EIS scoping ends today; here are some updates to the Pebble application

Jun 29, 2018

The U.S. Army Corps' Environmental Impact Statement scoping period for the proposed Pebble Mine ends today. Here's a look at some recent updates to the permit application.

Attendees at the Kokhanok scoping meeting in April.
Credit Avery Lill/KDLG

As the EIS scoping period for the proposed Pebble Mine draws to a close, Pebble Limited Partnership is adjusting to First Quantum’s decision not to buy into the project, which was announced late last month. Pebble spokesperson Mike Heatwole doesn’t anticipate the decision will impact plans this summer.

“We’re continuing with our work, primarily focused on a range of tasks associated with supporting our permitting,” said Heatwole. “As we go forward with the Corps of Engineers, they have a lot of things called ‘requests for information’ as they ask for information that requires additional technical work – that’s the type of work we’re really focused on. Other aspects of the work are doing what we call Geotechnical drilling, which is where we’re proposing to put some of our mine facilities, wanting to make sure that all the information the engineers need to finalize those decisions are in place; drill the bedrock, make sure the solo stability is everything they need from the technical side of things. I’d characterize it as a full summer worth of work, continuing full-steam right now. And obviously we’re looking longer-term at the potential for other interests in the project.”

The Army Corps doesn’t anticipate that the financial uncertainty following First Quantum’s decision will impact the EIS analysis, either.

“As of this time, it has not affected the development of the analysis,” said Program Coordinator Shane McCoy at a press pool last week. “And until such time that either the applicant withdraws their application, or at which time they cannot provide information that we require for our analysis, we will continue to develop the Environmental Impact Statement. It is really not the Corps’ issue with regards to the financing of the project or of the Pebble Limited Partnership.”

Several changes have been made to the permit application since early May. The updated plan reduces the peak mining rate to 75 million tons per year and increases the milling rate to 180,000 tons per day. This means there will be no requirement to store large volumes of low-grade ore during the first 14 years of operation.

It also increases the total amount mined by approximately 1.5 billion tons – 1.3 billion of ore and 200 million of waste. That annual concentrate production will also lead to a 10 percent increase in associated road and marine traffic.

The two water management ponds have been replaced by a single, significantly larger pond located at the NFK North site that will allow for significant additional process contact water separate from the Tailing Storage Facilities.  

The increase in mill thoroughput requires more power, so the updated plan expands the 12-inch diameter of the natural gas pipeline to include the marine, lake, and land portions of the alignment.   

Heatwole said that changes also included moving the line peg tailings closer to the pit to allow them to be moved into the pit at closure. He also said they have discussed replacing dredging with lightering at the Amakdedori port facility, using barges to move the concentrate containers to deeper waters.

The permitting application is an iterative process. That means the plan will continue to change throughout the permit application.

The Pebble Limited Partnership is also applying for a five-year land use permit to install a temporary helicopter portable skid mounted radio repeater station on the Alaska Peninsula.

It is in this context that EPA administrator Scott Pruitt proposed changes to how the agency would use the Clean Water Act. Announced June 27, the proposal would eliminate the agency’s ability to veto permits for waste discharge in waterways both before a permit application had been filed with the Army Corps or the state and after a permit had been issued. Critics immediately opposed the proposal.

Northern Dynasty is currently the sole owner of PLP, though they are looking at long-term interests in the project. Once the public comment period is over, a scoping report will be made available on the Pebble Project EIS website.

Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.