Prospects brighten for Northern Dynasty Pebble mine on leaked draft study

Northern Dynasty Minerals is hoping to tap a $100 billion copper-gold deposit in the region. (Image courtesy of Northern Dynasty.)

A leaked draft of an environmental impact statement (EIS) on Northern Dynasty’s (TSX: NDM) proposed copper-gold mine in Alaska has brightened up its prospects, suggesting nearby terrestrial freshwater resources and downstream fisheries could co-exist with the project.

While the US Army Corps of Engineers’ document is not final, it could mean the government is closer to issuing a long-sought permit for the $100 billion copper-gold mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

Shares jumped up as much 9.4% to 70 cents (Canadian) on the news on Wednesday, to close at 69 cents. On Thursday, the stock added to yesterday’s gains and was trading at 86 cents by 1:30 pm E.T., the highest value so far this year.

If permitted, the $100 billion copper-gold Alaska project would be North America’s largest mine

If permitted, Pebble would be North America’s largest mine, according to a study by the Center for Science in Public Participation. Current resource estimate includes 6.5 billion tonnes in the measured and indicated categories containing 57 billion pounds of copper and 71 million ounces of gold, 3.4 billion pounds of molybdenum and 345 million silver ounces.

Northern Dynasty said the draft document is currently under review by various regulatory agencies, including the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and indigenous communities. It also said that all data gaps have been filled and that the final EIS is slated for release by mid-year.

Pebble’s development has been surrounded by controversy and delays, including the EPA’s decision in 2014 to propose restricting the discharge of mining waste and other material in the area.

Criticism prompted the Vancouver-based company to submit a new, smaller mine plan that includes lined tailings, and discard the use of cyanide in the gold extraction process.

Pebble began moving forward after the change in US administration. In July last year, Northern Dynasty scored a big win after the EPA scrapped the proposed restrictions on mining operations in Bristol Bay, which prevented the project’s consideration.

Prospects brighten for Northern Dynasty Pebble mine on leaked draft study
The Pebble project is located about 200 miles (320km) southwest of Anchorage in the Bristol Bay region. (Image courtesy of Northern Dynasty.)

For decades, explorers and developers have been attracted to resources-rich southwestern Alaska, known for holding significant deposits of gold, copper, molybdenum and other minerals near the headwaters of two rivers flowing into Bristol Bay.

But conservationists, local activists, fishermen and federal regulators have argued that industrial, open-pit mining operations to extract the lode threatens the region’s thriving sockeye salmon fishery.