Author: Alex DeMarban
A large mining company is backing out of an agreement that would have made it a major funding partner for the embattled Pebble copper and gold prospect, raising questions about the project's future.
First Quantum Minerals and project owner Northern Dynasty Minerals could not finalize a proposed agreement announced in December, Northern Dynasty said Friday.
The deal could have pumped more than $1 billion into the Southwest Alaska project, the subject of strong nationwide opposition from critics who say it would devastate the Bristol Bay salmon fishery.
Northern Dynasty said in a short statement Friday that the proposed framework agreement between the two companies "has been terminated."
Canadian company First Quantum is one of the world's top 10 copper mining companies, with projects around the world. The company's involvement was considered a major boost for Pebble when the possible long-term deal was announced.
But Pebble has faced continued headwinds. In January, big California pension funds invested in First Quantum called on the mining company to back out. Also that month, Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said "any mining projects in the region likely pose a risk to the abundant natural resources that exist there."
In 2013 and 2014, the project lost other major mining partners when Anglo American and Rio Tinto backed out.
Northern Dynasty, a Canadian mining company whose main asset is Pebble, has pushed the project forward on its own. It launched efforts in December to win approval from federal regulators.
Shares of Northern Dynasty stock plunged Friday, dropping around 25 percent as Alaskans were waking up.
Mike Heatwole, a spokesperson with the project in Alaska, said he could not immediately comment early Friday.
Conservation groups jumped on the unraveled deal, saying it underscored the project as a major risk, economically and environmentally.
"It's time for Northern Dynasty Minerals to listen to Alaskans, pack up and go home," said Nelli Williams, Trout Unlimited's Alaska director.