Will Pebble Project’s growing risks cloud investor rewards? – by Dorothy Kosich (Mineweb.com – September 17, 2013)


More bad news for Northern Dynasty’s massive, but struggling Pebble copper-gold-silver-moly project as the deep-pocketed Anglo American announces it is leaving the Pebble Partnership.

RENO (MINEWEB) – The withdrawal of Anglo American from one of the most controversial mining projects in the United States, the Pebble Project in Alaska, should not come as a major surprise to those who have following the project since 2001, the year it was acquired by Northern Dynasty Minerals. Anglo American would become a 50/50 partner in the massive project in 2007.

On Monday, however, Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani—who is definitely no dummy when it comes to determining project feasibility—said: “Despite our belief that Pebble is a deposit of rare magnitude and quality, we have taken the decision to withdraw following a thorough assessment of Anglo American’s extensive pipeline of long-dated project options.”

“We wish the project well through its forthcoming permitting process and express our thanks to all those who have supported Pebble and who recognize the opportunities and benefits that such an investment may bring to Alaska,” he added. Anglo will take a $300 million writedown on its Pebble investment.

In a conference call with analysts and shareholders Monday, Northern Dynasty Minerals tried its best to put a positive spin on the devastating announcement, which prompted a number of Northern Dynasty’s shareholders to sell their shares.

Northern Dynasty insisted the mega miner’s withdrawal was good for the permitting process; a glacially paced exercise which had increasingly frustrated some of Pebble’s strongest supporters.

Northern Dynasty CEO Ron Thiessen observed that Anglo had spent $450 million on Pebble, which has produced an expansive database normally out of the price range of a smaller mining company. As a result, he predicted, Pebble permitting costs will drop substantially.

Another piece of good news is that Northern Dynasty plans to actually commence the permitting process by year end, which will come as positive news for frustrated Alaskan lawmakers, such as U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. The Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee noted in July that the Pebble Partnership had been periodically declaring permitting for the project was imminent since 2004.

The controversy over the Pebble Project has been colored by a fund manager’s desire to spent millions to protect his Alaska lodge, statewide and local ballot initiatives aimed at stopping mining that have also taken their toll on other Alaska mining projects, the existence of one of the most popular sport and commercial salmon fisheries in North America in nearby Bristol Bay, and the vast fund-raising potential Pebble offered to environmental and sport fishery NGOs seeking a cause célèbre to demonize U.S. mining.

Ironically, with the departure of Anglo American from the Pebble Project, the anti-Pebble forces have lost at least one valuable weapon in their arsenal, the specter of big $ foreign ownership of Alaska’s mineral riches.

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