Mongolia had the second fastest GDP growth in the world last year, clocking in at a jaw-dropping 17.3%. Much of the growth comes from the recently tapped mineral supply in the Gobi desert. According to The Economist, just one mine, the gold and copper-producing Oyu Tolgoi, is expected to make up a third of Mongolia’s GDP by 2020. It is the largest known undeveloped source of copper in the world.
Paula Bronstein, a photographer with Getty Images, has shot in Mongolia a handful of times and made her first visit to the Oyu Tolgoi mine earlier this month. She was surprised at the “mini-city” that had popped out of the vast desert. The underground mine, the main portion, hasn’t even come online yet.
The project is a joint venture between the Mongolian government, British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto, and Turquoise Hill Resources (until recently known as Ivanhoe Mines) of Canada, and is one of the biggest mines in the world. The project employees 15,000 workers, compelling the companies to build housing and cafeterias that can provide different different meals for the Mongolian and European workers.
Oyu Tolgoi is less than 50 miles from the Chinese border and roads are being paved in 70 miles in all directions. Despite all the construction, herders still graze their camels nearby.”They’re getting used to walking on paved roads,” Bronstein said.
Bronstein got to see almost every part of the project in the five days she was there, except the underground part of the site. “It wasn’t worth it to bring me down, they were too busy,” she said.
The Oyo Tolgoi is expected to be ready to go online in early 2013. But a disagreement with China over the terms of buying electricity could keep the mine idle. The delay could cost $8.4 million dollars a day in lost revenue.