lows, then financing for the endeavor,
and ultimately the development and
production, shipping, waste discard,
and cycle of mining ensues.
Most Alaskans may not realize there
are only six mines under full operation and production in the state in 2015.
These mines are Fort Knox (gold) and
Pogo (gold) mines near Fairbanks, Usibelli (coal) in Healy, Red Dog (zinc, lead,
silver) north of Kotzebue, and the Greens
Creek (zinc, lead, silver, gold) and Kensington (gold) mines in Southeast Alaska.
Advanced exploration projects that are
currently going through economic impact and analysis studies, permitting, engineering, and feasibility studies include
Wishbone Hill (coal), Upper Kobuk (gold,
silver, copper, zinc), Pebble (copper, gold,
molybdenum), Niblack (copper, gold, silver, zinc), Livengood (gold), Donlin Gold
(gold), Chuitna (coal), and Bokan-Dot-son-Ridge (rare earth elements).
While some mining companies keep
development project updates and information close to the vest, others are
proactive in releasing details on their
growth in 2015. To that end, there are
projects this year that are worth not-ing from the mining industry and from
which Alaska will share in the success of
extraction, delivery, and sales at market.
Greens Creek Mine Expansion
Eighteen miles from Juneau, on the north
end of Admiralty Island, Hecla Greens
Creek Mining Company and its 415
employees operate one of the ten largest producing silver mines in the world.
Hecla’s corporate biography delineates it
purchased just under a 30 percent interest in the massive silver-gold-zinc-lead
Greens Creek Mine in 1987. Twenty-one
years later Hecla acquired the remainder
of the mine from Rio Tinto, which held
just over 70 percent interest in Greens
Creek, officially owning 100 percent of
the mine thereafter. By the next year in
2009 Hecla reported a company record
silver production of 10. 9 million ounces
and cash flow of $115 million.
Fast-forward to 2015 and the company’s mining efforts haven’t slowed.
Construction is now starting for the
expansion of the mine’s tailings storage
facility that will give it capacity through
2026, which is projected to satisfy cur-
rent reserves and possible future ex-
pansion. Capital expenditures will ex-
ceed $44 million over the next three
years for the project, from 2015 to 2017.
As for actual mining and extraction,
this year the efforts are full speed ahead.
“We’ll continue to spend on underground exploration in 2015 to continue
to add to our reserve base. Historically
we have always had a ten-year mine life,
but over time we have been able to use
our exploration success to replace the
reserves and hope to continue that success in the future,” says Mike Satre, a
geologist with the company since 1999
and now serving as the Government
and Community Relations manager.
Greens Creek is an underground mine
and produces 2, 100 to 2,300 tons of ore
per day. The mine’s primary extraction
methods are cut and fill and longhole
stoping. Prior to 2009 Greens Creek recognized its existing tailings storage facility was getting close to full, but a new
facility can’t be opened with ease. An EIS
(Environmental Impact Statement) is required, followed by federal, state, and local permitting before commencement of
actual construction. The EIS and permitting process took almost six years.
Meanwhile the mine is now yielding
800,000 plus tons of ore per year, with
proven and probable reserves of 12 ounc-
es per ton of silver, 8. 3 percent zinc, 3.1
percent lead, and 0.10 ounces of gold per
ton. Satre notes the company’s absolute
focus this year is on the construction of
its tailings storage facility, which encom-
passes approximately eighteen acres, and
without which, the mine would be un-
able to process ore. Tailings is the mate-
rial left over after the economic minerals
have been extracted from the ore, and at
Greens Creek approximately 50 percent
to 60 percent of the tailings are placed
back underground while the remainder
must be placed in the storage facility.
Greens Creek issues the largest payroll
for the private sector in Southeast Alaska. Its operations represent one of the
signature mine producers in the state,
and this year’s production should be
similar to last year’s (2014) that included
total production of 7. 8 million ounces of
silver, 58,000 ounces of gold, 59,000 tons
of zinc, and 20,000 tons of lead.
The Lure of Gold—Donlin
Donlin Gold is owned by NOVAGOLD
Resources, a precious metals exploration
and development company, and Barrick
Gold Corporation, which operates twenty-five mines on five continents. The
company is in the process of building a
gold mine project in the Yukon Kuskokwim region northeast of Bethel.
The 2015 mining year shows momentum for Donlin. Kurt Parkan, External
Affairs manager, states that Donlin
Gold is in the middle of the NEPA (EIS)
process in the effort to obtain approximately one hundred permits needed to
open the mine.
The levels and layers to achieve actual
development are complex. The gauntlet
of bureaucracy includes the US Army
Corps of Engineers, which is the lead
federal agency for the EIS, and includes
cooperating agencies such as the US Fish
and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land
Management, Environmental Protection
Agency, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, State of Alaska, Alaska Native regional corporation
Photo by Lorry Schuerch