Look at the picture that your author took. See that? Those little sparks in that piece of rock? That's how gold is found. Little bits inside big pieces of stone. So if you have a gold mine, you dig up and cut out these rocks, crush them in a giant machine, and then you need chemicals like cyanide to get the gold out of the crushed mass.
You can also find it in rivers, because the water erodes the rocks and takes the gold with it, and it sinks quickly because gold is heavy. So all you need is a dredge to suck up the sediment from the bottom of your river or stream of choice, and then it goes through a filter system and then you have gold dust. Or, if you're lucky, you dredge up nuggets. They build these dredges in Colón.
Mining companies are generally not interested in river dredging. They go for the big prize; take down a whole mountain or dig a big hole and crush them rocks to get the gold out. What's left is wasteland, large areas with holes and no topsoil where nothing will grow any more. Desert, but worse.
This rock-with-gold in the picture is everywhere in Panama. From Chiriqui to the Darién there is gold to be had. Plus copper. So it's no surprise that we read in La Prensa that if all applications are granted, no less than 44% of Panama's territory will be turned into strip mines. Almost half!
As you can imagine, environmentalists freaked out upon hearing this news (for some mysterious reason, groups like CIAM didn't know this already). There goes the rain forest, the biodiversity, the clean air and the clean rivers (cyanide spills!). But we shouldn't pay too much attention to the environmentalists because they couldn't stop Richard Fifer's trainwreck of a mine called Petaquilla, so they for sure won't be able to stop all the others. Maybe they'll burn some candles during a protest gathering and that's about all we can expect from them. Just like with the "sausage law", the real work will be done by the workers and the indigenous people, with the environmentalists yammering on the sidelines.
La Prensa also offers a great map (PDF) of where all these mines will be located. Lots of concessions are in the indigenous comarcas, and if you were dumb enough to buy into the Red Frog Beach project, well, what's left of Isla Bastimentos is gonna be an open pit mine as well. Poetic justice...
However, key areas like Punta Barco, Coronado, Punta Pacifica, El Valle, Boquete and other such places where the members of our government and their friends live or own their vacation homes are unaffected. So there's nothing to worry about, really.
And the rest of the country? Well, Panama is un hueco anyway so we might as well show it!