ESTIMATE: Amount of precious metal could be up to 10 million ounces.
FAIRBANKS -- A gold discovery north of Fairbanks is among the largest worldwide in 10 years, said a mining exploration company.
International Tower Hill Mines Ltd. updated its reserves estimate on land about 70 miles north of Fairbanks.
The new estimate puts the size of the Livengood deposit at 5 million ounces of gold, but company president Jeffrey Pontius says that additional exploring could push the figure to 10 million ounces.
"We have found a really exceptional concentration of gold that Mother Nature put out there," he said. "That's a tremendous thing."
If the estimates turn out to be accurate, the gold deposit, on both state and federal land, would be larger than at least two operating Alaska mines, Pogo near Delta Junction and the Fort Knox mine near Fairbanks.
But it is dwarfed by several other exploration projects that are further along. The Donlin Creek prospect near Bethel contains nearly 30 million ounces of gold. The Pebble project, also in Southwest Alaska, contains an estimated 90 million ounces of gold. Those two prospects are in roadless areas and potentially much more difficult and costly to develop.
It will take additional exploration to learn how much of the gold at Livengood could be economically recovered and to determine the recovery method, company officials said.Drilling will begin again in February, the company said. Economic estimates to determine how to mine the gold could be ready by July, Pontius said.
Pontius says the mine could be operating within five to six years.