Gold prices, mining activity hold steady compared to 2013


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A gold dredge is seen in June working off the beaches of Nome. Suction dredge permits increased slightly this year, to 214 compared to 204 at the same time in 2013.

Photo/Molly Dischner/AJOC

Gold mining and exploration is holding steady this summer compared to last, in line with relatively similar gold prices.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources oversees much of the permitting activity for mining, including on federal and private land.

Through mid-July, DNR had approximately 653 mining and exploration operations registered for the summer, more than the 604 registered by mid-May of 2013.

That includes 48 exploration projects, 430 placer projects and 175 suction dredges.

Gold prices peaked in 2012, spurring additional exploration and mining throughout the state, but activity has declined since then along with prices.

From January 2011 to November 2012, which included two seasons of mining, the state received 549 placer applications and 272 suction dredge applications, more than the mid-season numbers for 2013 and 2014.

As of July 22, gold was $1,306 per ounce. That’s similar to summer 2013, when prices hovered around $1,300 per ounce, but less than 2012 when prices were more than than $1,600 per ounce.

According to permits filed with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, activity on state land appears to be up slightly compared to 2013, although all of the numbers are ballpark figures as not all applications are processed.

Miscellaneous land use permits, or MLUPs, are required for most mining activity on state land, although recreational gold panning and mining with light portable field equipment does not require such a permit. For 2014, a total 549 new and renewal MLUPS were filed through mid-July, compared to 493 in 2013.

That was driven largely by entirely new MLUPs. There were 316 new MLUPs and 233 renewals for 2014, an increase of 95 new MLUPs, but 39 fewer renewals.

MLUPs are not required for recreational gold panning or mining with light, portable field equipment, or with a suction dredge that has a nozzle intake of six inches or less, pumps no more than 30,000 gallons of water per day and has an engine with 18 horsepower or less.

Activity on federal and private land, however, is down.

Through mid-July, DNR received 20 new applications for permits to mine in Alaska, or APMAs, for work on federal and private land, and 56 renewal AMPAs.

That’s less than 2013, when DNR received 47 new letters and 64 renewals for mining on federal or private land.

AMPAs are required each year that a claim owner intends to conduct mining activity, including exploration, mining or transportation of equipment. The AMPA is submitted to DNR, but the permitting process can include several other entities including the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Alaska Department of Revenue, and the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Nome gold rush continues

In Nome — a  historic hub for mining that’s received increased attention as gold prices have increased and reality television shows have popularized the region — activity is also steady.

Through mid-July, 214 operations were authorized with DNR in 2014. That’s slightly more than the 204 operations authorized through June 2013.

Nome-area mining includes a range of operations, but most of the activity occurs in two recreational mining areas offshore from the east and west beaches. The last offshore lease sale was held in 2011, and the next is unlikely to be held until 2021.

Mining operations at the west beach are limited to six-inch or smaller suction nozzles, while east beach operations are limited to eight-inch or smaller nozzles. Engine strength is also limited for dredges operating offshore from either beach.

Elsewhere in Norton Sound, larger barge-sized dredges have applied for permits to mine.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.

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