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

By Shane Lasley
Mining News 

2010 Mining Explorers: Beyond the colossal Pebble deposit

Partners drill intriguing prospects on property, pick up regional targets

 

Last updated 10/31/2010 at Noon



As the Pebble Limited Partnership approaches the completion of an extensive feasibility study for the Pebble Project, it is investigating the Southwest Alaska property beyond the bounds of the 80.6 billion pounds of copper, 107.4 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum known to exist in the massive deposit.

"Until the latter part of last year, we hadn't drilled a hole outside the Pebble deposit proper - other than geotechnical or engineering drill holes, which are looking at overburden characteristics - since 2002," Pebble Partnership Chief Geologist Jim Lang told Mining News.

To gather the final pieces of data needed to complete a feasibility study and ready the enormous copper-gold-molybdenum project for permitting, the Pebble Partnership - a 50-50 joint venture between Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. and Anglo American plc - budgeted US$72.9 million for environmental and engineering studies, and exploration in 2010.

In addition to exploring its own claims, the Pebble Partnership took an early look at some other land-packages in the region.

Beyond the deposit

While one rig completed engineering and geotechnical drilling, a second drill explored other intriguing prospects beyond the massive copper-gold-molybdenum reserve at Pebble.

"This year we are drilling outside of the deposit. We are exploring other geochemical and geophysical anomalies on the property in order to see if we overlooked anything; other zones of mineralization," Lang explained. "As part of the feasibility process you also have to go out and drill all those areas where you are going to put any infrastructure, to make sure you are not building your processing plant on top of the deposit."

Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively told Mining News during a Sept. 28 interview that the company completed some 50,000 feet, or 15,250 meters of geological drilling at Pebble.

"It is part of our interest in understanding the geology of the area," he explained. "We are doing additional geotechnical drilling on top of that."

If the geotechnical drilling successfully misses mineralization, this information will assist engineers in determining where to position the mill and other facilities needed to process the ore that would be excavated from the deposit if the project reaches production.

Information gained from this year's drill program will be incorporated into the feasibility study and mine-plan for Pebble.

Time and money

The Pebble Partnership, which has pushed back the proposed date for completing the feasibility study and entering the permitting process, has adopted the axiom "it takes time to do things right."

The adage, it takes money to do things right, also could be applied to permitting the world-class copper deposit. The partners will have spent more than half a billion dollars on the feasibility study before it is complete.

"By the time we apply for development permits next year, some US$500 million will have been invested to ensure we have designed the best possible project from a technical, financial, environmental and socioeconomic perspective. We fully expect the quality of that work to be reflected in the outcome and efficiency of the permitting process," Thiessen said.

While engineers hammer out the final details of the feasibility study, environmental consultants are finishing the compilation of the comprehensive baseline information collected at Pebble.

"There are two key documents that stakeholders should anticipate for review in advance of permitting," Shively said. "First is the environmental baseline document that will compile data and analysis from all of the environmental studies undertaken (during) the past five years. Second is (the Pebble Partnership's) preliminary development plan. Both are essential for advancing the project into permitting. When the preliminary development plan is in place, we will share it with regional stakeholders in advance of filing for permits."

The baseline document is expected around the beginning of 2011, but the Pebble Partnership is reluctant to put a date on the completion of the feasibility study.

"We are still working on trying to get a feasibility study that works both environmentally and economically. It is a complicated project and I'm not going to set definite time-frames," Shively said.

Regional exploration

As Pebble wends its way toward feasibility, neighboring prospects are getting attention in 2010.

In July, Northern Dynasty acquired about 13 percent of the Big Chunk and Bonanza Hills properties from cash-strapped Liberty Star Uranium & Metals Corp. The Vancouver B.C.-based junior paid C$1 million for the 60.7 square kilometers, or 23.4 square miles, of prospective property and also agreed to loan Liberty Star C$3 million to be secured by the remaining 87 percent of the smaller junior's land packages.

Big Chunk is a porphyry copper-gold prospect that lies adjacent to Pebble to the north and Bonanza Hills is a high-grade gold prospect located about 40 miles, or 64 kilometers, northeast of Big Chunk.

Northern Dynasty can earn a 60 percent interest in the outstanding 87 percent of the Big Chunk and Bonanza Hills projects by spending C$10 million on those properties over six years.

Though Northern Dynasty currently holds sole ownership of these claims north of the Pebble deposit, the Pebble Partnership signed an option agreement on Full Metal Minerals Ltd.'s Pebble South claims.

Full Metal believes Pebble-style mineralization trends its property which borders the Pebble claims to the south and west. Past geochemical and geophysical surveys have delineated 11 promising prospects at Pebble South. The Partnership conducted its own airborne geophysical survey of the property in 2010.

Kennecott Exploration Inc., another company with ties to Pebble, is conducting an exploration program at the Groundhog property about six miles, or 10 kilometers, northeast of Pebble. The Rio Tinto subsidiary has optioned the porphyry copper-gold prospect from Anchorage-based geological consulting firm Alaska Earth Sciences.

Kennecott Exploration Manager Russ Franklin said the company is targeting deep mineralization with its first-pass geophysical program at Groundhog.

Rio Tinto has nearly a 10 percent stake in Pebble through its 19.9 percent ownership in Northern Dynasty.

 

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