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The Pebble site remains alluring

Posted: September 26, 2013 - 12:07am

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

There can be little doubt that the controversial Pebble mine proposed for Southwest Alaska suffered a significant setback last week when one of the two partners pulled the plug on its investment.

But does that mean the end of the mega-mine project in its current form?

That answer isn’t apparent yet.

But with what is already known about the type and quantity of minerals in that specific area, it’s fair to say that some company someday will get a mine into operation out there. That entity might still be the current proponent, the Pebble Limited Partnership, which at this point consists only of Canada-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. after Monday’s announcement that Anglo American (US) Pebble LLC. was withdrawing from the project.

A statement from Anglo American’s parent company, London-based Anglo American PLC, explained the pullout as a purely business decision.

The company had spent about $540 million on Pebble through June since partnering with Northern Dynasty on the Pebble project in 2007 and, according to news reports, would have been obligated to pay $1.5 billion in project costs as the project advanced through permitting and construction.(backslash)

That apparently didn’t fit into Anglo American’s plans.

Even so, Anglo American chief executive officer Mark Cutifani remarked on the Pebble potential while announcing his company’s withdrawal. He described the Pebble site as “a deposit of rare magnitude and quality...”

The proposed copper, gold and molybdenum mine is, in the words of Northern Dynasty, “one of the greatest stores of mineral wealth ever discovered.”

But it has proved consistently controversial since its inception — no surprise, given that the mine site is difficult to reach and sits on and above streams that feed into the lucrative Bristol Bay fishery.

The Pebble project’s proponents have touted the economic impact that would come to the state, including the thousands of construction jobs it would be bring. Opponents worry about the impact on the fish of Bristol Bay. Those will always be the arguments with this project.

The future of Pebble isn’t clear at the moment. One thing that is clear is the minerals are there in abundance, meaning the effort to extract them likely will never die.

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