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Vol. 12, No. 25 Week of June 24, 2007
Providing coverage of Alaska and Northwest Canada's mineral industry

MINING NEWS: Hemis launches hunt for offshore gold

Swiss junior brings hi-tech world of marine exploration to Alaska’s Cook Inlet, plans drill program after oceanographic survey

Sarah Hurst

For Mining News

A geologist who worked in Alaska decades ago is following a long-harbored ambition to find out if there is gold on the seabed in Cook Inlet. Doug Oliver helped to build the trans-Alaska oil pipeline and returned to the state in the early 1980s with Tenneco Minerals, which had several exploration projects at the time. Tenneco was approached by Aspen Exploration to look for the offshore gold, but a deal couldn’t be reached. Oliver was always interested in the idea and is now pursuing it with Zurich, Switzerland-based Hemis Corp.

Aspen did do some preliminary work — remote sensing and geophysical surveys — but it didn’t get as far as drilling, Oliver told Mining News. The surveys identified a number of magnetic anomalies which were encouraging, taken in conjunction with the gold that can be found on Cook Inlet’s beaches, he said. Hemis, a recently formed junior, is conducting an oceanographic survey this summer, collecting data about the sea floor, with the goal of starting a month-long drilling program when the fishing season ends in September.

The project is known as Anchor Gold and it is based out of Anchor Point, near Homer on the Kenai Peninsula. Currently two geophysicists go out on a 20-foot boat using on-board instrumentation including a high-precision cesium magnometer, a fathometer, side-scan sonar and a StrataBox. The StrataBox is an instrument capable of imaging through sediments up to 40 meters thick. So far the survey has indicated that the water depth in the area of interest is often less than 10 meters, which would be ideal for drilling, according to Hemis.

About $1 million will be spent this year

The company has hired two consultants with Entrix to deal with permitting and equipment for the drill program. Hemis will have to obtain a boat that is at least 60 feet long and possibly up to 100 feet long, Oliver said. The consultants have been talking to several companies that have experience drilling in Cook Inlet for civil engineering projects and bridge foundations, and the drillers insist that the boat must have a moon pool in the center — not at one end — through which to load the drill rods, because that setup is the most stable. About 14 people will be involved in the drill program.

Cook Inlet is a tricky place to work because of its currents and tides, Oliver said. The drillers will need to make sure that parts of the sample don’t wash away when they are being brought to the surface, he added. Hemis plans to spend about $1 million on the offshore project this year, and a large component of that will be the cost of running the anchors and winches, which are “enormous,” according to Oliver.

Offshore mining has a very limited history, and Oliver is aware that the obstacles may be too great. “We need to figure out a way to do it in an environmentally sound manner — it might not be possible to do that, or it might be uneconomic,” he said. De Beers has successfully mined diamonds off the coasts of South Africa and Namibia, and Vancouver-based Nautilus Minerals plans to start mining gold and copper off the coast of Papua New Guinea in 2009.



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