Alaska’s producing metal mines continue to do well despite ongoing problems caused by the pandemic.
At the big Red Dog zinc and lead mine north of Kotzebue, in Northwest Alaska, there was a 67 percent increase in zinc production in the second quarter of 2021 quarter, according to the second quarterly financial report filed by Teck, the mine owner.
Stronger zinc production is expected to continue through the rest of 2021, the company said. The improvement is due to higher throughput at Red Dog’s mill, or its ore processing plant, as well as higher grades of the ore mined. Lead production at Red Dog was also up by 33 percent, Teck said.
Red Dog is a large surface mine. It’s financial gains also benefit NANA Regional Corp., the land and royalty owner. NANA receives 35 percent of Red Dog’s net smelter returns, a proxy for profits. Seventy percent of NANA’s royalties are shared with other Alaska Native regional and village corporations under terms of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
Near Fairbanks, gold production at the Fort Knox Mine is up, thanks to the new Barnes Creek “heap leach” at the mine. A heap leach is a facility that extracts gold from low-grade ore that would usually be uneconomic is the gold were separated by conventional mechanical methods. The low grade ore that is stacked (as in a “heap”) with gold recovered through a chemical process rather than traditional grinding and milling, which is also done at Fort Knox. There are now two heap leach operations the mine.
In the second quarter there were higher costs of ore mined from the mine’s main pit, but these were offset by lower costs per ounce of gold from the heap leach, Fort Knox owner Kinross Gold said in its second quarter briefing. New production is also expected later this year from a new area being developed, the “Gil satellite pits” about 10 miles east of the main mine Fort Knox.
Kinross Gold also completed a $150 million scoping study for its new Manh Choh high grade gold project near Tetlin, east of Delta. A feasibility study is expected to be complete in 2022 with production starting in 2024. Ore mined at Manh Choh will be trucked to Fairbanks and processed at the Fort Knox mill.
At the Pogo underground mine northeast of Delta, Northern Star Resources, its owner, said it expects gold production to reach 300,000 ounces of gold annually in 2023 and to sustain that rate through 2026, company managers said at the “Diggers and Dealers” mining forum in August. Production at Pogo in 2022 is expected to be about 250,000 ounces, up 17 percent from 2021, the company said.
Te increased production at Pogo will result from a sustained program of capital investment in infrastructure and exploration including expansion of ore processing capacity to 1.3 million tons per year, Northern Star Resources said. Capital investment in 2021 is planned at $55 million.
In Southeast Alaska, Hecla Mining Co.’s underground Greens Creek Mine on Admiralty Island west of Juneau, the nation’s largest silver mine, is expected reach its target of 9.5 to 10.2 million ounces of silver this year. Gold production is expected to reach 43,000 to 45,000 ounces, up from earlier estimates of 40,000 ounces to 43,000 ounces, Hecla said in second-quarter briefings.
The company reported improved margins profit margins in the second quarter due to lower COVID-19 costs compared with 2020 and better terms from smelters. Greens Creek is a multi-metal underground mine, producing mainly silver and gold.
The Kensington Mine, also in Southeast and on Berners Bay north of Juneau, saw a dip in tonnage of ore mined and gold produced in the second quarter compared with the same period of 2020, its owner, Coeur Alaska, told analysts in second quarter financial briefings.
The mine, also an underground operation, produced 28,322 ounces of gold in the quarter, down from 33,058 ounces in second quarter of 2020. The company realized an averages sales price of $1,821 per ounce in the second quarter, financial analysts were told in the briefing. Capital investments of $23 million to $30 million are planned in 2021. The company now has three drill rigs working on underground exploration.
In large projects now in the advanced development planning, exploration this summer at Donlin Gold in western Alaska, a very large gold project, has located new mineralization between two large deposits known at the mine. This is an indication that smaller “feeder” ore zones exist between the two larger ore zones.
In a sign of confidence, Donlin Gold also added 15 drill holes and 4,000 meters of drilling to its original 2021 plan. With 39 million ounces of measured and indicated resources Donlin Gold, in the mid-Kuskokwim River region west of Anchorage, is one of the largest and highest-grade undeveloped gold accumulations in the world.
In northwest Alaska, in the Ambler Mining District in the upper Noatak River region east of Kotzebue, Ambler Metals, an exploration company, continued drilling and geotechnical work related to its proposed “Arctic” mine, a high-grade deposit that is mostly copper.
However, difficulties in hiring skilled workers, a problem that has plagued many industries this summer, were encountered.
Other exploration companies have encountered similar problems.
The company as unable to hire enough workers to operate all three drill rigs through all of its summer program, but there were enoight staff to eep two rigs running. The company is working as late into September as weather will allow, and hopes to complete the program.
Ambler Metals is a joint venture of South32 of Australia and Trilogy Metals, of Vancouver, B.C.