Not digging it: First Quantum abandons Pebble project

Canada’s First Quantum Minerals became the fourth mining company to abandon the Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay. The first three — Mitsubishi, Anglo American and Rio Tinto — are the three largest mining companies in the world.

Northern Dynasty, which has a claim on the mine property through its subsidiary Pebble Limited Partnership and is also based in Canada, said in a statement this week that it was unable to finalize a partnership agreement with First Quantum after establishing a framework in December 2017.

“This is the fourth major company that’s pulled out of Pebble because of the massive environmental risks, lack of economic feasibility and widespread local opposition,” said Dillingham, Alaska-based commercial fisherman Robin Samuelsen. “Pebble is a bankrupt organization now and will quickly run out of what little money they have with no access to further capital. The governor now needs to move forward on canceling the mineral leases a reclassifying the land to ensure protection for our jobs and way of life in the Bristol Bay region where opposition to Pebble Mine is unwavering.”

Under the framework, First Quantum was to provide $150 million for legal and consulting costs associated with the permitting process in exchange for an option on half of the Pebble partnership. But the permitting process has not been smooth.

A coalition of Alaska business leaders, commercial fishermen, Bristol Bay Tribes and conservation organizations took out a full-page ad in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper vowing to continue fighting the project. The ad was timed to coincide with the First Quantum’s annual general meeting in Toronto in early May.

NRDC anti-Pebble ad

An anti-Pebble Mine coalition published this full-page ad in a Toronto paper to coincide with First Quantum Mineral’s annual meeting.

Members of the coalition also showed up to the meeting and delivered more than 250,000 petitions urging First Quantum to withdraw from its agreement with Northern Dynasty.

The treasurer of California, the comptroller of New York City and the comptroller of New York state all pressured First Quantum to withdraw from the deal.

Pebble Limited Partnership applied for permits with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a 417-square-mile block that contains a deposit of copper, gold and molybdenum. The deposit is located about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage and 60 miles west of Cook Inlet. The closest communities are about 17 miles from the site. The project proposal includes a transportation corridor, a port and a natural gas pipeline. The land is owned by the state of Alaska.

The proposed project would support a mine for about 20 years — about as long as local Alaskans and commercial fishermen have been fighting the proposal. Opponents say the toxic byproducts of metals extraction would have to be contained in tailings ponds, creating a perpetual threat to the most productive wild salmon fishery in the world. Bristol Bay’s fishery generates $1.5 billion annually, supports 14,000 jobs, and supplies half the world’s sockeye salmon.

The United Fishermen of Alaska reported Bristol Bay’s 2016 commercial salmon ex-vessel value alone was $192 million with a projected $214 million in 2017. And nearly 100 percent of local residents fish the bay for subsistence.

“This is great news coming at the onset of what looks to be a banner season for Bristol Bay fishermen,” said Mark Niver of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, who takes a break from his North Slope job each year to fish with his sons in Bristol Bay. “For too long now we have set out each year with fear and worry about the possibility of Pebble moving forward and threatening our jobs and businesses. Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Sen. Lisa Murkowski now have an opportunity wide open to them to change that. The governor needs to call for a moratorium on mineral exploration in the watershed and just let people go fishing. We need a year where we don’t have this sword hanging over our head.”

Tom Collier, Pebble Limited Partnership CEO, said in a statement that his company’s operations were “business as usual,” despite the fallout, according to the Associated Press. Collier added that he believes Pebble will secure the funding necessary to continue the permitting process. The transportation corridor would cross state land as well as land patented under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

The public comment period on the Pebble project is open until June 29.

Submit your comment online at Pebble Project EIS.

Mail comments to:
Program Manager, Regulatory Division
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
PO Box 6898
Joint Base Elmendorf
Richardson, AK 99506-0898

About the author

Jessica Hathaway

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 12 years, worked in maritime publishing for 17, and has served on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s Communications Committee for two years.

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