Barrick Goes Open-Source

ATP Oil & Gas (Nasdaq: ATPG  ) recently offered to pay all of its employees' mortgages for a year if the company could hit certain ambitious goals. That's a pretty generous incentive program, but Barrick Gold (NYSE: ABX  ) may have topped it with its "Unlock the Value" contest.

Unlike ATP, Barrick is reaching outside the organization to solve a production puzzle. At the company's Veladero mine in Argentina, silver is a significant by-product. An estimated 180 million ounces are contained in reserves. The problem is that using traditional methods, the company is achieving only a 7% recovery rate. Now that per-ounce silver prices are moving up into the high teens, Barrick is understandably frustrated at failing to capture more than a modicum of the metal.

Last September, the company opened its books to the entire world. Anyone registering on the program's website gets access to all of the Veladero-related data one could desire. Teams submitting research-worthy proposals will earn $25,000 in funding, and if any of these finalists produces a commercially viable solution for extracting more silver, Barrick will pay a performance bonus of $10 million.

This is a brilliant business move, but Barrick can't claim the innovation. That distinction goes to Rob McEwen, the former chairman and CEO of Goldcorp (NYSE: GG  ) .

Back in 2000, McEwen, who now heads up US Gold (AMEX: UXG  ) , launched the Goldcorp Challenge, which offered half a million dollars to Internet entrants who could offer promising drill targets at the company's Red Lake mine. The winners had access to data only -- they never visited the Canadian property. The wildly successful program made a rock star out of finalist Mark O'Dea, who now heads up Fronteer Development Group (AMEX: FRG  ) . After the Goldcorp Challenge, BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP  ) applied the same virtual exploration model to its own portfolio.

It's terrific to see this open-source strategy spreading, albeit slowly, in the mining space. So bravo, Barrick, for putting your money where the minds are -- online.

The Fool mines our community's collective mind in Motley Fool CAPS. Barrick, for example, is rated four out of five stars, so it's pretty widely expected to outperform the market in the future. Have an opinion on the megaminer? Have your say today.


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