West region, [which] basically tells us the geology of the country still holds potential."

    Digging deeper

    In the early days, the metal was carried on foot out of the site --since then, technology has improved and the mine has gone through several phases of modernization.
    Now, faced with a declining oil price and high operating costs, Obuasi's owners -- AngloGold Ashanti -- are scaling back, shrinking the mine's footprint and digging deeper for gold.
    The gold price has, as Attakumah says, "headed south", and operational challenges posed by the ageing mine infrastructure are also denting its output.

    'In the belly of the earth'

    "Infrastructure in certain parts is quite antiquated... in the old days, there was a big surface mining component which no longer exists," Attakumah says. "Basically we're consolidating what has been quite a big mine spread over an eight kilometer radius into a more modern, compact operation, potentially spread over just two or three kilometers. And then also, we're transitioning from a labor-intensive model... into a highly mechanized operation."
    Deeper mines add new technical challenges, in particular the measures the company has to take to ensure that the tunnels are safe for its workers. The miles of tunnels need to have power for lights and refrigeration -- the ambient temperature deep underground rises to 30C -- as well as water and air. "Because it's down the belly of the earth and people need to be able to breathe."
    Watch the video above to find out more