With a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Record of Decision (ROD) for the proposed Pebble copper-gold-molybdenum mine project in southwest Alaska expected this summer, Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier noted it appears more and more likely that Alaska could become home to another significant metals producer.
The lead federal regulator for the Pebble Project, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), has signaled its intent to publish a Final EIS on July 24 and a ROD shortly thereafter. Pebble’s Collier said the Draft EIS published by the USACE last year, and subsequent contributions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the State of Alaska, tribal entities and other cooperating agencies, point toward a positive outcome for the federal permitting process.
“We have reason to believe that Pebble will be judged to be a project of merit, and will receive its key federal permits under the Clean Water Act and River & Harbors Act this summer,” he said. “The next steps facing the company and the project will be to secure a major funding partner and acquire the state permits necessary to take Pebble into production.”
State permitting for Pebble is expected to take 2 – 3 years to complete, followed by a four-year construction phase. Once operating, Pebble will be among the leading metals producers in the United States. As described in the Project Description, each year during 20 years of production the proposed Pebble mine would produce mineral concentrates containing, on average:
- 318 million lb copper;
- 362,000 oz gold;
- 14 million lb molybdenum; and
- 1.8 million oz of silver.
Collier said Pebble has the potential to be the third largest copper producer in the United States (producing ~12% of US output annually) and the fourth largest gold producer (producing ~6% of US output each year). It also contains rhenium, a relatively rare element used in jet engines and high-octane fuels, and palladium, a precious metal employed in fuel cells and catalytic convertors, among other applications.
Depending on prevailing market prices, about 60% and 30% of the annual value of production at Pebble will be derived from copper and gold respectively, with the balance coming from other metals.
“There’s absolutely no doubt there is growing domestic and international market demand for the metal commodities Pebble will produce,” Collier said. “Whether it’s surging demand for copper to facilitate the US and global transition to a low carbon future, the increasing demand for gold we’re seeing in the current economic climate or the other strategic metals our mine will produce, the world needs Pebble.”
America’s transition away from fossil fuels and toward clean and renewable sources of power will be particularly copper-intensive, as will the requirement for smart grid technology to make the nation’s energy transmission and distribution system more efficient. Electric and hybrid-electric cars, solar and wind power installations, as well as the energy infrastructure required to enable these technologies, will all require substantially more copper than the transportation and energy systems they replace.
The US currently imports 35% of its annual copper needs from foreign producers, as well as 82% of its rhenium, 68% of its silver and 32% of its palladium. For copper and many other strategic metals, America’s import reliance is expected to grow in future as domestic demand rises faster than supply.
“It is in the United States’ best interest to develop reliable and long-term domestic sources of mineral commodities like copper, gold, molybdenum, silver, rhenium and palladium – strategic metals that are critical to the country’s economic, energy, military and industrial future,” Collier said.
“It is equally important to source these minerals from jurisdictions that are known to be leaders in environmental protection, in conserving healthy fish and wildlife populations, as well as in environmental justice and human rights. That description fits Alaska to a tee and is one more reason why Pebble is poised to become one of America’s leading metals producers.”