BLM begins Ambler Road reevaluation
North of 60 Mining News - September 21, 2022
Last updated 9/29/2022 at 2:36pm
Federal agency is accepting public input on second Ambler Road EIS until Nov. 4
After months of uncertainty, the United States Bureau of Land Management has provided some clarity to the plans to carry out further review of the Ambler Access Project – a proposed 211-mile road that would link Ambler Metals' Upper Kobuk Mineral Projects (UKMP) in Northwest Alaska to the Dalton Highway.
BLM, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Park Service issued a joint record of decision in 2020 that provided the federal authorizations needed to build the proposed Ambler Road.
In March of this year, however, BLM notified the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) that it has suspended its authorizations that were issued under the Trump administration.
The federal land manager cited lack of adequate consultation with Alaska tribes and evaluation of potential impacts the road might have on subsistence uses as reasons to remand the previously issued authorizations for further review.
Over the ensuing seven months, BLM had not provided any indications on a timeframe for this further review.
This lack of clarity created uncertainty for Ambler Metals, a 50-50 joint venture between Trilogy Metals Inc. and South32 Ltd. that has invested hundreds of millions of dollars advancing mining projects at the west end of the proposed Ambler Road; AIDEA, a quasi-state-owned corporation that plans to build the road and then recoup its investment by charging tolls to Ambler Metals and other companies that develop projects in the Ambler District; and NANA, an Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) regional corporation that owns some of the lands that make up UKMP and has shareholders that would benefit from a road into this region.
On Sept. 20, BLM initiated a 45-day public scoping period to guide its supplemental evaluation of the proposed road.
"Diverse, on-the-ground perspectives are vital in promoting co-stewardship and ensuring resilient landscapes," said BLM Fairbanks District Manager Geoff Beyersdorf. "We are eager to hear from the public, Tribes and corporations to aid in helping us make an informed, durable decision."
Swift action urged
While the BLM announcement provides a timeline for the draft supplement EIS, questions remain about how long the entire process will take.
Based on the input that it receives during the comment period that ends on Nov. 4, BLM expects to publish a draft supplemental environmental impact statement by mid-2023. However, solid dates for the comment period on this interim document, the subsequent supplemental final EIS, or the record of decision that finalizes the process has not yet been disclosed.
Proponents of the Ambler Road are urging the federal agencies to act swiftly.
"While we welcome the clarified timeline of the SEIS, we continue to urge the United States Department of the Interior to move expeditiously through its work to reinstate the Joint Record of Decision," said Trilogy Metals President and CEO Tony Giardini. "The industrial-use-only access road is not only important for future development of our projects, it is also expected to bring many benefits to remote Alaskan communities where improved infrastructure can significantly reduce the cost of living."
Ely Cyrus, president of the Native Village of Kiana in the NANA region of Northwest Alaska, says BLM did not visit his village during the initial Ambler Road review. If the federal agency had, however, he says the federal land manager would have heard from local residents that are looking forward to the opportunities this infrastructure will bring to Northwest Alaska.
"The Native Village of Kiana had discussed the proposed project in the past, and we recognized the high potential for employment and educational opportunities for our tribal members," said Cyrus. "Mining has provided our villages with infrastructure and opportunities for decades in part due to the Red Dog mine."
He says this includes a new community building, and heavy equipment for road construction and maintenance in Kiana that were made possible by payments that the Red Dog zinc mine makes to the Northwest Arctic Borough, which covers the entire NANA Region.
"The USBLM did not choose to visit our community, as we would have welcomed the opportunity to share with them the positive benefits of responsible natural resource development," the Native Village of Kiana president added.
Green metal access
In addition to benefits to the community, the Ambler Road would provide access to domestic sources of the cobalt, copper, silver, zinc, and other metals needed to transition the world to low-carbon emissions energy and transportation.
The Arctic and Bornite deposit on Ambler Metals' 448,217-acre land package at the western terminus of the proposed road host roughly 88 million lb of cobalt, 8.9 billion lb of copper, 58.3 million ounces of silver, 3.6 billion lb of zinc, and 770,000 oz of gold in the indicated and inferred resource categories.
Valhalla Metals Inc.'s Sun project, which lies alongside the route of the proposed Ambler Road, hosts an additional 295.4 million lb of copper, 26 million oz of silver, 994.3 million lb of zinc, and 85,000 oz of gold in both categories.
These metals essential to the green energy future are found in high-grade deposits. This means less energy and a smaller environmental footprint to produce the metals, when compared to producing them from lower-grade mines.
Rick Van Nieuwenhuyse, who was instrumental in forging the partnership with NANA that established the UKMP and is the chairman of Valhalla Metals, sees the metals responsibly mined from high-grade deposits in the Ambler District as a solution to meeting the enormous volume of cobalt, copper, silver, and zinc needed to build the green energy future.
Marubeni Metals & Minerals (Canada) Inc., a subsidiary of Japan-based Marubeni Corp., agrees and recently invested C$8.3 million into Valhalla Metals as part of its own "Green Strategy."
"We appreciate Marubeni's commitment to a 'Green Strategy,' and we look forward to developing the Ambler Mining district into a world class mining district that can provide the metals that can fuel the green energy and transportation future," Van Nieuwenhuyse said.
A road, however, is needed to feed Ambler District metals into the clean energy supply chains.