Will the next decade usher in a mining renaissance in Alaska? With six operating mines producing some US$3 billion worth of minerals in 2010 and another 10 projects positioning themselves to join the ranks, mining in the Far North state is beginning to show a glimmer of its former glory.
A century ago dozens of mines were operating across the Last Frontier, including world-class operations such as Treadwell, the largest gold mine of its time, and Kennecott, considered to be the richest known concentration of copper in the world. By the beginning of World War II, large-scale mines had vanished from Alaska’s landscape.
This tumultuous time also can be considered the beginning of the modern era of mining in Alaska.
In 1943 Italian immigrant Emil Usibelli began supplying coal to the strategic Ladd Army Air Field (now Fort Wainwright) near Fairbanks. Equipped with a small dozer and a converted logging truck, the Italian immigrant and his partner fulfilled a 10,000-ton coal contract, marking the debut of Usibelli Coal Mine Inc., a family-owned company that now produces upwards of 2 million tons of coal annually.
Today, with the addition in 2010 of the Kensington gold mine near Juneau, Alaska boasts six major mines. These operations produced more than 600,000 tons of zinc, around 900,000 ounces of gold, some 14 million ounces of silver, 135,000 tons of lead and 2 million tons of coal in 2010.
“We have six major producing mines, three major development projects, three advanced exploration projects and somewhere around 60 significant exploration projects with about 24 of those spending a million dollars or more in 2010,” Alaska Division of Geological & Geographical Surveys Senior Minerals Geologist Dave Szumigala explains.
Zinc, which makes up about 40 percent of Alaska’s annual production in terms of value, is currently the dominant mineral produced in the state. A position the industrial metal will likely relinquish if any of Alaska’s massive gold projects come online in the next decade.
With the advent of Pebble, Alaska also would emerge as a major producer of copper, a metal not currently mined in the state.
Alaska has two fully permitted smaller scale gold projects, a 25-million-ton-per-year coal project seeking its permits and seven projects with the potential to contribute to a mining renaissance in the Last Frontier.
Here is a look at Alaska’s producing mines and the advanced exploration projects eyeing production in the coming decade.
To read Mining News' "2011 Mining Outlook," please visit: http://www.starzhost.com/petroleumnews/mnpdfarch/867666679.pdf#page=16