By Shane Lasley
Mining News 

Pebble team focuses on engineering

Developers budget $59 million toward completing environmental and engineering work needed to begin permitting


Last updated 3/29/2009 at Noon

The Pebble Partnership, a 50-50 venture between Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. and Anglo American plc, has budgeted US$59 million for starters toward completing a pre-feasibility study for the enormous copper-gold-molybdenum project in Southwest Alaska.

The partnership anticipates additional funds will be needed in 2009 but has opted to wait until engineering work advances before creating a budget for any additional funds that may be needed. Early indications are that the 2009 budget will top out at around US$70 million.

While $70 million is a robust program, it is only about half of what the partnership spent in 2008.

Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole told Mining News that the reduced budget is due primarily to the scope of work needed at the project this year. While the 2008 program involved much more of the expensive field work needed to gather data for the engineers, in 2009 much of the scope of the work will be compiling that data for the prefeasibility study.

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"The level of investment we're seeing for Pebble this year, in a period of global economic downturn, demonstrates the commitment of the Pebble Partnership to move this project forward in a timely way," Pebble CEO John Shively said. "Our work scope for the year really reflects the project's evolution from exploration to engineering and project permitting."

The pre-feasibility study, once completed, will outline the size and scope of a potential mine at Pebble and will be the basis for permitting the project.

Minimal drilling in '09

One reason the 2009 budget shrank from last year's amount is a reduction in planned drilling during the upcoming season. Heatwole said the resource drilling program will be minimal with only a few holes being drilled in the deposit this year.

As engineers develop a mine plan, drills will be moved into areas of potential development to collect geotechnical data needed to complete development plans.

Heatwole said the current phase of engineering work will determine where many of these geotechnical holes will need to be drilled.

Building an environmental baseline document

The primary focus of the environmental program for the project will be on drafting an environmental baseline document, which will be the basis of permitting for the project.

An extensive amount of environmental data was collected in 2008. Environmental consultants are pouring over data, and once it is analyzed, it will be included in the baseline document. Heatwole said work on the baseline document is expected to continue into 2010.

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The company will continue data collection on hydrology, water quality and listed species in Cook Inlet.

Training a local work force

The Pebble Partnership is training many of its former drill hands to help with environmental monitoring in an effort to keep its commitment to local hire. Heatwole said the company is engaging in a more robust local hire program, and employing drill helpers in other capacities as the project moves from exploration to feasibility studies.

The partners have been working with the State of Alaska and the University of Alaska to sponsor individuals who live near Pebble to participate in a core driller training program.

Heatwole said Pebble Partnership has selected eight candidates to participate in the program.

The developer also plans to expand its scholarship program to help ensure availability of a qualified work force to meet long term needs of the project.

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Publisher

Over his more than 11 years of covering mining and mineral exploration, Shane has become renowned for his ability to report on the sector in a way that is technically sound enough to inform industry insiders while being easy to understand by a wider audience.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: (907) 726-1095


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