TORONTO (Reuters) - Northern Dynasty Minerals will apply for federal and state permits on Dec. 22 for its Pebble mine in Alaska, the Canadian company said on Thursday, sending its shares up 7 percent.
The mine, the world’s biggest undeveloped gold and copper project, has drawn opposition from environmentalists, some native groups and sport fishermen because it is located in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.
The application plans mark another milestone for the project this year. Led by Trump administration appointee Scott Pruitt, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency opened the path to permitting by agreeing in May to settle lawsuits and other issues.
Under the Obama administration, the EPA took the unusual action in February 2014 of blocking the project even before the owner applied for a development permit.
Northern Dynasty said on Monday that First Quantum Minerals, the world’s eighth-biggest copper producer, would acquire an option to buy a 50 percent stake in the project for $1.5 billion.
On Thursday, Northern Dynasty said major mining facilities, such as the mine pit and waste storage area, would now have a smaller footprint, of about 5.9 square miles.
The new plan is aimed at making the development more palatable to regulators, although opponents have said they remain unconvinced.
No primary mine operations will be located in the Upper Talarik watershed, which the company said addresses concerns about the potential impact to local salmon productivity.
“Not only are we confident that Pebble as currently envisaged will secure development permits from federal, state and local regulatory agencies,” said Pebble Partnership Chief Executive Officer Tom Collier, “we are confident it will co-exist with the world-class fisheries of Bristol Bay and earn the support of the people of the region and the state.”
The mine’s tailings storage has been more conservatively designed, Northern Dynasty said, with enhanced buttresses, greater slope angles and an improved factor of safety.
There are no permanent waste pile rocks in the development plan, and tailings with potential to generate acid will be separated and stored in a lined facility.
Northern Dynasty said it would study a ferry route across Iliamna Lake to minimize road construction, stream crossings, bridges, culverts and the impact on local wetlands.
During mine operations, Pebble will generate estimated annual payments of $49 million to $66 million to Alaska and create 1,500 to 2,000 direct and indirect jobs, the company said.
U.S.-listed shares of Northern Dynasty were up 12 cents at $1.84 in late morning trading.
Reporting by Susan Taylor; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn