More ‘Pebble Tapes’ Releases Continue To Incriminate Mining Execs (Updated)

It hasn’t been a good fall for the Pebble Mine project, which got a boost from late summer’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Impact Statement. But when an environmental group secretly taped incriminating conversations among Pebble’s leaders, it prompted Pebble Partnership’s CEO Tom Collier to step down.

Today brought the release of more taped conversations. Here’s the official release from the Environmental Investigation Agency:

Washington D.C.
 —The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) today  released two tapesthat feature Canadian mining baron, Ron Thiessen, discussing his political strategy for securing a federal permit for the controversial Pebble Mine project in southwest Alaska. The recordings underscore both Thiessen’s importance as a driving force behind the Pebble project and the financial windfall that he anticipates Pebble to deliver to his companies located in British Columbia, including an estimated $1.5 billion subsidy from Alaskans. 

Last month the CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership, Tom Collier, resigned after EIA’s release of the initial installment of the “Pebble Tapes” in which he and Thiessen discussed with EIA investigators their plans to build an enormous 180-year mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska. Yet, Thiessen remains at the helm of the Canadian company that is 100 percent owner of – and the principal advocate for – the Pebble project.

“Tom Collier’s resignation from Pebble Limited Partnership was a necessary step in the right direction for Bristol Bay, but the real ‘man behind the curtain,’ the person calling the shots for this project, is and always has been, Ron Thiessen. The longer the Pebble Project remains a possibility, the more Ron Thiessen stands to profit,” said Danielle Grabiel, EIA’s Wildlife Team Lead and Counsel.

Ron Thiessen is the CEO of Northern Dynasty Minerals (NDM), the publicly-traded company that owns the mining claim at the Pebble site. Ron Thiessen is also the CEO of Hunter Dickinson International, a private Canadian company. 

Thiessen explained the relationship between these two companies in an email to EIA investigators posing as potential investors: “Northern Dynasty Minerals is part of a group of Companies founded, managed and operated to a point by a private company; Hunter Dickinson Inc.” HDI and NDM share an address and phone number. He also told investigators that HDI has just six shareholders including Thiessen. 

According to the services agreement between the companies, HDI provides “technical, geological, corporate communications, administrative and management services” to NDM. This puts into perspective several statements made by Thiessen in the newly released Pebble Tapes where he appears to brag about how much money was spent on the permitting process and how much of the project’s expected capital costs will be funded not by the company but by Alaskans themselves: 

“We spent over $150 million preparing for permitting in environmental baseline studies. And other scientific studies. And then the permitting process itself we spent $100 million on. I would say that we probably spent more than three times as much as the average…,” he said in the tapes. 

If the mine is permitted Thiessen says in the tapes that he expects that Alaskan taxpayers will foot about one quarter of the bill for capital expenditures. “The total CapEx on this in round numbers is going to be about 5.5 billion. We believe the State of Alaska and other entities in Alaska will fund most of the infrastructure for about 1.5,” Thiessen explained in the recordings. 

Thiessen also laid out his plans to claim a massive windfall from U.S. taxpayers if the federal permit is denied. In that event, he expects hundreds of billions of dollars for Pebble based on a claim that a permit denial would amount to an unconstitutional “taking” pursuant to the Fifth Amendment. He told EIA investigators, “If it’s determined to be a taking by the courts, we expect compensation…the cost to the U.S. Federal Treasury will be $700-800 billion at least.” 

In the newly released tapes, from his office in Vancouver, Thiessen also discusses U.S. politics, as they pertain to the Pebble Mine, stating: “And the Governor of the State of Alaska is very much onside with resource development, Pebble in particular.” 

Earlier this month, Governor Dunleavy defended his pro-Pebble position in a letter to Alaskan legislators leaning on national security and a lack of national mineral production. Thiessen, reading from a similar playbook, also made mineral “self-sufficiency” arguments in a lengthy article in a mining industry newsletter after release of the initial Pebble Tapes. 

“Ron Thiessen, a Canadian, is touting national security and mineral self-sufficiency in the U.S. as important reasons to permit Pebble, but he had no problem talking for hours with our investigators, who he has since admitted he believed to be foreign investors, about a mine that would be built to supply ore to Asia. In my opinion, that is the definition of duplicity,” said Grabiel. 

Thiessen also told EIA investigators that his company has, “quite a few contacts into the [Senator Lisa] Murkowski [(R-Alaska)] operation and quite a few contacts into the [Senator Dan] Sullivan [(R-Alaska)] operation.” He assured investors that both Senators had “published a statement that turned out to be quite in errorand now they’d rather not have to admit error. Better that they’re just quiet, and we’re ok with that.” 

