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FAIRBANKS - Interior Alaska saw a surge of new mining claims last year with prospects north of Big Delta near the Pogo Gold Mine leading the way.
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New mining claims around Fairbanks increased 53 percent last year, according to state figures gathered by the Fairbanks North Star Borough.
Of the 3,140 new claims filed in 2006, more than 70 percent were in the Big Delta quadrangle, a 70-by-90-mile parcel than runs approximately from Harding Lake to the eastern boundary of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, and from Chena Hot Springs Road to Delta Junction.
Areas near the Pogo Mine were especially attractive, inspiring exploration following the mine beginning full production last year.
The new claims do not necessarily represent drilling but show an interest in exploration, said Dave Szumigala of the state Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys.
"Active mining claims overall kind of show the health of the industry ... and the new mining claims show where people are going that year," Szumigala said.
Each potential property contains multiple mining claims. For instance, the LMS project near Pogo, discovered in 2004 by AngloGold Ashanti (USA) Exploration Inc. and explored through a joint venture with International Tower Hill Mines Ltd., contains 92 state mining claims.
New claims in other areas around Fairbanks have shown a cyclical pattern over five years, rising and falling as certain areas show more or less promise.
"Things ebb and flow," Szumigala said. "It's like sheep chasing each other sometimes."
The Big Delta area has shown strong annual growth since 2002, when companies staked only 110 new mining claims in the area. Last year, miners staked 2,207 new claims.
The state charges a per-acre fee on mining claims, giving companies an incentive to start work or forfeit their claims.
"The impetus there is to do something sooner rather than later," said Curt Freeman, whose Avalon Development Corp. provides services to mineral exploration companies.
Freeman said interest around Delta Junction last spiked in the late 1990s but new mining claims dropped off with low metal prices at the start of the 2000s.
The geology around Pogo is not similar to other popular mining areas around Fairbanks, where miners typically find gold deposits after looking for the buried source of surface gold, known as placer deposits.
The Pogo region has never been an established placer mining area. Instead, mining companies must examine more subtle hints within soil samples.
"Now people are recognizing, we've got to go look at those," Szumigala said.