Gold mining company targets Koochiching County

AngloGold Ashanti Minnesota has notified the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources that it is starting basic surface exploration across 33 state mineral-lease sites in Koochiching County.

The exploration will occur in far southeastern Koochiching County, about 20 miles west of Cook.

The company — which has leased rights to the minerals from the state — will operate mostly on lands where the state owns the mineral and surface rights, such as state forests, and will conduct geological mapping, including examining bedrock outcrops, collecting samples and conducting geophysical surveys.

AngloGold’s exploration plan is limited to basic tools such as a hammer and chisel, hand shovels, hand augers or portable hand-held power tools such as a posthole digger to collect samples. The company also plans to use sensors to collect magnetic data.

Some of the state-owned mineral-rights areas the company has leased the rights for are under private and county property where the company must first get permission to access the land.

AngloGold Ashanti is based in Johannesburg and has a North American office in Centennial, Colo. It is the third-largest gold mining company in the world with 17 operating mines in nine countries, according to the company’s website. The company also has several exploration programs in both established and new gold-producing areas.

Minnesota’s Executive Council approved leasing mineral rights under 11,628 acres in Koochiching County to AngloGold Ashanti in March. In exchange for small annual lease payments, the winning bidder for each tract gets exclusive rights to explore on the land for up to 50 years, as long as they keep paying and keep looking. If mining ever occurs, the companies must also pay royalty fees to the state.

There has never been an economically successful gold mine in Minnesota. But interest in possible gold mining in the state has warmed up in recent years. The DNR over the past year has released two reports on high numbers of tiny gold grains found on the ground in areas near Tower, sometimes an indication of far more gold below ground. Meanwhile Minnesota-based Vermilion Gold is drilling test holes to pinpoint gold deposits just outside Virginia.

In Ontario, just 40 miles north of the Minnesota border, the New Gold company is digging an all-new gold mine that is expected to be operational in 2017.