NEW YORK The United States might be unable to make up the growing gap between copper consumption and production due to the delay in further development and permitting of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd.s mine project in southwestern Alaska, according to American Resource Policy Network (ARPN) president Daniel McGroarty.
Northern Dynastys project description for the copper-gold-molybdenum Pebble Mine project, with estimated deposits of at least 55 billion of pounds copper, is 99 percent complete. But resistance from local environmental groups and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the mines potential impact on the Bristol Bay fish population has delayed permitting (amm.com, June 4, 2012).
"The EPA has devised and put in play a review that was preceding the permitting process, a water assessment theyre basing on a hypothetical construct rather than evaluating a specific mine plan, which is the traditional way," McGroarty told AMM. "This was novel, but it had to have elevated the risk that Anglo American (Plc) felt about the program."
Partner Anglo American (US) Pebble LLC, recently withdrew from the projects development (amm.com, Sept. 16).
The ARPN fears the watershed assessment could become a tactic used to prevent mines from developing, which would contribute to a growing U.S. reliance on imported copper, McGroarty said, noting that the nation imports 35 percent of its copper vs. 7 percent 20 years ago. "You can take a mine like pebble at full production and fill the gap."
Northern Dynasty, Vancouver, British Columbia, doesnt believe Anglo American left the project because of the water assessment, vice president of public affairs Sean Magee said. But the EPAs assessment has been problematic in skewing the publics idea of the project, he added.
"Theres been a rush to judgement in the public realm. ... The Pebble partnership that we own, that management group has expended a lot of time and money in that process rather than being focused in the actual engineering of the project," he said.
Anglo American couldnt be reached for comment.
There has been some reassuring change in EPA leadership in the region, with new administrator Gina McCarthy emphasizing a focus on science rather than politics, Magee said. "Her clear focus is on climate change and carbon issues, and at this point we believe any pre-emptive action on any project would not only be extraordinary but unprecedented and possibly unlawful."
The EPA started the assessment after receiving requests from tribes and other stakeholders to use its Clean Water Act authorities to protect Bristol Bay, however the agency hasnt yet decided to use its Clean Water authorities, EPA spokeswoman Hanady A. Kader said via e-mail.
The assessment isnt meant to reflect any judgment on the project, it is a scientific project to look at how large-scale mining will affect Bristol Bay, she said, adding that the EPA intends to complete its assessment this year.