With all of the controversy surrounding the Pebble Mine project, it's still too early to determine whether or not the project should move forward. It's likely that naysayers and supporters alike will be forced to wait for quite some time before the project is ready for public scrutiny.
Pebble Partnership Chief Executive Officer John Shively said at Wednesday's Kenai Chamber of Commerce meeting that production wouldn't take place until late in the next decade, perhaps even the early years of the following decade, providing the project passes the permitting process.
He estimated at least three years will be needed to obtain the hundreds of necessary permits and another three to four years needed to build the mine.
"We have to prove that we can co-exist with fish and wildlife," Shively said. "We want to make sure that we have the best possible project."
Shively estimated the project will need about $400 million to $500 million to pass through the pre-feasibility stages and another $300 million for feasibility.
The project has a capital investment estimate of $3 billion to $5 billion thus far, but that is subject to change.
"It's a significant investment," he said. "It's a very challenging project economically."
Shively said the project should bring 3,000 jobs to the state and estimated the mine life between 50 and 80 years, depending on its size.
So far, no roads have been built at the Pebble site. All work is being done by helicopter, Shively said.
"It's a huge science project," he said. "Even if the project is not doable ... we're going to leave more science for that area than we've seen in any other place in the state."
Currently, researchers at the mine site are studying the water during the winter months. Shively said they're interested in seeing what happens to the river and stream systems in respect to the amount of water at different times of the year and the effect it has on fish habitats.
Shively discussed two methods for extracting ore from Pebble. For the west side of the mine, he said it will most likely be an open pit mine. For the east side, however, because the ore is buried much deeper, block caving might be used.
In this technique, the floor of the mine is collapsed from underneath it, Shively said.
"You're actually using gravity to do your mining as opposed to blasting," he said.
"Ninety-nine percent of everything we dig out of the ground is going to stay here," Shively said. "This is a big prospect but it's not a particularly rich prospect."
Because of Pebble's size, Shively said the project won't be developed all at one time.
Shively said the project deserves the opportunity to figure out if it's economical and meets the environmental requirements. He described the efforts by some to stop the project before it started as "un-Alaskan."
"I really felt the project needed a fair hearing," he said. "We're not out asking people to support Pebble at this point, at least I'm not. All I'm asking is that people keep an open mind until we can say whether we have a project or not."
Mike Nesper can be reached at email@example.com.
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