In the last month, several of Alaska’s major metal mines reported strong operating numbers; one company released a preliminary economic assessment and three new mineral exploration companies acquired exploration interests in Alaska. While the functions of explorers and producers are quite different, the symbiotic relationship between the two ends of the mining cycle is unequivocal: exploration would not exist without production and production would eventually cease without exploration. The middle ground between the explorers and the miners, known as the development stage, is occupied by an oddly thick-skinned, often thin-haired animal that takes exploration data and forms a mine plan around it. I heard a mine development engineer once say that mine development work is like playing five-card stud with only three cards – something is always missing. The explorers think this development beast is entirely too conservative in his estimates, while the miners are certain this same development beast wears permanent rose-colored contact lenses. So perhaps the most critical stage of the mining cycle is the one most vilified and mistrusted by the two extremes? As a tribute to that beast, this month’s column is a salute to those of you who take what could be and turn it into what should be for those who make it into what it always was!
Teck Resources Ltd. announced second quarter results from its Red Dog mine. During the quarter the mine produced 137,900 metric tons of zinc in concentrate. Zinc ore grade decreased to 18.1 percent, while mill recoveries remained steady at 83.5 percent. The mine also produced 31,300 metric tons of lead in concentrate. Lead ore grade decreased slightly to 5.3 percent while mill recoveries decreased to 64.6 percent. The mine posted a $31 million operating profit for the quarter, down significantly from the $40 million profit in the year previous period. The decreased operating income was attributed mainly to lower zinc ore grades. The mine plans to ship 1,025,000 metric tons of zinc concentrate and 235,000 tons of lead concentrate from the port facility this shipping season. The company also commenced production from the Aqqaluk deposit in late May as it made its planned transition to mining of the Aqqaluk deposit.