ANCHORAGE - Exploratory drilling this year at Pebble Mine near the world's most productive wild sockeye salmon fishery supports earlier findings: it's extraordinarily rich with high-quality copper and gold.
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The Pebble East deposit in southwest Alaska is so large that despite two years of exploratory drilling, its outer edges have yet to be delineated, Sean Magee, a spokesman for Northern Dynasty Mines Inc., said Friday.
The company is an American subsidiary of Northern Dynasty Minerals, a Canadian company developing the prospect.
The 2007 drilling program at Pebble East - the deposit discovered by Northern Dynasty two years ago when it was scoping out the less-appealing Pebble West prospect - confirms earlier findings, Magee said.
"It is more good news from a geological perspective," he said.
The value of the minerals at Pebble are worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
This year, 72,700 feet of core drilling was completed in 17 holes. The results of six more holes are being evaluated. Drilling is ongoing with seven rigs working on new holes and two more drill rigs are expected to be mobilized at drill sites later this year.
Northern Dynasty's drilling program at Pebble East last year consisted of 19 holes with 74,000 feet of core drilling.
"We are still trying to find the geographic extent of the ore body," Magee said. "We have not found the outside edges."
When questioned about the findings, Bobby Andrew of Dillingham said he would redouble his efforts to put a stop to the mine, located on state land designated for mining development about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage.
The mine has drawn strong opposition from fishermen, conservationists and many locals.
"I am going to fight harder," Andrew said. "They will be using more chemicals that will affect the salmon. I would hate to see that happen."
Magee said no decision has yet been made on whether both Pebble West and Pebble East will be developed. It could be that only the Pebble East project with its higher-grade ore will go forward. If developed, Pebble West would be an open pit mine. Pebble East would be underground.
Exploratory drilling for 2007 at Pebble East shows mineralization going north to south for more than 9,000 feet, 600 feet beyond the previous boundary.
The company estimates the Pebble East deposit contains 42.6 billion pounds of copper, 39.6 million ounces of gold, and 2.7 billion pounds of molybdenum, a mineral used to strengthen metal.
The Pebble Mine deposit is estimated now to be the second largest ore deposit of its type in the world, superseded just slightly by the Grasberg Mine in Indonesia.
Northern Dynasty expects to issue a revised estimate next February to reflect the 2007 drilling results.