But both Senators Murkowski and Sullivan have now strongly denounced the project after the release of the initial tapes. On the topic of the American election season – referred to by Thiessen as the “silly season” – he stated to EIA investigators, “it’s the kind of season, once it’s over, everybody forgets what everybody promised to do. You aren’t held to your promises.” 

“We think it’s important for the people of Bristol Bay and the State of Alaska to know that Ron Thiessen is driving the Pebble Project. Ron spoke unreservedly with our investigators for over four hours and on more than one occasion. He knows Alaska politics inside and out. His fingers seem to be in the same pots that Tom Collier’s were,” said Grabiel. “It seems to me that Collier was a puppet and Thiessen is the puppeteer.”

Grabiel also confirmed that Thiessen arranged all of the calls and correspondence between EIA investigators and the company; and he participated in and led every conversation. 

Watch all of The Pebble Tapes here.

And some reaction from SalmonState:

ANCHORAGE, AK—Two videos released by the Environmental Investigation Agency today as additions to “The Pebble Tapes” feature a top Pebble executive’s intention to use a $1.5 billion construction subsidy from the State of Alaska’s depleted coffers to ship Alaska’s resources to Asia; Pebble’s ties to Alaska’s elected officials at a state and federal level; and its expectations for what those elected officials will and won’t do in the months to come.

In the two tapes, Canadian Ron Thiessen, the head of Northern Dynasty Minerals, Pebble’s Canadian parent company, also told the investors that elected officials lie about their positions during election season, saying “you (elected officials) aren’t held to your promises.” He also reiterated the State of Alaska’s support for the proposed Pebble Mine — support underlined by Governor Mike Dunleavy’s recent letters, which double down on his support for the project in spite of the lies the first set of tapes exposed.

The tapes also beg the question of why Thiessen is still around, while former Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier was forced to take the fall for both men’s boast that Pebble has manipulated officials to skate through the permitting system.

“The new additions to the Pebble Tapes underscore that Alaskans can not trust the company behind this project; that they have been pulling political strings for Pebble for years; and that they expect a massive amount of cash from Alaskans in order to make Pebble happen,” said SalmonState executive director Tim Bristol. “Not only would Pebble do irreversible damage to the planet’s greatest wild sockeye salmon fishery, it would be a huge drain on Alaska’s already terrible fiscal situation. The proposed Pebble Mine is a lie built by liars. It’s time to end the lie, once and for all, with an EPA veto of this toxic project under the Clean Water Act.”

Update: A statement from United Tribes of Bristol Bay:

DILLINGHAM, AK – The release of additional ‘Pebble Tapes’ today once again confirms that the company behind the Pebble Mine is deceiving Alaskans and our elected representatives. The new tapes magnify the need for protections that will ensure the region’s future is not driven by political winds and the efforts of a foreign mining company focused on its bottom line.
In the additional tapes released by the Environmental Investigation Agency, the head of Pebble’s parent company Northern Dynasty, CEO Ron Thiessen, asserted that any statements of opposition to Pebble’s by Alaska’s Senators are merely part of America’s “silly season” running up to the election. Thiessen assured the investigators that pledges to protect the region are merely part of the electoral cycle, not genuine intent, and that after the election is over “You aren’t held to your promises.” 

Earlier this month, during remarks at the annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention, Senator Lisa Murkowski promised to work on permanent protections for Bristol Bay’s world-class fishery and people who depend on the salmon resource. Today’s release of additional Pebble Tapes increases the need for such protections of the region’s world class fishery.
“Our people have been stewards of our lands and waters since time immemorial, and we will be part of the effort to protect our home forever,” said UTBB Board President Robert Heyano. “The future of the region must be determined by the people from the region. We have fought for over two decades to protect Bristol Bay, and we will not stop until we have secured meaningful permanent protections for our home.” 

The two additional tapes released by the Environmental Investigation Agency make clear that deceit is a bedrock of the company’s tactics, and provide additional insight into the company’s financial house of cards – including the belief that Alaskans will subsidize the foreign mining company’s effort with $1.5 billion for infrastructure. The tapes also indicate that discussions of “mineral security” by Thiessen, as well as Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, are merely well-crafted talking points; in fact, the Canadian company intends to ship the ore to Asia and is actively seeking foreign investors to benefit from the project it expects Alaskan’s to subsidize.