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

By Shane Lasley
Mining News 

Pebble reaches milestone along long path

Partnership says DEIS affirms plan for sustainable copper mine

 

Last updated 3/1/2019 at 4:56am

Pebble copper gold molybdenum silver rhenium tungsten project permitting

Pebble Limited Partnership

With the publication of the draft environment impact statement, the Pebble Partnership achieves a major milestone along the path to permitting a mine at the world-class Pebble copper-gold-molybdenum project in Southwest Alaska.

Pebble Limited Partnership has taken another step toward gaining the permits needed to develop a mine at its large copper-gold-molybdenum project in Southwest Alaska.

On Feb. 20, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District announced that it has published the draft environmental impact statement for a proposed 20-year mine at this world-class deposit that could help fill the United States' increasing need for copper, a demand that is being driven by the expanding electric vehicle and green energy sectors.

The Pebble Mine under consideration in the EIS is expected to produce 5.74 billion pounds of copper, 6.4 million ounces of gold, 260 million lb of molybdenum and 32 million oz of silver over a 20-year mine life. The deposit also hosts roughly 6.4 million lb of rhenium, a superalloy metal considered critical to the United States, according to a calculation completed in 2011.

There is concern, however, over whether mining this world-class deposit of base, precious and critical minerals would impact the world-class fisheries of Bristol Bay, the region of Southwest Alaska where Pebble is located.

The Pebble Partnership believes the more than US$800 million it has invested in geological, geotechnical, environmental, engineering and other studies has resulted in a mine plan that allays these concerns.

"Our preliminary review of the DEIS (draft EIS) shows no major data gaps or substantive impacts associated with a mine at the Pebble site. We see no significant environmental challenges that would preclude the project from getting a permit and believe this shows Alaska stakeholders that there is a clear path forward for this project," said Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier.

Considering the concerns

When putting together the mine plan that Pebble Partnership submitted for permitting, the company took into consideration the concerns brought up about the potential impacts of the proposed development.

As a result, Pebble engineers put together a plan that balances the environmental considerations of developing a mine in an area of Alaska renowned for its salmon fishery and the economics of developing an equally outstanding deposit of copper.

One of the primary means of striking this balance was to minimize the size of the operation.

"What really needed to be brought to this game is a really serious focus on footprint reduction," Collier told Mining News last year.

One of the keys to reducing the footprint, while still having an ability to produce copper at a rate that is economically feasible, is the new Pebble Mine plan focuses on a portion of the deposit that comes right to the surface.

By doing so, the overburden-to-ore ratio over a 20-year mine-life is an amazingly low 0.1-to-1.

This nominal strip-ratio, coupled with the usage of much of the overburden material to build tailings storage embankments and other needed on-site infrastructure, means there is very little waste material that needs to be stored.

"Once that strip-ratio changes, and you don't need places to stack waste rock, it makes a big difference," Collier added.

The ability to keep the mining infrastructure out of the Upper Talarik Creek drainage, which is noted for its salmon habitat, is among the advantages of the reduced footprint.

The hopeful mine developer also committed to not use cyanide for gold extraction, another big concern for those worried about Pebble.

While most of the gold will still be recovered when concentrates are processed at overseas smelters, roughly 15 percent of the gold will simply be disposed of with the other tailings.

"That is a pretty big commitment that we made and another one our team is proud of," Collier said.

The Pebble mine-plan also included a lined facility to store potentially acid generating (PAG) tailings, an extra layer of protection aimed at ensuring clean water in Bristol Bay.

Engineers have added even another layer to this protection by placing this facility at the upper end of the larger bulk-tailings facility, which would store the benign crushed rock processed through the mill.

Pebble Partnership believes the mine plan outlined in the draft EIS demonstrates the thoroughness and thoughtfulness of this mine planning.

"We have stated that the project must co-exist with the important salmon fishery in the region and we believe we will not harm the fish and water resources in Bristol Bay. Now we have a science-based, objective assessment of the project that affirms our work," said Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier.

Lengthy process

Despite the improvements, there are still concerns by those opposed to the development of a mine at Pebble.

United Tribes of Bristol Bay, a group formed in 2013 to advocate against large-scale hard rock mines like Pebble, is concerned about potential spills, a tailings dam failure and how heightened environmental concerns from developing a mine at Pebble will affect the everyday well-being of Bristol Bay residents.

Despite the long and rigorous permitting process in the U.S., groups such as this do not trust that these concerns about the proposed mine will be fully scrutinized.

"The people of Bristol Bay and all who depend on its pristine environment deserve to have the project fully vetted and their concerns considered within this process and it has been clear from the beginning of this process that isn't happening and USACE (Corps) will do whatever it takes to fast-track this permit for Pebble," said United Tribes of Bristol Bay Executive Director Alannah Hurley.

The Pebble project, however, has been under scrutiny for more than a decade before Corps' National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review of the mine proposal officially got underway and the draft EIS is one step along a lengthy permitting process that provides opportunity for public input at several points along the way.

Corps timeline for reaching a record of decision for Pebble, the final step in the EIS process, is scheduled for mid-2020. If this date is met, it would be roughly 2 ½ years after the Pebble Partnership first submitted permit applications under NEPA. This, however, does not conclude the permitting process, as other state and federal authorizations would be needed.

This would be a major milestone for the potential development of a mine at Pebble, as are each step of the lengthy federal and state permitting process.

"The DEIS is an important milestone and positive development for the Pebble project," said Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. CEO Ron Thiessen.

Northern Dynasty is sole owner of the Pebble Partnership.

DEIS public comment period

Both sides will have the opportunity to vet the initial mine proposal during a 90-day public comment period that begins on March 1.

The electronic version of the draft EIS is available for everyone to view at the Pebble Project EIS website, http://www.pebbleprojecteis.com. Comments on the draft EIS for Pebble can also be submitted at this site once the public comment period has formally begun.

People will also have the opportunity to submit comments in person at public hearing to be held in the Bristol Bay region and Southcentral Alaska during April. Corps said that comments can be submitted on computers provided at the meetings. Written comments or speaking to a court reporter are other options for providing comments at these meetings.

Public hearings are scheduled for Naknek (April 9); Kokhanok (April 10); Homer (April 11); Newhalen (April 12); New Stuyahok (April 13); Nondalton (April 16); Dillingham (April 17); Igiugig (April 18); and Anchorage (April 19).

Pebble copper gold molybdenum silver rhenium tungsten project permitting map

Pebble Limited Partnership

Layout of mine Pebble Partnership submitted for permitting.

Corps will use the comments collected during this period to incorporate changes into a final EIS, expected to be completed in about a year.

Since the draft EIS is a preliminary look at the mine being proposed for permitting, Collier fully expects a broad range of input from Pebble stakeholders. The Pebble Partnership CEO, however, does not foresee any hurdles that can not be overcome through the NEPA process.

"Since this is our first chance to see what the Corps has evaluated, I fully expect a few bumps along the way before we conclude this process. This is what reviewing a draft is all about," he said. "While we have a lot of work remaining in front of us, this is clearly a very exciting time for the project as we have reached a significant milestone for Pebble."

 

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