Mining boom boosts Alaska's economy

Alaska's mining industry is entering a new golden age.

Gold prices are at historic highs, a large new mine has opened northwest of Juneau and, with more than 4 million acres of state land staked, exploration for hard-rock metals is on the upswing, state officials said.

The overall value of the state's mining industry -- including exploration, construction and produced minerals -- hit $2.9 billion last year. That didn't include Juneau's new gold mine -- Kensington -- which began producing ore concentrate this year.

The value of gold production alone could top $1 billion next year, thanks mostly to the state's three large gold mines: Kensington, the Fort Knox mine near Fairbanks and the Pogo mine near Delta Junction.

Also, the state's biggest mine, the Red Dog zinc and lead mine near Kotzebue, is poised to begin developing its second pit -- where it hopes to keep mining base metals for another two decades.

A handful of mine prospects would dwarf the state's operating mines if they ever pan out.

These mega-projects include the Pebble copper and gold prospect near Iliamna, the Donlin Creek gold project near the Kuskokwim River and the proposed Chuitna coal strip mine on the west side of Cook Inlet. The three projects are still being studied by mining companies, and no permits for their development have been granted.

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