Mining & Resources reports that the partners seeking to develop the Pebble Mine in Alaska plan to spend $140 million this year advancing mine development. The partners are Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd and Anglo American PLC. Reportedly $30 million will be spent on engineering (would that I were their consultant), $25 million on environmental studies, and nearly $15 million on public education to increase support for the mine.
The Pebble Mine if developed would become one of the world’s largest gold mines. With Anglo American’s might, knowledge, and track-record behind the project, surely it must succeed? So should you invest now or wait until the public education program yields results?
I cannot say; but I do urge you to consider a significant issue that may significantly affect the speed at which the project goes ahead: the permitting of the mine. Let us take a quick look at the basic permitting issues for mines in the United States in general.
If you do not have the right permits, you cannot mine. Sometimes permits are called licenses. The universe of permits that the average mine needs to get is vast. In most instance the suite of permits you need is location, i.e., jurisdiction, specific
Never confuse the environmental impact assessment process with permitting. They are not the same thing. Having successfully met federal and/or state and/or local laws and regulations relating to undertaking an environmental impact assessment of your mine, means nothing as far as the permitting process is concerned. It is generally the case that you won’t get your permits until you have successfully completed the EIS/EA process.
Who should you put in charge of getting all the permits you need to mine? The most successful permitting processes I have been involved with have had a group of local lawyers in charge of permitting. A good lawyer knows how to identify the required permits, how to frame the issues to get the regulators to grant the permits, and how to fight if there is a regulatory delay.
That said, it boils down to getting the right person with the right personality and experience in charge. They may come from anywhere—so take time to seek them out.
Depending on the specifics of your site and its location you will probably need a 404 permit, an NPDES permit, and a Title V Air Quality permit. NPDES stands for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. I know of no U.S. mine without such a permit.
The 404 permit is named for Section 404 of the Federal Clean Water Act. Specifically with regard to mining, the EPA notes:
The Clean Water Act (CWA) requires all point source discharges from mining operations be authorized under an NPDES permit, as described in Section 402 of the CWA. The construction of impoundments to serve as repositories for tailings and treatment of waste from mining and mineral processing operations are regulated by Section 404 of the CWA, as well as, Section 402 in the case of discharges from these impoundments into any waters of the United States.
404 permits come from the Corps of Engineers, i.e., the Department of the Army. At this link is a description of how the Fort Know mine went about getting their 404 permit. Keep in mind the 404 permit is not liked where mountaintop mining is undertaken. The 404 permit is needed if you put anything into a navigable water of the United States. That is where the lawyer comes in, for what constitutes navigable water is by no means clear. Best consult the lawyer if in doubt.
Title V permits as they relate to mine-impacted air quality. In 2002 the Sterling Mine in Montana got such a permit laden with provisions.
Time and space preclude a more detailed examination of the multiplicity of permits that could delay the opening of your mine. I have written much more elsewhere. Contact me if you would like to know more.