Fort Knox passes 8M oz gold milestone
Interior Alaska gold mine still going strong after 23 years
Last updated 10/18/2019 at 5:19am
FAIRBANKS, Alaska: The 8 millionth ounce of gold poured at Fort Knox on Oct. 9 is a milestone that seems to mark a new era for this iconic Interior Alaska mine that has been a flagship operation for Kinross Gold Corp. over the past 23 years.
"The operation here at Fort Knox is our center for excellence, it has been for a long time," said Mike Sylvestre, Kinross Gold's senior vice president of operations in the Americas.
Due to this excellence, Fort Knox serves as a university of sorts for Kinross – where workers and up-and-coming senior officials come to learn about safe, efficient and environmentally sustainable mining before transitioning to the company's other global operations.
"We have Fort Knox alumni stationed all around the world – spreading the excellence around and teaching people how to do things," Sylvestre said after the 8-million-oz gold pour.
More importantly to the residents of Fairbanks, and Alaska as a whole, this long-lived gold mine has served as source of good-paying jobs and healthy revenues for businesses and governments.
According to the most recent calculations, Fort Knox Mine pays approximately $80 million in annual wages and benefits to its 650 employees; spends roughly $190 million each year on goods and services from some 350 Alaska business and vendors; and pays about $60 million to state and local governments annually, including roughly $8.8 million in property taxes to the Fairbanks North Star Borough.
With the recent Gilmore expansion, Fort Knox is expected to continue this tradition of excellence for Kinross and economic benefits to Interior Alaska for at least another decade.
Lying immediately west of the Fort Knox pit, the source of the 8 million oz of gold recovered over the past 23 years, Gilmore is expected to add roughly 1.5 million oz of gold to the Fairbanks-area operation and extend mining to 2027 and gold recovery from heap leaching to 2030.
Heap leaching is an efficient means of recovering gold that involves stacking ore on a lined pad and using a mildly acidic leaching agent to dissolve the gold into a solution that is pumped through a facility for recovery.
Crews at Fort Knox recently finished lining the Barnes Creek Heap Leach Pad, a new facility that will be used to process the ore mined from Gilmore in the coming years.
With the Barnes Creek Heap Leach Pad ready and crews actively mining ore from the Gilmore deposit, the Oct. 9 gold pour seems to be a golden milestone that marks a transition into a new era for Fort Knox, which could be considered a third phase of mining at this Alaska gold mine.
The first Fort Knox era got underway when the mine went into production with about 4 million oz of gold in reserves in 1996. The next phase began in 2009, when Kinross added the Walter Creek Heap Leach Facility to recover gold from lower grade ore at the mine.
Through these first two phases, Fort Knox averaged roughly 350,000 oz of gold per year, or nearly 1,000 oz per day.
Heading into 2020, this Interior Alaska mine is transitioning to the Gilmore age, which will see the phasing out of the mill entirely.
This transition means that annual gold production at Fort Knox is expected to drop to around 250,000 oz/year, or around 700 oz/day.
Though gold output is dropping, Kinross management sees Fort Knox continuing past the currently projected 2030 end of mine.
The future stages at Fort Knox could come from additional ore being found around the Fort Knox-Gilmore pit and deposits across the wider property.
Gil Sourdough, a deposit about seven miles northeast of the mill, is one potential source of ore for the next era at Fort Knox.
According to the most recent calculation, Gil hosts 29.5 million metric tons of indicated resource averaging 0.56 g/t (533,000) oz. of gold.
During a Gilmore groundbreaking ceremony in August 2018, Kinross Gold President and CEO J. Paul Rollinson said, "We see a lot of potential, we are going to keep exploring, and I personally believe this is the first of many phases of expansion."
This means that Kinross and Fairbanks could be celebrating a few more golden Fort Knox milestones in the years to come.