Mining Alaska Part III: Striking gold at Kensington Mine – by Mallory Peebles ( – November 4, 2015)

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A century of advances in technology and engineering has dramatically changed the way gold is mined. Pickaxes, wheelbarrows and pans have been replaced by remotely operated trucks and large industrial mills where gold is separated by the process of mineral flotation.

Kensington Gold Mine, in the Borough of Juneau, began production in July of 2010. The locally owned company, Coeur Alaska Inc., employs more than 300 people and is the largest property taxpayer in the borough as well as the second largest private company in terms of payroll, which exceeded $41 million in 2014 according to the Alaska Miners Association.

The mine does not produce pure gold. Instead, it ships out 2 ton sacks of gold concentrate, a mix of fine gold and dirt. Each sack contains between 10 to 17 ounces of gold which makes it worth about $20,000 at current market value.

The process leading up to sacking the gold concentrate starts inside a lengthy network of underground drifts, or tunnels running deep underneath Lions Head Mountain.

An operator uses a horizontal drill to create various sized holes in the face, or exposed rock.

“You drill anywhere between 80 to 90 holes depending on the face,” said equipment trainer Eddie Petrie.

The holes are then filled with explosives. Blasting typically takes place at the end of each shift when the fewest people are still inside the mine. The blasted material, called muck, is picked and hauled outside the mine to a rock crusher.

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