Across the global mining industry there is a sense of optimism that things are changing for the better including Alaska, where an uptick in exploration seems to be on the horizon.
Exploration was one of the areas hit the hardest by mining’s slowdown and Alaska was one of the regions hit the hardest by the drop in exploration. The Alaska News-Dispatch reported that while global spending on exploration fell off by 50 percent between 2012 and 2015, in Alaska exploration spending dropped by 83 percent. The numbers come from the Alaska Miners Association compiled from the state's Department of Natural Resources and market intelligence firm SNL Metals & Mining.
But there are signs of a recovery.
State mining applications dropped from a total of 779 in 2013 to 434 last year, application data from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources show. That's for hardrock exploration, placer mining and suction dredging. This year, as of May 2, there were already a total of 342 mining applications.
In addition to the applications, there are a number of companies heading up new exploration efforts all around the state. Canadian company Quaterra Resources Inc., said that it will invest in copper exploration 200 miles southwest of Anchorage. Another Canadian firm, Graphite One Resources, is looking at developing a graphite mine near Nome. White Rock Minerals, based in Australia, plans to conduct field work this summer at a mineral deposit just south of Fairbanks.
In Willow, just north of Anchorage, residents are preparing for the restart of the Lucky Shot Mine in Hatcher Pass. Alaska Gold Torrent LLC wants to reopen that mine next year.
When commodity prices drop, companies tend to focus their spending on maintaining current operations in places where they already have infrastructure, said Deantha Crockett, executive director of the Alaska Miners Association. Isolated Alaska feels the squeeze even harder, she said, because during tougher times, companies don't want to spend money exploring such remote areas.
Some jobs in Alaska's mining industry also took a hit. In 2012, the state's mining industry provided more than 4,800 direct mining jobs in more than 120 communities, with about $275 million spent on exploration, according to an annual report from the Alaska Miners Association. In 2016, those numbers dropped to 4,350 jobs in more than 50 communities, with only $65 million in exploration spending.
Prices for some base metals have since improved or stabilized. A turnaround in the second half of 2016 "was driven by Chinese stimulus initiatives and significant trading activity, together with expectations for increased infrastructure spending in the U.S. following the presidential elections," according to another Moody's report from April. That same report expects prices to fall in the second half of this year, "though not to the low levels of early 2016."