Anglo departure not the end of Alaska's Pebble mine, locals say

Tue Sep 17, 2013 5:21pm EDT
 
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By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Sept 17 (Reuters) - Supporters and opponents of a giant mine to tap Alaska's gold and copper wealth have found a rare point of agreement: The Pebble project remains alive even without its heavyweight financial backer.

Anglo American, the global mining group that partnered with Canada's Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd in 2007 to develop Pebble, said on Monday it was pulling out, less than two month after promising shareholders it would cut costs and halve its $17 billion pipeline of potential mines.

Anglo's departure dealt a sharp blow to the ambitious plan to build an open-pit mine in Alaska's unspoiled Bristol Bay region, at a time when investors are increasingly cautious about plowing cash into building expensive new mines.

But the hiccups aren't stopping Northern Dynasty. It sees plenty of opportunity to push ahead on the project, which is expected to produce some 1 million tonnes of copper concentrate a year, on its own or with a new partner.

"This is a huge asset - a huge, valuable asset for the State of Alaska," said Ron Thiessen, Northern Dynasty's chief executive, who added that he remains very confident the mine will be built within the next 10 years.

"When I go back to 2007, we selected a very small group of potential partners and each one of those partners was prepared to do a deal with us," he told Reuters. "So I would suspect there are companies out there that are still prepared to do a transaction with us on Pebble."

Also alive, though, is the Alaska-based campaign against the mine. Pebble detractors say the mine would ruin some of the world's last remaining big natural salmon runs and spoil a prized area teeming with salmon-eating bears and other wildlife.

"I don't think Pebble's dead at all," said Tim Bristol, Alaska program director for Trout Unlimited, adding that his group and others will continue to push the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to block the mine.   Continued...