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Pebble Partnership copper gold molybdenum mine project Alaska Northern Dynasty NAK NDM

By Patricia Liles
Mining News Editor 

Activity kicks up another notch at Pebble

Major claim stakers take to the ground, exploration programs start, Northern Dynasty bumps 2004 spending to $20 million

 

Last updated 5/9/2004 at Noon



The land has been staked - now the major players have taken to the ground to complete geological and geophysical work surrounding the Pebble gold-copper-molybdenum resource near Iliamna, Alaska.

Leading the way in terms of spending is Northern Dynasty, which is earning a 100 percent interest in the Pebble resource lands claim block - a 1,440 acre parcel that contains the estimated 26 million ounce gold resource and the 16.5 billion pound copper resource. Northern Dynasty, which conducted extensive drilling at Pebble in 2002 and in 2003, is also earning up to a 50 percent interest from Teck Cominco in the surrounding 72,600 acres of exploration lands.

Past exploration work by Teck Cominco identified a mineral-rich, 89 square kilometer induced potential anomaly, measuring 21 kilometers in length and up to nine kilometers in width, according to a Northern Dynasty press release.

That past work, combined with recent exploration by Northern Dynasty, has sparked a claim staking rush in the area. Geologists believe that Pebble is only one resource in a much larger porphyry system. Subsequently, more than 500 square miles of land has been staked neighboring Pebble in the last six months.

"It's cheek to jowl with lots of other folks - quite a rush area," said James Briscoe, president of Liberty Star Gold Corp., which holds the largest claim block in the Pebble area. "We think we have the position that makes the most logical sense." Pebble is about 17 miles northwest of Iliamna, on the north side of Iliamna Lake in southwest Alaska.

"We welcome all the new neighbors and we're sure we could share some infrastructure," said Bruce Jenkins, director of corporate affairs at Northern Dynasty. "We don't view it as competition. There's plenty for everyone."

2004 spending jumps to $20 million

Northern Dynasty plans to spend a minimum of $20 million on Pebble this year, up from earlier estimates of $15 million, Jenkins said in a telephone interview on April 30.

The increased budget is "mostly related to additional drilling, to delineate a pit and get a measured and indicated resource," he said. "We also have planned some additional geotechnical drilling." Total drilling footage scheduled for this year is 40,000 to 50,000 feet, he said. Closer-spaced drill holes are designed to move the Pebble mineralization estimate to a more defined category from its current inferred resource calculation.

Drill crews are already on site, completing some trenching. Some aquatic surveys have also started, Jenkins said. Camp and office facilities set up at the Iliamna airport will accommodate exploration, engineering and environmental consulting crews filtering in and out of the property this summer. Drill crews will stay in a temporary camp being set up at the project site.

Jenkins expects Northern Dynasty's summer workforce at Pebble will range from 30 to 50 people, he said. All are working towards a common goal - to gather enough information for a bankable feasibility study, scheduled for completion in May 2005, Jenkins said. Official permit applications to begin development will also be filed with state and federal regulators in early 2005, he added.

Environmental, engineering work begins

Northern Dynasty plans to spend a "major portion" of this year's budget on environmental consultants gathering baseline data needed for permit applications. Roughly $6 million to $7 million of the company's $20 million budget will go to environmental consultants, said Jenkins, who was in Anchorage on April 30, meeting with 44 representatives of those consultants.

Primary environmental consultants include CH2M Hill, ABR, Three Perimeters, HDR Alaska, RDI and Bristol Environmental & Engineering Services Corp.

Northern Dynasty has also initiated contact with regulatory agencies that will oversee development at Pebble.

"The environmental permitting officially kicked off March 17 and we're officially engaged with DNR, EPA and the Corps," Jenkins said. "It was an informational meeting to plan our official, formal application for next year."

Knight Piesold has also been retained as the company's primary engineering consultant, he said.

Northern Dynasty, which is a Hunter Dickinson-managed company, has also opened an office in Anchorage, in the midtown Calais Building. Employees will move in during early May. "We physically need to be there sometime next week, and it will be officially open before the end of the month," Jenkins said, also on April 30. Initially four to five workers will work out of the Anchorage office, he said. It could go up to six or eight.

AES and Full Metal hit the ground

Anchorage-based Alaska Earth Sciences is already working this month in the Pebble area, on a portion of the 115.5 square mile claim block that its sister company staked last December and optioned to Full Metal Minerals.

"We're getting ready to fire up a geophysical program," Bill Ellis, part owner of AES, said on April 29. A crew of five traveled to Iliamna and began work the first week of May on a small induced potential program, conducting the ground geophysical work on about 10 kilometers of ground.

"It's really reconnaissance work, wide spaced lines," Ellis said. "We'll get some rough background in an area that's totally covered by glacial moraine. It's within the magnetic anomaly (previously outlined), so we'll see if any sulfides are associated with it."

Ellis and his partners in Alaska Earth Resources Inc., staked an initial 28 square miles neighboring Pebble last December, then went back in early 2004 to stake more ground.

The land package was optioned to a new Vancouver, B.C.-based junior, Full Metal, which is in the process of being listed for public trading. The induced potential work this month should be completed in a week to 10 days, Ellis said. Then crews will pull out, wait for spring breakup, and return for additional ground geophysical work beginning in June.

Liberty Star completes airborne program

In addition to staking the largest-ever one-time acquisition of state mining claims, Liberty Star has completed its large airborne geophysical mapping program.

"We're still essentially massaging the data. The flying is complete and everything is in the computer," said Briscoe, on April 29. "It looks very, very good."

Crews spent much of March and part of April completing the airborne geophysical surveys on a 1,402 square mile block of land in the Pebble area. Briscoe's company plans to dispatch crews to the area in mid to late May, to begin the follow-up ground work, taking geochemical samples and looking for any exposed rock. Up to 15 people will work on the project during the four month summer season, he said.

His crew will stay in Iliamna, and helicopter out to the claim site each day. "It's close enough that it doesn't justify the expense of a permanent field camp." Fairbanks-based Avalon Development will work as the company's geological consulting firm, he said. Liberty Star Vice President Phil St. George, a long-time geologist in Alaska credited with discovering Pebble in 1987, will also be on site.

"Everyone is working the same old properties," St. George said. "It's bold to go look in some new spot that hasn't been hammered." Liberty Star's $3 million budget for its Pebble area project, called the Big Chunk, will include drilling later in the summer.

 

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