Gold find adds 1.2M ounces at Pogo


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Workers pour molten gold at Pogo mine near Delta. The mine recently marked its 2 millionth ounce produced and has discovered an estimated 1.2 million ounces of gold at the “East Deep” deposit near the Pogo ore body.

Courtesy Sumitomo Metal Mining

FAIRBANKS – Drilling crews are busy on new exploration this summer at the Pogo gold mine near Delta, east of Fairbanks. It is the biggest exploration season since the mine opened, says Lorna Shaw, external affairs manager for Sumitomo Metal Mining, which owns and operates the mine.

Efforts this summer are focused on defining the new “East Deep” discovery, a gold ore deposit discovered last year that is near the main Pogo ore body. The new discovery has added an estimated 1.2 million ounces of new gold resources to Pogo, a major increase from the current 2.6 million ounces of reserves.

There could be more gold, too.

”East Deep has very high potential and we’ve really only touched part of it. We’re looking for the limits this summer,” Shaw said.

The discovery is not likely to result in increased production but would instead extend the operating life of the time.

This summer, three drill rigs are at work drilling from the surface and three rigs are drilling from underground locations in the mine, testing the East Deep deposit. Sumitomo plans to do 94,000 feet of exploration drilling this year, with 86,000 feet drilled from the surface and 8,000 feet drilled underground.

Last year the company did 79,672 feet of exploration drilling.

In other developments, Pogo reached a milestone recently in exceeding the two-million-ounce production threshold. The mine produced 325,708 troy ounces of gold in 2011, a bit below the annual production average of 350,000 ounces to 380,000 ounces in recent years.

Typically, 2,545 tons of ore per day are mined and processed at Pogo. Based on the current reserves the mine is expected to operate through 2019, but with new discoveries like East Deep the mine life could be extended.

Pogo employs 335 workers directly and there are about 150 contractor employees at present, Shaw said.

Bed space at the camp is tight this summer.

“We have 376 beds on site and we are near capacity this summer,” Shaw said. “Making sure there is room for everyone, with increased construction and exploration, can be a bit of a jig-saw puzzle.”

Sumitomo is now building added camp capacity, with 79 new beds, that will be available by the end of the summer, Shaw said.

In operations, Pogo experienced high turnover rates among its employees after the mine first started in 2007, but turnover is now reduced to levels that are normal for the industry, Shaw said.

“Things have stabilized, but it’s still an issue,” the company is concerned about, she said.

“Experienced underground miners tend to be transient,” Shaw said, because there is a high demand for them. The company likes to hire in Alaska, but the Alaskan recruits tend to come in with entry-level skills for undergoing mining.

Underground crews must all include some experienced miners.

“We can’t have an underground crew with all entry-level people,” she said.

Sumitomo is considered several ideas in training including possible programs with the University of Alaska Fairbanks similar to those operated by in Juneau by University of Alaska Southeast for the Greens Creek and Kensington underground mines.

Pogo is the only operating underground mine outside of Southeast Alaska except for the small Nixon Fork mine near McGrath. Other producing mines like the Fort Knox Mine near Fairbanks, the Usbelli coal mine at Healy and the Red Dog Mine north of Kotzenue, are surface mines.

While the skill sets for miners in underground and surface mines are different – surface mines require experience and skill in operating heavy equipment – many jobs are similar in the mines, such as operators in the ore processing mills, mechanics, maintenance and other support people, Shaw said.

 

Tim Bradner can be reached at tim.bradner@alaskajournal.com.

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