ANCHORAGE - Rio Tinto, one of the world's largest mining companies, has more than doubled its stake in a company exploring vast gold and copper deposits in southwest Alaska.
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London-based Rio Tinto agreed last week to buy $79 million worth of shares issued by Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., the company that owns the Pebble mining claims.
The purchase increases Rio Tinto's ownership of the Canadian mining firm to 19.8 percent from 9.9 percent, making it the largest individual stakeholder.
"This is without question a huge vote in confidence in (our) important copper project," Northern Dynasty chief executive Ron Thiessen said Monday.
Rio Tinto executives could not be reached for comment Monday.
Under the sale's terms, a Rio Tinto subsidiary based in Quebec will buy the stake in Northern Dynasty on Feb. 1 from Galahad Gold, a British mining firm that until now was Northern Dynasty's largest single shareholder.
If fully developed, Pebble would be among the largest copper-gold-molybdenum mines in the world, Northern Dynasty executives have said.
Mine opponents say it would lie in the heart of some of the best salmon and trout fishing in the world, including the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery.
Brian Kraft, a Bristol Bay fishing lodge owner who opposes Pebble, said Rio Tinto's expanded financial backing of the project indicates that development plans are solidifying.
Northern Dynasty said it plans to ask for permits in 2008 at the earliest and has yet to complete environmental impact studies.