Pebble exec: Mining, fishery able to coexist

Posted: Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Under its policy of “responsible mineral development,” Northern Dynasty will operate its Pebble Mine project with no net loss to commercial, sport or subsistence fisheries, a company executive told Kenai business leaders last week.

“Pebble has an environmentally driven design,” said Stephen Hodgson, vice president of engineering for Hunter Dickinson Inc., parent of Northern Dynasty Mines Inc.

By that, he said his firm’s engineering team is “tightly integrated” with its environmental group.

The Pebble project has drawn public criticism since the huge minerals deposit was discovered in 2003, ranging from allegations that mining operations will permanently scar the landscape to charges that mine tailings will destroy the salmon fishery of Bristol Bay.

Hodgson said the Pebble project, about 150 miles west of the Kenai Peninsula near Iliamna, straddles two drainages that represent 20 percent of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery.

With that small of a footprint, he said the project could not destroy the fishery, as opponents have charged.

“Physically we cannot destroy the Bristol Bay fishery. It’s physically impossible,” Hodgson said.

“Mining and the fishery can coexist,” he said.

To date, Hodgson said the company has drilled 400 core holes on the site. Geologists use the core samples to determine the type of rock underground, and after the samples are split in half, they are sent to assayers to determine the presence of gold, copper or molybdenum.

Northern Dynasty has said measured and indicated resources in Pebble include 31.1 million ounces of gold, 18.8 billion pounds of copper and 993 million pounds of molybdenum.

Part of Northern Dynasty’s commitment to the environment is evidenced by the fact that core samples are flown out by helicopter and supplies are flown in, rather than using four-wheel drive vehicles for collecting the samples.

“That’s very expensive,” Hodgson said of the air transportation.

While much has been published about Northern Dynasty’s gold discovery at Pebble, Hodgson said, “Seventy percent of the value of the project is in base metals, not gold.”

In addition to its $1 billion to $3 billion investment in the Pebble project, Hodgson said the operation will have a 50-year-plus life, create 2,000 construction jobs and 1,000 operations jobs and add tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue in the state.

Hodgson said the company has hired Alaskans as bear guards and as drilling helpers as it maps out the project outline and is committed to continuing to hire locally during mining.

Although he said the company has not finalized drilling plans, it is leaning toward using the blockade mine process, which involves undercutting beneath the ore deposit, causing the deposit to cave in, and then extracting the rock from below.

Copper will be processed on-site following extraction.

“The operation will require an extensive amount of electrical power,” Hodgson said, adding the company has signed an investigative agreement with Homer Electric Association to provide the power.

Current plans call for a gas-fired generator in Nikiski, upgraded transmission lines to Anchor Point and submarine cables beneath the inlet to the port site on the west side of Cook Inlet. Before any mining begins, Northern Dynasty expects an extensive permitting process that will take at least three years.

Responding to a question after his presentation, Hodgson said the Kenai Peninsula likely could serve the mine as a bedroom community.

“We expect it to be a fly-in, fly-out operation like the North Slope,” he said.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@

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