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."
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."
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