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Logo bar of the Alaska Public Lands Information Center which are located in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Tok and Ketchikan
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Minerals in Alaska
 
A photograph of a large gold nugget being held between the hands of an individual… The nugget probably weighs over 30 ounces.
NPS PHOTO
A large gold nugget from the Klondike gold rush.

Alaska's public lands are abundant in mineral resources from Au (gold) to Zn (zinc). It was gold that first focused world attention on Alaska. After the California gold rush in 1848, prospectors began working north along the Rocky Mountains, eventually reaching Alaska. They found gold near Sitka in 1872 and at the present site of Juneau in 1880 – sixteen years before the famous Klondike strike!  The rush was on. From Juneau they spread out into Interior Alaska, making discoveries in the Fortymile County (1886), in the White Mountains near Fairbanks (1893), in the Canadian Klondike (1896), in Nome (1898), and in Iditarod (1908). Gold mining is still important in Alaska. To date, more than 32 million ounces of it have been mined. At today’s prices, that much gold would have been worth $12.5 billion, making it Alaska’s most valuable non-energy commodity, according to statistics compiled by the State of Alaska.

Check out our classic film Frozen Gold and see what gold mining was like in Fairbanks in 1949.

Platinum added a special luster. Discovery in 1926 on the Seward Peninsula, the platinum at Goodnews Bay is today the largest domestic source of this metal, used in electronics, dentistry, and in corrosion-resisting alloys.



chalcocite mineral
usgs
Chalcocite is a common copper ore.

Copper helped support Alaska between World Wars I and II. Prospectors found a high grade deposit near McCarthy in 1900. Production began at the famous Kennecott Mine in 1911 and ended in 1938. Much of it was used for World War I. At today's prices the 625 million tons Kennecott produced would be worth $1.51 billion, making it Alaska's third most valuable non-energy commodity.

The state's second most valuable non energy commodity is—surprise!—sand and gravel. More than a billion tons have been mined, worth $2.1 billion at today's prices.

Because oil propelled Alaska into today's world politics, it's startling to think that the first commercial oil discovery in Alaska was made way back in 1902 at Katalla, near Cordova. This field produced 154,000 barrels before a fire shut it down in 1933. After that, little exploration was done until World War II, when the U.S. Government launched exploration in the Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4 (now the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska). They found oil, but not in commercial quantities for such a remote location.



sphalerite a crystalline mineral
usgs
A hand-sized specimen of sphalerite, a common mineral used in the production of zinc ore.

Alaska Mineral Facts:

  • Alaska's non-fuel mineral production in 1990 was worth approximately $534 million.
  • Zinc was the most valuable non-fuel mineral produced in Alaska in 1990, gold was second most valuable, and silver third.
  • In 1990 Alaska ranked first among the 50 states in zinc production, second in lead production, third in silver production and seventh in gold production.
  • Alaska produced 181,200 tons of zinc, 231,000 ounces of gold, and 10 million ounces of silver in 1990.
  • Most of the gold produced in Alaska (83%) comes from placer deposits—gold found in gravel deposits along rivers.
  • Greens Creek Mine near Juneau is the largest producing silver mine in the nation and the largest gold mine in the state. Seventy percent of the silver mined in Alaska comes from this one mine.
  • The Red dog Mine southwest of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska may be the world's largest producer of zinc in 1991.
  • The North Slope of Alaska provides approximately 25 percent of the oil produced in the United States.
  • Alaska ranks second among the states in oil production with 680 million barrels of oil a year from both on shore and off shore production. Texas is first, with 790 million barrels.

 



Oil Shale burning example in 1919
doe
Early American oil development (1919) realized that a piece of oil shale could be lit on fire with the match...


Then in 1957 the Swanson River field on the Kenai Peninsula was discovered. This field is still producing close to two million barrels a year.

This find spurred further exploration, culminating with the discovery of North America's largest oil field: Prudhoe Bay.

It provided Alaska's biggest boom. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline was built to carry Prudhoe Bay's oil, and 1.8 million barrels a day travel through the 800-mile pipeline to Valdez.

This year the oil, gas and condensate produced in Alaska was worth more than $12.1 billion, according to the Alaska Department of Revenue. This is approximately 23 times greater than the total combined value of all other minerals produced in Alaska for the year. USGS Geologic Science of Alaska
Visit the USUS Geologic Science of Alaska website at http://alaska.usgs.gov/science/geology/index.php for more information on Alaska's mineral resources, energy, and geologic hazards or search our statistics page to find economic trends in Alaska's mineral industry by year.


Alaska oil pipeline
nps/alaskacenters.gov
The Alaska pipeline runs above the ground among black spruce.
 Did you know that:
  • The National Petroleum Reserve Alaska (NPRA) is about as big as Indiana and may contain up to 40 percent of all U.S. coal resources. The Southern part of NPR-A may contain large deposits of lead, zinc, silver and strategic and critical minerals, but it is closed by law to mineral development.
  • Despite its enormous coal reserves, Alaska has only one active mine, the Usibelli Mine at Healy. Half of its production is used to generate power in Interior Alaska, and the other half is exported to Korea.
  • The Umiat Oilfield in eastern NPR-A would be considered a giant oilfield in the Lower 48 states, but because of high production costs on the remote North Slope, it is currently uneconomic to develop.
  • In 1989 it cost $56 a foot to drill an oil well on shore in the Lower 48 states – in Alaska it cost $275 a foot, according to the American Petroleum Institute.
  • To date there has been no commercial oil production from the Outer Continental Shelf off the coast of Alaska in federal waters.
  • Eighty-five percent of Alaska’s state government revenue comes from oil production.
  • Approximately 98 percent of the state’s oil comes from the North slope of Alaska. The other two percent comes from the Kenai Peninsula/Cook Inlet region.
  • Ever-improving exploration and development technology, coupled with stringent environmental regulation, inspection and enforcement, have made it possible for mineral development to occur with virtually no long-term damage to the environment...

 



If you are an educator make sure to check out our Statewide Education Kits page for information on how to access the Stampeder Kit, Minerals Kit, and many other kits for use in your classroom!





Hundreds of gold flakes in a green pan.
Gold Fever
Find out more information on gold mining or panning in Alaska!
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Alaska Public Lands Map
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A map of Alaska showing public lands including National Parks, wildlife refuges, state parks and National Forests in various pastel colors. Did You Know?
The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 set aside 79.53 million acres for National Forests, Parks, and Wildlife Refuges.