Rolling into the final quarter, Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. remains confident that it will meets its ultimate 2017 goal of filing for the permits needed to develop a mine at the world-class copper deposit in Southwest Alaska by the end of the year.
“We entered the year with three objectives: settlement with EPA; re-partnering; and then getting the project description filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by the end of the year,” Northern Dynasty CEO Ron Thiessen told Mining News on Sep. 26.
The company aspired to have a global mining company join the Pebble Partnership by Oct. 1, but a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was a bit more complicated that originally though.
“It took a little longer, there was a little more complexity that we weren’t aware of until we really got into it, but ultimately we got out of it exactly what I needed talk with major mining companies, potential partners,” Thiessen said.
Objective 1: normalized permittingWhat the Northern Dynasty CEO needed to finalize talks with potential Pebble partners was the ability to show that the largest undeveloped copper deposit on the planet is able to enter the “normalized permitting” process in the United States.
A 2014 Clean Water Act 404(c) determination by the EPA to put strict limits on any mine that could have permitted for Pebble, however, was far from normal.
Going into 2017, Northern Dynasty aspired to have these extraneous restrictions lifted by the end of the first quarter and did get EPA’s agreement not to implement its proposed CWA Section 404(c) determination to restrict Pebble by May.
The definitive goal of normalized permitting, however, took a bit longer to achieve.
This was due to EPA’s underlying determination still lingering, which posed potential complications if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided to issue permits for Pebble.
Agreeing that it should completely withdraw its 2014 decision, EPA set in motion a process to completely do away with the pre-permitting restrictions and initiated a 90-day public comment period on its proposed withdrawal in July.
This comment and tribal consultation process wraps up on Oct. 10, after which EPA will make the final decision on whether to lift its Obama-era determination and open the door to normalized permitting for Pebble.
Final 2 objectivesNorthern Dynasty, currently the sole owner of the Pebble Partnership, is now focused on its final two 2017 aspirations, signing on a global mining company as a Pebble partner and filing for permits to develop a mine at the world-class copper project.
With roughly 56.8 billion pounds copper, 70.4 million ounces gold, 3.4 billion lb molybdenum and 343.6 million oz silver in measured and indicated resource, the Pebble deposit is an attractive asset to global mining companies looking to replenish stores of copper and gold in a world where these metals are getting tougher to find.
Pebble, which host both the largest undeveloped copper and undeveloped gold resource on the planet, is a great way for a mining company with global scope to ensure it continues to supply these metals for decades to come.
According to a 2011 preliminary economic assessment, a large-scale mine at Pebble could produce 31 billion lb of copper, 30 million oz of gold, 1.4 billion lb of molybdenum, 140 million oz silver, 2.6 million lb of rhenium and 907,000 oz of palladium over a 45-year mine-life while only mining about 32 percent of the resource.
Despite the multi-generational size of this deposit, the mine proposed for permitting will likely be “a smaller, environmentally-optimized project” than considered in the PEA.
Focused on areas of the Pebble deposit that come right to the surface, this more modest operation will be less expensive to develop, produce less waste from the removal of overburden and have a smaller overall environmental footprint.
“We are going to try to make it the smallest we can and still have enough economics that not only provides something for shareholders and investors, but for the Bristol Bay region at large, “Thiessen explained.
For Northern Dynasty and any future partner, this smaller project will be easier to permit.
Thiessen said global mining companies considering becoming Pebble partners agree that a smaller mine is the best way to start at Pebble.
“I’ve found some enlightened people that are completely on-side with that approach,” he said, referring to prospective Pebble partners.
While Northern Dynasty won’t meet its initial goal of signing one or more of these enlightened companies to the Pebble Partnership by the end of the third quarter, the company believes a deal will be finalized soon.
With prospective partners agreeing that the environmentally-optimized mine being designed by the Pebble Partnership is the best approach for the project, Northern Dynasty believes that it can still obtain its third objective of having a project ready to file for permitting by the end of 2017.
“I feel that is going to be available for us to submit to the Army Corps of Engineers by the end of the year,” Thiessen told Mining News.