The Emerald mining process consists of a series of activities classified as high risk and of great difficulty that demands intense physical effort and dedication. All Emeralds mining works are very little technologically advanced and practically depend on the hand work, strength, and courage of the Colombian miners who risk their lives every day in search of the green dream to offer the world the famous Colombian Emeralds. The mines are located on the eastern ridge, a mountain area with great vegetation whose predominant form of exploitation is the excavation of long tunnels crossing the mountains in search for the Emerald veins. Previously, open pit exploitation with explosives and heavy machinery that allowed to remove large amounts of land and advance quickly in search of the areas with the soil where crystals were formed that created the Emeralds was used, but this practice over the years was left behind because of the environmental impact it had over the region and all Emeralds exploitation dealers have been looking for more friendly methods for the surrounding’s habitat.
“The success of these works depends on the knowledge and experience of our miners”.
Tunnels are prepared according to selective underground excavation techniques that follow a course where there presumably may be a strip of mineralization, and are based on the mineralogical behavior of material to be extracted as the tunnel advances. The success of these works depends on the knowledge and experience of our miners who thanks to their wisdom acquired in the areas, during decades of work, guide the way forward into the tunnel, which does not always follow a horizontal course. Very often, we find that there is a need to make changes in level, therefore vertical excavation or snails are constructed that can reach 100 meters vertically. The Emeralds exploitation through tunnels is a task that requires thousands of men, hours of work, great economic efforts, and often, many years, before finding a deposit of Emeralds, if God and good fortune allow it.
Among the most common activities within the mining of Emeralds we may mention:
Preparation and Activities Initiation: This is the first stage of operation, where the starting point is the design of the tunnel and with it, the camp is established to house the miners, equipment, tools, and supplies needed for the operation of mining activity. There must also be an installation of systems for electricity, water, ventilation, drainage, selection, and waste evacuation of materials, along with first aid.
Drilling: To develop the drilling, hand tools such as picks and bars are used, and an air hammer for which areas with rocks with high hardness are drilled, making holes the thickness of the bit of about one meter in length that allows to place the gunpowder and carrying out small explosions.
Explosions: small amounts of powder which are inserted into holes made with a hammer are prepared, placing them with the detonators and a fuse. After the explosions, they must wait for the ventilation system to evacuate the gasses and dust in the tunnel generated in order to enter again.
Removal of Material: After the explosions, in the front of the tunnel with the help of hand tools a withdrawal of all the loose material is carried out and then inspected if the extracted material retains the mineralogical conditions being sought to further progress in that direction.
Transportation Material: The material removed from the front of the tunnel is transported to the entrance by extraction carts that are pushed by miners, these trucks can weigh half a ton and demand a great physical effort to be transferred within the tunnel and be put in elevators if the vertical excavation has been built.
Ventilation and lighting: With the development of the work and progress of the tunnel, ventilation pipes must be installed, which are made with a cylindrical plastic material that is attached at the top of the work and by which air is blown by fans from the entrance of the tunnel.
Something similar happens with the lighting, which is made with an electrical wiring that provides power to the various points that are installed along the tunnel. Lighting is very important to check the rock formations, recognize the presence of Emeralds, and avoid damaging them in the process of extraction.
Drainage: Generally, inside the mountain there are areas where significant water leaks can be found, which should be directed towards the entrance of the tunnel through the construction of small channels if the construction has managed to keep the floor uniform and a horizontal tunnel path. In different conditions the use of pumps must be resorted to, in some cases, for water drainage.
Strengthening: As mentioned in the previous point, there are areas within the mountain with the presence of water or high humidity, which make the tunnel unstable and therefore must be fortified with the construction of decks, usually made with wood and which allow to contain the weak materials and to provide security to workers.
Cleaning and Selection: Once the material reaches the exit of the tunnel it is selected and cleaned with water, in order to observe the presence of mineralogical material or the appearance of Emeralds.
These are basically the activities carried in the exploitation of the Emeralds in Colombia, which allow us to extract and offer the quality and beauty of our famous Emerald to the world.