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Public Policy & Issues

Rio Tinto pulls out of Pebble mine project

By Michelle Graff

April 08, 2014


This photo provided by the Pebble Ltd. Partnership shows a drill rig on the site of the proposed Pebble mine in Alaska. The partnership is 100 percent owned by Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd.

London--Yet another miner is un-staking its claim from the proposed Pebble mine in Alaska, leaving the sole owner of the project to hunt for new partners. 

Rio Tinto announced Monday that it was dividing its 19.1 percent stake in Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. between two charities in Alaska.

Following a review that it began late last year, the mining company concluded that “the Pebble Project does not fit with Rio Tinto’s strategy.”

“Rio Tinto has long and historic ties to Alaska and we continue to see Alaska as an attractive location for potential future investment,” Rio Tinto Copper Chief Executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques said in a company statement. “By giving our shares to two respected Alaskan charities, we are ensuring that Alaskans will have a say in Pebble’s future development and that any economic benefit supports Alaska’s ability to attract investment that creates jobs.”

The London-based miner’s stake in Northern Dynasty will go to the Alaska Community Foundation, which funds educational and vocational training in the state, and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation, which supports educational and cultural programs around Bristol Bay.

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Rio Tinto’s exit follows Anglo American’s decision to withdraw from the project in September, and leaves Northern Dynasty Minerals searching for a new mining partner.

 A spokesman for Vancouver, B.C.-based Northern Dynasty said the company already was looking for a new partner prior to Monday’s announcement for Rio Tinto. “We remain optimistic as we have had, and continue to have, positive discussions with interested companies,” the company said.

Northern Dynasty acknowledged that it needs one or more major partners to move forward with the Pebble Mine, and, as it has said publicly before, it expects additional major mining companies to come on board once it secures permits for the project.

Proposed for construction near the Bristol Bay watershed, the Pebble mine would be North America’s largest open-pit copper and gold mine and, proponents said, would bring many much-needed jobs to that area of Alaska.

Opponents, however, which include many native Alaskan and environmental groups, worry about the potential environmental impact of mine on the ecosystem of Bristol Bay, which is home to the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery.

Earthworks, a Washington-based environmental group that has been one of the main opponents of Pebble, said Rio Tinto’s divestment from the project “may not be the final nail in the coffin (for the mine), but it’s surely one of the last.”

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Prior to Monday’s announcement from Rio Tinto, word came from the Environmental Protection Agency last month that it was invoking its authority under the Clean Water Act to assess Pebble’s impact on the Bristol Bay watershed, placing the project in indefinite limbo.

“There is currently no major funder backing the Pebble mine proposal,” Earthworks said. “Perhaps more importantly, there is now no mining company behind Pebble that has actually mined anything.”

In response, Northern Dynasty Minerals said that it is affiliated with Hunter Dickinson, which has “taken several mining projects into production.”