Silver, gold production steady in Southeast
The metal mines of Southeast Alaska had consistent and positive production in 2016, according to year-end results released by the operating companies.
Hecla Mining Co. reported Jan. 10 that its Greens Creek underground, primarily silver mine on Admiralty Island west of Juneau produced 9.3 million ounces of silver during the year, the highest production level since the company took full ownership of the mine in 2008.
One of the most productive silver mines in the world, Greens Creek accounted for more than half of silver production from all of Hecla’s four active mines in 2016, which was a record silver year for the company, according to CEO Phil Baker. The Idaho-based company operates three other silver-centric mines; one each in Canada, the Lower 48 and Mexico.
“The 17.2 million ounces of silver produced and the 46 million silver equivalent ounces produced mark the third consecutive year we have broken our 125-year production record, a result of our strategy of investing in organic growth,” Baker said in a company release.
Investments to increase production through a period of depressed commodity prices along with “ongoing strong performance of Greens Creek allowed Hecla to generate substantial cash flows this year and we expect well into the future,” Baker said further.
Overall, Hecla ended the year with $198 million in cash and short-term investments, a $43 million increase versus 2015, according to the operational report.
In 2015 Hecla began a three-year, $44 million project to expand its dry stack tailings facility at Greens Creek, which the company expects to support the mine until 2027 or 2028.
The 9.3 million ounces of silver Greens Creek produced last year was about 10 percent more than the 8.4 million ounces extracted in 2015. Hecla attributes the increase to both better grade or and better resource recovery.
Silver production at Greens Creek has increased each year since 2012, when the mine ore gave up nearly 6.4 million ounces.
On the flipside, gold production at the mine fell by 11 percent year-over-year to 53,912 ounces, the result of lower grade ore, according to Hecla.
Production of both precious metals in the fourth quarter was down more than 10 percent compared to 2015 as well.
Greens Creek also produces lead and zinc.
The Greens Creek mill processed an average of 2,229 tons of ore per day in 2016.
The 2016 year-end numbers for gold production at the underground Kensington mine north of Juneau look a lot like the final 2015 figures.
Kensington, a gold-only mine owned by Chicago-based Coeur Mining Inc., produced 124,331 ounces of gold in 2016, down slightly from 126,266 ounces in 2015, according to a company release.
The average gold grade of 0.21 ounces per ore ton and 94.7 percent resource recovery rate were also in line with 2015.
Overall milling was also down slightly from 660,400 tons in 2015 to 620,200 tons last year.
Opened in 2010, Coeur said in a company statement that the 2016 production at Kensington was in-line with company expectations and that production this year should be similar.
The company also said development of the nearby Jualin deposit is on schedule and about two-thirds complete. Couer said previously that it expects gold production at Kensington to approach 150,000 ounces per year when full-scale mining of Jualin commences in 2018.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].