Mining exploration increases throughout Silver State

CARSON CITY — Higher gold prices and favorable geology are fueling an increase in mining exploration across Nevada, one of the world’s largest gold producers, according to a new state survey.

The latest Nevada Division of Minerals survey says exploration spending hit $164.9 million in mineral-rich Nevada in 2006 — up 36 percent from the previous year. For the rest of the United States, the 2006 total was $35.6 million, more than double the previous year’s total.

Nevada accounts for just over a fourth of all exploration spending throughout the world, according to the survey based on responses from 28 mining companies.

Worldwide, exploration spending this year should hit nearly $700 million. Last year, it was about $615 million, up 10.5 percent from the previous year, according to the division report.

The report says for all respondents, the existence of favorable geology is the biggest factor influencing their activity, followed by prices. The gold price improved from an average of $444 per troy ounce in 2005 to $603 in 2006. Current trading is in the $670-per-ounce range.

Also mentioned in the report is an increase in the number of geologists employed in Nevada, from 190 in 2005 to 228 last year. The projected figure this year is 236.

Most of the respondents with Nevada production were able to replace their reserves lost to production, and 60 percent reported they’re optimistic about domestic exploration.

The mining exploration survey follows a recent report from the division that showed mineral income soared last year in Nevada to a record $5.1 billion, an increase of $1.4 billion over the previous year, with gold production at 6.3 million ounces.

Nevada continues to be the nation’s top gold producer, producing 78 percent of the total amount mined in the country. The state produces 12 percent of the world’s gold.

The state also produced 127.5 million pounds of copper worth $389 million last year at an average of $3.05 a pound.

Silver production dropped 1.5 million ounces to 8.45 million ounces. The total value of the silver produced was up from $73 million in 2005 to $98 million. The average price of silver in 2006 was $11.54 an ounce.

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