This year, the Pebble Partnership plans to spend about $80 million on developing an overall project description and toward initiating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) permit process with the hopes of getting the massive Pebble Mine project off the ground.
Last year, the Pebble Partnership, a 50-50 venture between Anglo American and Northern Dynasty has spent a reported $107 million on preparing the permit application for the proposed mine. To date, the partnership has spent $680 million steering the project toward development.
The proposed Pebble Mine, 321 km (200 miles) southwest of Anchorage, is estimated to hold 81 billion lbs of copper, 107 million oz of gold and 5 billion lbs of molybdenum. However, the location of the proposed massive openpit mine is near the breeding grounds of the fertile Bristol Bay salmon fishery which has led to intense scrutiny by opponents of the mine who say it would damage salmon streams that are important both commercially and culturally to the region.
The $80 million spent this year will come from Anglo American, due to the way the joint venture is structured, Mike Heatwole, Pebble Partnership spokesperson told the Alaska Dispatch for a story published April 22, 2013.
NEPA permitting represents “the very beginning” of a years-long quest to collect more than 60 permits and approvals from various federal and state agencies, all required before the mine can proceed, Heatwole said.
The Pebble Partnership plans to spend the $80 million across four different categories of study.
First, a portion of the money will go toward engineering studies to assess how to get the minerals at the Pebble deposit out of the ground and on to market, including what is needed in terms of infrastructure and energy. Engineering challenges could almost be classified as an “Alaska challenge,” Heatwole said. “You have a resource that’s in a remote location, and there’s no infrastructure.”
Money also will be spent on environmental monitoring studies, including water quality and fisheries data. “A tremendous amount of environmental work has been done to date,” Heatwole said, and this represents a continuation of those studies.
Third, a portion will be spent on site investigations, including the testing how stable soil is for planned infrastructure, and geo-hydrological water studies, based out of their headquarters in the village of Illiamna. Those studies will ramp up “as soon as the weather breaks,” Heatwole said.
Basically, all these studies amount to “lots and lots of data,” Heatwole said. Once all the data is collected, Pebble will return to the communities in Bristol Bay to explain its development plan to community members before submitting a NEPA permitting proposal.
Lastly, funds will be spent on public education and community investments, including tours of the proposed mine and student scholarship programs.
The biggest hurdle that the partnership faces is “putting together the package that gets everything in the right space,” Heatwole said. That ranges from engineering details, to meeting state and federal environmental standards. “It’s a very complicated process.”
The Pebble Partnership is also awaiting a revised draft of the Environmental Protection Agency’s watershed assessment of Bristol Bay, the first of which was completed in the summer of 2012 and painted a less-than-favorable picture of how the mine could impact nearby streams. “There were a lot of problems with the assessment,” Heatwole said, and they are watching closely to see where the EPA goes from here. “It’s still kind of unclear what’s next,” he said.