Business/Economy

Australian mining company eyes little-explored Interior Alaska deposit

An Australian mining company plans to conduct field work this summer at a mineral deposit about 60 miles south of Fairbanks that has seen little exploration in the past 20 years.

White Rock Minerals acquired the site, called the Red Mountain Project, last year. Two deposits of zinc, copper, silver, lead and gold have already been discovered there, and there is potential to find more, the company said.

Rohan Worland, exploration manager for White Rock Minerals, said the company doesn't know exactly when exploration will start. But a letter from him and company CEO Matthew Gill to Gov. Bill Walker in October said they are preparing for field explorations during the summer 2017 field season.

"We like the potential of the area," he said in a phone interview. "It's still very much an exploration project, and it will be an exploration for the next few years."

White Rock acquired the Red Mountain Project when it bought a company called Atlas Resources for about $3.3 million last year. The area the company will explore is about 55 square miles.

The exploration will begin with small crews composed of about 20 to 30 people and one or two drill rigs, Worland said. Workers won't be full-time but instead consultants, and the company will use contractors out of Fairbanks to manage and operate the exploration, he said.

White Rock has the claims to the minerals but doesn't yet have any permits in place for exploration or development, Worland said in an email. Certain types of exploration require permits, which the company will apply for when it is ready to drill, he said.

The area in question is on the north side of the Alaska Range, not accessible by road. Steve Masterman, state geologist with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, said that the Red Mountain Project is "very underdeveloped."

"It's probably too early to say what the potential of that area is just because it's so immature in terms of exploration," Masterman said.

In its letter to Walker, White Rock Minerals said that mapping and survey work done by the Department of Natural Resources were key in renewing interest in "old mining districts" such as this one, where the last commercial exploration "ceased around 1999."

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