Spokane Journal of Business

Future looks shiny for Silver Valley mining industry

Production of silver, rare earth elements said vital to economy

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Mining companies active in North Idaho’s Silver Valley are optimistic about 2022 and beyond.

Mike Satre, Coeur d’Alene-based Hecla’s Mining Co.’s director of governmental affairs, says the company expects to see steady production of silver, gold, lead, and zinc for the coming year. For example, Hecla’s Lucky Friday Mine, near Mullan, Idaho, is fully operational with 360 employees, and Hecla’s Green Creek mine in Alaska also is a “world-class deposit.”

The company’s total sales of $193.6 million for the 2021 third quarter ended Sept. 30 were consistent with the year-earlier quarter, according to its latest earnings report.

Hecla reported a net loss of $1.1 million, or 0.2 cents per share, compared with net income of $15.2 million, or 2.9 cents per share, for the year-earlier quarter. The company attributed the lower results in part to lower realized silver and gold prices, increased exploration, and predevelopment expenses.

Gold and silver prices fluctuated throughout the year but remain above pre-pandemic and historic levels. The market price for gold as of Dec. 3 was $1,774 per troy ounce, which was 3% lower than the year-earlier price of $1,835. The high so far this year was $1,957 on Jan. 6, and the low was $1,865 on March 31.

The market price for silver was $22.35 per ounce on Dec. 3, down from $24.17 a year earlier. The high so far this year was $29.59 on Feb. 1, and the low was $21.53 on Sept. 30.

Satre says Hecla’s future looks bright.

Hecla produces over 40% of the U.S. supply of silver. “Silver is absolutely critical for new economy,” he says.

At the Bunker Hill Mine site near Kellogg, Bunker Hill Mining Corp., a Canadian company, is looking to restart the historic mine that has been closed for some 40 years and has been designated a Superfund site since 1983.

According to a November press release, the company hopes to make a construction decision in the first quarter of 2022.

The company’s latest preliminary economic assessment, which was released in September, estimates a $44 million capital cost to restart the mine over an 18-month period, “generating approximately $25 million of annual average free cash flow over an extended 11-year life.”

During that time, the mine will produce nearly 8 million ounces of silver and 1 billion pounds of other metals, including zinc and lead, the assessment says.

Coeur d’Alene-based New Jersey Mining Co., which has gold mining operations near Murray Idaho, recently began exploring the potential for extracting rare earth elements, which are a group of metals used to make a range of products, including cell phones, magnets, and batteries.

In a recent report of the company’s operational results and activities, John Swallow, the company’s president and CEO, asserts, “We feel very good about our gold and rare earth element positioning.”

New Jersey Mining reported third-quarter net sales of $2.1 million, up from $1.6 million in the year-earlier quarter. However, the company reported a third-quarter net loss of $237,800, compared with a net loss of $7,300 in the year-earlier quarter, which the company attributes to costs of increased drilling and other exploration activity.

—Mike McLean

Mike McLean
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Deputy Editor Mike McLean has worked his entire journalism career in the Inland Northwest. Mike, who also lives to reel in fish and crank up music, has worked for the Journal since 2006.

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