On Monday morning, news broke that Anglo American, one of two companies invested in a hugely controversial proposed copper and gold mine in Alaska known as the Pebble Project, is backing out after spending $541 million on its development.
The Chief Executive of the British multinational corporation, which owns 50 percent of the Pebble Limited Partnership, put out a statement praising the Pebble mineral resource as “being of the highest value and quality” but asserting that:
Our focus has been to prioritise capital to projects with the highest value and lowest risks within our portfolio, and reduce the capital required to sustain such projects during the pre-approval phases of development as part of a more effective, value-driven capital allocation model.
The Pebble mine could be the largest open pit mine in North America and one of the biggest in the world. It would require extensive new infrastructure in the remote and unspoiled Bristol Bay region, including a massive tailings pond to hold toxic waste, an open pit two to three miles wide, a hundred miles of road and pipelines, a 378-megawatt power plant, and a new deepwater port.
The project has come under significant fire from groups as varied as commercial fishermen, Alaska Native tribes, and conservationists in Alaska and the lower 48 states, all of whom say that because the mine is located in the headwaters of the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery, it would threaten this $1.5 billion industry that supports nearly 10,000 full-time jobs across the country.
It remains to be seen how Northern Dynasty, a Canadian company that owns the other half of the project, will move forward. While its chairman put out a statement saying that the change “opens the door to a number of exciting possibilities for Northern Dynasty and its shareholders and the Pebble Project and its stakeholders,” its stock plummeted this morning:
Today’s news comes at the same time commercial fishermen and other groups opposed to the project are celebrating the significant public opposition to the mine. Their analysis of 895,195 public comments submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency on its study of the Bristol Bay watershed found that 73 percent of all comments were in support of the EPA’s research on how mining could affect Bristol Bay salmon. In addition, 84 percent of comments from Alaska supported the EPA and 98 percent of comments from Bristol Bay residents supported the EPA.
With this in mind, Tim Bristol of Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program said in a press release that he “can’t think of a development project in the state’s history that has faced such wide and deep opposition from the citizens of Alaska, and so it’s no surprise that Anglo American announced its withdrawal from the Pebble project.”
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy recently visited the Bristol Bay region in order to learn more about the mine proposal and how it might affect local stakeholders, a move that positions her agency to take a hard look at the long-awaited official mine permit application from the Pebble Partnership.