ANCHORAGE - Alaska's mining industry posted a record-breaking year in 2006, largely because of the high prices for zinc and other metals, state officials said Wednesday.
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Last year, Alaska's minerals industry was worth $3.5 billion, according to the state Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys. Minerals produced in Alaska were worth $2.9 billion last year, more than double the previous year when they were valued at $1.4 billion.
The volume of metals produced in 2006 was up for all commodities except zinc. The industry posted its first-ever $2 billion-plus year of production.
Not only were the minerals worth more, but investment in mining and development, as well as the number of people employed in mining, also increased in 2006, according to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
"Mining has become a significant contributor to our economy," Tom Irwin, commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, said in a statement. "Rural Alaskans in particular stand to benefit tremendously from the potential economic input to their regions."
The Red Dog Mine near Kotzebue is the world's largest zinc producer. According to a state report, it accounted for more than 60 percent of the total value of Alaska's mineral industry in 2006. The mine produced 614,538 tons of zinc and 136,135 tons of lead in 2006.
Mining companies were the largest taxpayers both in the city and borough of Juneau, and in the Fairbanks North Star, Denali and Northwest Arctic boroughs.
Last year, mining generated about 3,523 jobs in Alaska, about 700 more than in 2005. Most of the increase in jobs came from gold mining, exploration and development. With the Pogo Mine beginning full commercial production this year, the number of jobs was expected to increase significantly in the lode gold production sector.