Northern Dynasty Minerals’ (TSX: NDM) controversial Pebble project in southwest Alaska may turn out to be not just a prominent producer of base and precious metals, but also a strategic mineral required by the US to secure military dominance.
In an updated mineral resource estimate for the proposed mine in the Bristol Bay region, it was revealed that the Pebble deposit contains substantial quantities of rhenium – a metal used in jet engines and other military applications and for producing high-octane fuels – adding to the massive accumulations of copper, gold, molybdenum and silver already confirmed by previous studies.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) considers rhenium to be a strategic metal and confirms the US currently relies on foreign producers for 82% of its rhenium needs.
“Certainly the US military has identified rhenium as a critical mineral, and one the United States must develop additional domestic production of in order to enhance its military security,” Northern Dynasty president and CEO Ron Thiessen said in a press release.
“The development of Alaska’s Pebble project would clearly go a long way toward filling that gap, while also addressing substantial US domestic supply deficits for other critical minerals – notably copper and silver.”
The inclusion of rhenium into the Pebble resource estimate is based on more than 58,000 analyses from 699 core holes totaling more than 840,000 feet of drilling, the company said.
The Pebble deposit is now estimated to contain 2.6 million kg of rhenium, 57 billion pounds of copper, 71 million ounces of gold, 3.4 billion pounds of molybdenum and 345 million ounces of silver within 6.5 billion tonnes of measured and indicated resources, as well as 1.6 million kg of rhenium, 25 billion pounds of copper, 36 million ounces of gold, 2.2 billion pounds of molybdenum and 170 million ounces of silver within 4.5 billion tonnes of inferred resources.
Given that total rhenium resources in the US are currently estimated at 5 million kg, Pebble’s total endowment would represent an 84% increase to the nation’s known rhenium resource base.
According to the USGS, about 8,400 kg of rhenium was produced across six domestic operations last year, and the US imported an additional 39,000 kg of the metal, which is often recovered as a byproduct through treatment of molybdenum concentrates at mines developed on porphyry copper deposits like Pebble.
As a significant deposit of rhenium on US soil, development of the Pebble resource will materially advance the nation’s goal of achieving self-sufficiency in the critical minerals needed to support and sustain its economic growth, military security, manufacturing industries and transition to a lower carbon future, Northern Dynasty said.
Earlier this week, the Alaskan Republic Party officially endorsed the development of the proposed mine, citing economic benefits it would bring to the area.