Future Feature: A Silver (Fox) Lining
Formerly defunct mine now enriches UAF mining curriculum
(From left to right) Hunter Daniel, Isela Amezquita, Victoria Nelson, Peyton Presler, and Bayasgalan Enkhbayar survey the Silver Fox Mine as part of their mine surveying class.
Five years ago, students at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) College of Engineering and Mines performed a controlled blast at the University-owned Silver Fox Mine. It was the first blast conducted in more than twenty years, and the first since completion of a four-year, student-led rehabilitation project on a 300-foot portion of the mine.
“It was the first time the blasting was supposed to happen after the rehabilitation had taken place, and there was lots of anxiety about how the mine would react,” says Dr. Tathagata Ghosh, chair of the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering.
That worry proved to be misplaced. Orica Mining Services worked closely with UAF students to ensure adherence to industry standards for industrial blasts throughout the entire process, and engineers from nearby Pogo Mine offered additional support, Ghosh says. Students prepared risk assessments and safety plans, prepped the site, and filled the mine with explosives. Local news outlets, community members, industry supporters, and even local elementary students came out to watch the detonation.
“The blast went off with no untoward incident or anything, so we were really thankful,” Ghosh says. “It was a good experience for everybody.”
It also epitomized the type of real-world, hands-on learning experience that Silver Fox offers students.
Silver Fox Acquisition
Silver Fox sits off the Elliott Highway in Fox, twenty miles north of UAF. Comprised of seventeen mining claims and filled with pockets of high-grade silver ore, Turry Anderson staked his claims on the mine after World War II, according to the Rock Poker to Pay Dirt: The History of Alaska’s School of Mines and Its Successors by Leslie Noyes, Ernest N. Wolff, and Earl Hoover Beistline, published by the University of Alaska Foundation in 2002. Anderson used the mine as a supplemental source of income of sorts, extracting and selling silver when he needed extra cash. He worked closely with the university during that period—he taught a practical mining course at Silver Fox and let students practice drilling and blasting. In the 1970s Anderson donated the claims to UAF.
The acquisition filled a void created in the ‘50s when UAF shut down its adit after several groups of students conducted improper, non-sanctioned blasts in various portions of the 5-foot, square tunnel that runs hundreds of feet under the UAF campus. Until the adit’s closure, the school used it to provide practical training to mining students.
The usable portion of Silver Fox is small; Dr. Gang Chen, professor and former department chair, estimates it’s no longer than 300 yards measured from the mine’s entrance. The mine contains mostly silver, but the vein itself is “very, very tiny, so economically it was not worthwhile [for Anderson] to mine it,” he says.
Silver Fox receives minimal financial support from UAF; instead, it operates on a mix of lab fees, student-led fundraising, private donors, and donations of time and equipment from the mining industry, alumni, and the larger Fairbanks and Delta Junction communities.
“We have routinely received donated equipment from a lot of well-wishers around the state,” Ghosh says. “There are three big mines [Pogo, Fort Knox, and Usibelli] close to Fairbanks that regularly donate equipment.” Construction Machinery Industrial, Mining and Petroleum Training Services (MAPTS), and the Alaska Miners Association have all also regularly donated equipment, and Orica and other industry partners provide strict oversight on all student-run blasts, including the most recent in 2017 and a third planned for this fall.
Read more about Silver Fox mine and its influence on Alaska’s next generation of mining professionals in the upcoming November edition of Alaska Business.