When a mining company contributes to the welfare of an area, it makes the work all the more satisfying. SMM Pogo Mine LLC has felt this satisfaction as it has produced gold from the property of its namesake, located in Delta Junction, Alaska.
The Pogo gold mine project marked the first overseas mine initiative for SMM’s parent company, Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. Ltd., based in Tokyo. Exploration began at the mine in 1990, and Sumitomo purchased its share in the property years later.
Today, SMM Pogo Mine General Manager Chris Kennedy says the mine operates with the goal of producing 1,000 ounces of gold daily. “Last year, we produced 337,000 ounces,” he says. It is continuing to operate fairly steady.
SMM’s exploration drilling has had a positive impact on the Pogo mine, Kennedy adds. Although the company originally expected it would have another three years for production, “We have progressed enough to take it to 2019,” he says. The exploration group was able to find several extensions to the current ore body there by adding to the life of mine.
At the Pogo mine, work is not always easy, Kennedy admits. But SMM has managed to stay on track thanks to its skilled employees.
“We’ve got a fairly steady team here,” he explains.
“Our main rule of thumb is to hire locally,” he says, explaining that the company first tries to source workers from the Delta Junction and Fairbanks, Alaska, areas. After that, it tries to hire from the rest of the state.
If it has no luck within the state, “[We look] outside of Alaska,” he says. “Those are the priorities.”
But SMM has had no trouble finding applicants. When the company has made it known that it is looking for a level-five miner, “You get applications from all over the place,” Kennedy says. “There are [a lot of] experienced people out there.”
SMM has not only supported the local economy with its work on the Pogo Mine, but it also has donated to local sports and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “Three years ago, we donated $1 million to [their] mining/engineering program,” he says.
Safety and environment
SMM’s goal is to achieve its production target, but not while compromising the safety of the environment, Kennedy asserts. He notes that the company is particularly focused on protecting a river located at the bottom of a canyon adjacent to the mine. “Our main goal is to protect that river in whatever means possible, whether it’s preventing spills or making sure our water quality meets the standards,” Kennedy says.
So far, SMM has stayed in alignment with all environmental regulations. “We watch what we do and we consider the environment a very important part of our success,” he says. “[If we didn’t], we might as well shut the doors and go home.”
SMM also focuses on keeping its people safe through constant communication about the possible hazards, Kennedy says. “We’re trying to key in on safety behaviors and to get employees to think about what they’re doing, how they’re doing it and how it can hurt them,” he says.
“You can give a human being all the safety protection he can wear, but if he doesn’t wear it, that’s a behavioral thing,” he says. “[We have to get] people to understand that they’re part of their own safety and that we are all in this together.”
SMM plans to continue its current three-year plan where it mines 930,000 tons of ore and produces 343,000 ounces of gold each year. “Those are the two main production [goals],” he says, predicting longevity for the mine, however, it must be done safely as not one ounce of gold is worth anyone’s life.
“Our exploration team is doing such a phenomenal job drilling and exploring,” he says. “Pogo is going to be here for a long time.”