Just days after Northern Dynasty Minerals of Canada announced it had brought on a major partner, the company today says it has final paperwork ready to file for a major permit from the U.S. Army Corpos of Engineers for the Pebble Project in Western Alaska.
The permit application, expected Friday, Dec. 22, will initiate federal and state processes under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.
“At the outset of 2017, we established three ambitious corporate objectives for Northern Dynasty and the Pebble Project,” said Northern Dynasty President & CEO Ron Thiessen in a press release this morning. “We committed to reaching a resolution with the US Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to restore the Pebble Project to normal course permitting, to re-partnering on the Pebble Project and to initiating permitting under NEPA. As we approach the end of the year, I’m proud to report that we will hit our mark on all three important milestones.”
The company announced a settlement agreement with EPA in May, after the EPA had said it would not even allow a permit application to be filed. Under the Obama Administration, the EPA took extraordinary steps to pre-empt any movement toward the application process, and the agency was found to be colluding with environmental groups.
Pebble sued, and the evidence was overwhelming. In the settlement with the EPA, the agency agreed to withdraw its denial and allow Pebble to apply for a Clean Water Act 404 permit with the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Earlier this week, Northern Dynasty announced a a partnership with First Quantum Minerals Ltd. for a $150 million option that will provide for the right to buy a 50 percent interest in the Pebble Project and a further investment of $1.5 billion. Pebble has received an initial $37.5 million installment.
“We are very pleased to move the Pebble Project forward to the next important phase by initiating the NEPA permitting process this year, as we committed to do,” said Tom Collier, Pebble Partnership CEO, in today’s press release.
“The project design we’re taking into permitting includes a substantially reduced development footprint and meaningful new environmental safeguards that respond directly to the priorities and concerns we’ve heard from stakeholders in Alaska. Not only are we confident that Pebble as currently envisaged will secure development permits from federal, state and local regulatory agencies, we are confident it will co-exist with the world class fisheries of Bristol Bay and earn the support of the people of the region and the state.”
The Pebble Project is a copper-gold-molybdenum porphyry deposit located on state land in the Bristol Bay Region of southwest Alaska, approximately 17 miles northwest of the community of Iliamna. The land has been set aside for generations as state mining land.
The project sits over two two contiguous deposits. On the West is a near surface resource of approximately 4.1 billion metric tons. To the east East is a deeper deposit with an estimated 3.4 billion metric tons.
Under the development scenario the Pebble Partnership will submit for federal and state permitting on Dec. 22, 2017:
- The footprint of Pebble’s major mine facilities (pit, tailings storage facility) will be substantially smaller than previous planning iterations, at approximately 5.9 square miles;
- There will be no primary mine operations in the Upper Talarik watershed, minimizing the project’s environmental footprint and addressing stakeholder concerns related to potential impacts on local salmon productivity;
- The Tailing Storage Facility will incorporate a more conservative design, including enhanced buttresses, greater slope angles and an improved factor of safety;
- Potentially acid generating tailings will be separated from other tailings and stored in a lined TSF. All tailings storage will be consolidated in a single drainage-area (the North Fork Koktuli);
- The mine plan does not include permanent waste rock piles, significantly reducing risks associated with water quality;
- Cyanide will not be used in the mineral recovery process at Pebble. (While cyanide is used safely in Alaska and around the world to enhance gold recoveries, Pebble has taken a decision not to employ it in direct response to stakeholder concerns);
- A new ferry route across Iliamna Lake will be evaluated in order to minimize road construction, stream crossings, bridges and culverts, as well as the proposed mine’s impact on local wetlands; and
- The mine will be designed to withstand the greatest possible seismicity predicted by science.
The company is offering these anticipated benefits associated with the Pebble Project:
- During mine operations, estimated annual payments to the Lake & Peninsula Borough will be $19-21 million; estimated annual payments to the State of Alaska will be $49-66 million per year;
- Total direct and indirect jobs created for Alaskans during mine operations will be 1,500-2,000;
- The Pebble Partnership will advance a revenue sharing plan to enhance local and regional financial benefits associated with development of Pebble;
- The project will align with State of Alaska public priorities by facilitating the development of low-cost energy for rural communities;
- The Pebble Partnership will work with local commercial fishing interests on ways to help with non-Pebble related challenges associated with price and run variability, and the decline of local participation in the fishery; and
- The Pebble Partnership will advance a business development and mentoring initiative to ensure that Alaska Native village corporations are ready to compete for construction and operations-phase contracts.
The environmental groups opposing the Pebble Project say the project will harm salmon stocks. Save Bristol Bay sums up the opposition with this statement on its website: “Pebble mine threatens one of the world’s last great salmon fisheries in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Tribes, commercial fishermen, sportsmen and women, local businesses and many others across the country are working to protect these iconic and productive rivers and the people they support.”
The opposition to the project crosses political lines, and the project will likely be an issue in the upcoming gubernatorial race in 2018. Gov. Bill Walker, who has aligned with the Alaska Democratic Party, is opposed to the project. Potential gubernatorial candidate Bob Gillam, a Republican, is also opposed to it. Other leaders say they want to see the project’s specifics before they pass judgment.