Idaho business doing exploratory drilling for precious metals in eastern Idaho - East Idaho News
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Idaho business doing exploratory drilling for precious metals in eastern Idaho

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Employees with Excellon Idaho Gold Inc. doing exploratory drilling for precious minerals near Dubois. Watch our interview with the company’s senior project manager in the video above. | Excellon Idaho Gold

DUBOIS – A local company is searching for evidence of gold, silver and other precious minerals on a 17,000-acre site by Kilgore in Clark County in hopes of eventually building a mine.

Excellon Idaho Gold Inc., which is owned by Toronto-based Excellon Resources Inc., is the company leading the search.

Phil Bandy, its senior project manager, tells the company will be drilling into rocks 20 miles northeast of Dubois at Mine Ridge and Prospect Ridge over the next four or five months.

“It’s bored into the rocks and the core of rock that is produced on the inside of that is pulled to the surface. That core is then analyzed by the geologist to look at the rock type and any sort of structures it may have in it — faults or fractures,” Bandy says.

A portion of it will also be sent to a lab for analysis to determine what minerals are present.

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Getting to the point of actually opening a mine is a lengthy process.

This four-month-long exploratory drilling will take place annually over the next three to five years to help researchers identify the precise location of the mineral and how far down it is.

Much of the land in this area is owned by the U.S. Forest Service, and an environmental impact assessment would have to be completed before mining could begin. Public input is required, and it typically takes up to five years.

Bandy says mining operations could begin in the next decade if it’s deemed “economically feasible.”

“The possibility of actually turning a shovel of dirt to build a mine is 10 years out,” Bandy says.

RELATED | Is a gold mine coming to eastern Idaho? Forest Service evaluating local project

The electronics industry uses gold to manufacture different products and Bandy says any gold that’s found at this location would be sold for that purpose.

People in Clark County would benefit as well.

“If this project were to move forward and a mine was developed, there’s a lot of opportunity … for people moving in and purchasing goods and services. People with the expertise and knowledge could be hired on (to help with engineering and administrative tasks),” Bandy says.

A 2.5-inch diameter rock core retrieved from the ground by a core barrel on a drill rig. | Excellon Idaho Gold Inc.

Mining history and addressing concerns

The Kilgore site is one of two exploratory drilling projects in Idaho. A similar project is happening near Oakley north of the Idaho-Utah border. Excellon also has an exploratory drilling project in Germany and owns a silver mine in Mexico.

Excellon acquired the Kilgore drilling project in 2020 upon discovery of a long history of gold prospecting in the area dating back to the 1800s.

“It’s been a known mineralized zone since the late 1930s … and there are places where we’ve actually seen gold in the stream beds,” Bandy explains. “There’ve been multiple exploration activities out there since the early 20th century. Most of it was focused on collecting soil samples and there’s been a number of activities with geophysical survey work.”

The project had some setbacks early on when several conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service in 2018 over concerns about its potentially damaging impact to wildlife and the environment.

Most of the complaints were dismissed, but a judge ruled in 2020 that the project’s impact on groundwater and cutthroat trout in a specific area needed further analysis.

Over the last two years, Bandy says the Forest Service determined the drilling would have “no significant impact” on wildlife or the habitat.

RELATED | Groups file new lawsuit to stop Idaho gold mine drilling

As the project was getting underway in July, Excellon learned the Idaho Conservation League and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition submitted another complaint asking the court to stop the drilling project.

“If Excellon determines the deposit contains enough gold to make mining profitable in this area, the company has indicated their desire to develop an open-pit, cyanide heap-leach gold mine. This form of mining has been outlawed in neighboring Montana since 1998 for the significant threat it poses to human health,” the ICL wrote in March. “This second round of litigation is a necessary step to ensure that the Kilgore area’s water, wildlife, and rural character are protected.”

The case is ongoing and Bandy and his team are anticipating a final decision next spring. Meanwhile, the company is proceeding with exploratory drilling.

Excellon RockCore
Rock core retrieved from the drill press that is now being analyzed. | Excellon Idaho Gold

Mining today is much different than the gold-panning and dangerous mine-shafting seen in movies. In the last 30 years, Bandy says miners have started focusing on calderas or hot spots where gold has been disseminated in microscopic fragments into rocks.

Eastern Idaho has an abundance of hydrothermal areas that Bandy says make it an ideal spot for mining.

“The Kilgore area is on the rim of an old caldera. It’s associated with the Yellowstone hot spot … which (once) generated a lot of fluids with precious metals in it. As it moved, the fluids cooled and left the gold behind,” he says.

The development of infrastructure and technology is dependent upon minerals that have to be mined, Bandy says, and exploring the U.S. for precious minerals is critical in today’s political climate.

“For some of these minerals, we’re dependent on Russia, China and other countries that we don’t have a good relationship with at this point. The concern is that they may cut us off from some of these minerals,” says Bandy. “To know where (domestic) resources are and to know how and when we may be able to access them is very important.”