US Army Corp denies permit for Alaska’s Pebble Mine project
The US Army Corp of Engineers has issued a final decision denying a key water permit for the contentious Pebble Mine in Alaska, putting the project’s future in doubt - though the company behind the project, Northern Dynasty Minerals, intends to appeal the decision.
The mine, one of the world’s largest copper and gold deposits, has been subject to constantly shifting regulations over the last 13 years. Republican President Donald Trump revived the project early in his term after the Obama administration blocked it.
However, current prominent politicians claiming it would harm the state’s billion-dollar salmon industry prompted an about-face from the outgoing Trump administration. Opponents say the project threatens a world-class sockeye salmon fishery, putting more than $1 billion of revenue and over 10,000 jobs at risk.
In a statement, the Army Corps say the Clean Water Act permit was denied because the plan submitted by the Pebble Limited Partnership detailing how it would handle the project’s waste in the ecologically sensitive area did not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines.
Colonel Damon Delarosa, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Alaska, says in the statement that the agency has concluded that the proposed project was “contrary to the public interest.”
The Pebble Mine Partnership said it is “dismayed” by the decision and that its Canadian parent company, Northern Dynasty Minerals, will lodge an appeal within 60 days.
If built, the mine will produce 70 million tons of gold, molybdenum and copper ore a year and create a pit 1,970 feet (600 meters) deep in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed.
Pebble Mine Partnership Chief Executive John Shively says in a statement that the company worked closely with the Corps of Engineers to ensure the project included necessary safeguards and slammed the decision as political. “It is very disconcerting to see political influence in this process at the eleventh hour,” he said.
In August, the US government had given developers 90 days to explain how they would offset damage to wetlands and popular fishing sites amid rising opposition to the project by prominent Republicans.
West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, the top Democrat on the Senate natural resources committee, praised the decision, saying he was not convinced the company could protect the surrounding fisheries.
“I understand the important role mining plays in our economy, but the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the project did not come near close enough to assuring me this world-class sockeye salmon fishery, which generates $1.5 billion each year and supports 14,000 jobs, would be protected,” he says.
The Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) also welcomed the announcement but warned that permit denial was not the last word.
“A permit denial leaves the door open for future mining in Bristol Bay under more politically favourable circumstances,” the group points out in a statement. It adds that President-elect Joe Biden opposes the project.
The United Tribes of Bristol Bay, which represents 15 area tribal governments, and other mine opponents says they would seek permanent protections for the region.
NRDC senior advocate Taryn Kiekow Heimer explains that the US Environmental Protection Agency has authority under a rarely used section of the Clean Water Act to block development.
President-elect Joe Biden said in August he opposes the mine and as president would “protect Bristol Bay.” Transition team spokesman Jamal Brown says his position remains the same.
Northern Dynasty says the Pebble project would provide a secure supply of strategic minerals, in line with the Biden campaign’s goal to boost domestic production of metals used to make electric vehicles, solar panels and other products crucial to his climate plan.
Shares of the Vancouver-based miner fell about 50 percent in trading after news of the permit denial.
Vale invests $150mn to extend life of Manitoba operations
Vale has announced a $150mn CAD investment to extend current mining activities in Thompson, Manitoba by 10 years while aggressive exploration drilling of known orebodies holds the promise of mining well past 2040.
Global energy transition is boosting the market for nickel
The Thompson Mine Expansion is a two-phase project. The announcement represents Phase 1 and includes critical infrastructure such as new ventilation raises and fans, increased backfill capacity and additional power distribution. The changes are forecast to improve current production by 30%.
“This is the largest single investment we have made in our Thompson operations in the past two decades,” said Mark Travers, Executive Vice-President for Base Metals with Vale. “It is significant news for our employees, for the Thompson community and for the Province of Manitoba.
“The global movement to electric vehicles, renewable energies and carbon reduction has shone a welcome spotlight on nickel – positioning the metal we mine as a key contributor to a greener future and boosting world demand. We are proud that Thompson can be part of that future and part of the low carbon solution.”
Vale continues drilling program at Manitoba
Coupled with today’s announcement, Vale is continuing an extensive drilling program to further define known orebodies and search for new mineralization.
“This $150mn investment is just one part of our ambitious Thompson turnaround story. It is an indicator of our confidence in a long future for the Thompson operations,” added Dino Otranto, Chief Operating Officer for Vale’s North Atlantic Base Metals operations.
“Active collaboration between our design team, technical services, USW Local 6166, and our entire Thompson workforce has delivered a safe, efficient and fit-for-purpose plan that will enable us to extract the Thompson nickel resources for many years to come.”
The Thompson orebody was first discovered in 1956 by Vale (then known as Inco) following the adoption of new exploration technology and the largest exploration program to-date in the company’s history. Mining of the Thompson orebody began in 1961.
“We see the lighting of a path forward to a sustainable and prosperous future for Vale Base Metals in Manitoba,” said Gary Annett, General Manager of Vale’s Manitoba Operations.