Smaller-Scale Pebble Mine Will Still Face Challenges


Nushagak River photo by Brian Lull.



Expect a lot of reports about the Pebble Mine in the coming future, now that the Environmental Protection Agency granted permission to Pebble Limited Partnership to apply for a federal permit.

With Bristol Bay’s salmon fishing industry vehemently opposing the project altogether, Pebble Limited Partnership has announced its intention to scale down the project to some degree – which probably won’t appease too many opponents of any mining in Bristol Bay – the Alaska Dispatch News reported that even smaller doesn’t mean easier in terms of getting the mine going.

Here’s ADN reporter Alex DeMarban with more:

Officials with Northern Dynasty Minerals, Pebble’s parent company, said Friday they were not ready to release details about the proposal. But in a conference call with investors, they described plans for a smaller project with strong environmental protections.

Mike Heatwole, spokesman for the project, said the company would soon release details about its new plan.

Dennis McLerran, the former EPA regional administrator who led the 2014 Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, said on Friday he believes the mine will never be developed.

One problem is the huge development costs, in part because the site is so remote, while the capital cost of removing precious metals from the low-grade ore is high.

But following news of the settlement Friday, McLerran also said he was concerned that under a Trump administration, Pebble has a chance of advancing toward development by “gaming” the permitting review process with a small-mine concept.

“Then the foot is in the door and the long-term expansion potential is there,” said McLerran, an Obama presidential appointee who resigned from the EPA in December.

But the obstacles and anger over the project will likely keep this plan a difficult one to execute. More from the report:

Heatwole said on Friday it’s “speculation” to examine possible development scenarios until Pebble can present a proposal in the coming weeks.

“This is exactly the process that EPA engaged in with its pre-emptive actions against the project,” he said.

“Today’s focus is on the settlement and getting the project back on the established path for evaluating resource projects,” he said.

Mine opponents from the Bristol Bay region have said even a small mine will devastate the salmon fishery commercial and subsistence fishermen rely on.

“We are not fooled by them and no one should be,” said Alannah Hurley, with United Tribes of Bristol Bay.