The Pebble Project: Up, down and around

The last six months have been a roller coaster ride, as news about permitting and partnerships follows twists and turns, throwing just about everyone for a loop.

December 18First Quantum Minerals (FQM) and Northern Dynasty Minerals (NDM) announce a framework agreement that precedes a formal “option agreement.” The plan is for FQM to invest $150 million over 4 years and then decide whether to buy a 50% stake in the project for an additional $1.35 billion. The partnership announcement is a big win for the project, and means that it can pay for the long permitting process. The first installment of $37.5 million was paid Dec. 15.
December 22Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) submits key 404 permit application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (Corps) PLP submits its application by the end of 2017, as promised.
January 6The Corps determines the permit application is complete. The Corps makes quick work of the application review and sets an aggressive permitting timeline.
January 26EPA announces suspension of its withdrawal of proposed protections for Bristol Bay, saying that “any mining projects in the region likely pose a risk to the abundant natural resources that exist there.” EPA could proceed with the process for enacting protections in May 2021 or when the Corps issues a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), whichever comes first. EPA Chief Scott Pruitt’s decision is unexpected and means the spectre of potential EPA protections still hangs over the project.
January 29The State of California Treasurer, representing large pension funds that invest in FQM, requests that FQM stop negotiations and payments related to the Pebble project. The New York State and New York City Comptrollers follow California’s lead a few weeks later.
February 5The Corps announces it has chosen AECOM as the 3rd party lead on the Pebble permitting project. Selection of a 3rd party contractor to develop the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) needed for permitting is another step forward in the permitting process. AECOM will be paid by PLP but will report directly to the Corps.
March 20The Corps announces permitting timeline, including a two-year schedule to get to a final EIS and a 30-day public input period for the first part of the process, scoping. The 30-day scoping period is the minimum required, and the aggressive overall timeline pleases project proponents. Opponents, agencies and legislators call for a 90-120-day scoping period.
April 130-day scoping period starts, to include 9 meetings over 11 days. The Corps takes criticism that its meetings in Dillingham, Homer, and Anchorage will not accommodate live public comment.
April 5Just one day before they had planned to complete a formal partnership agreement, NDM and FQM announce a 24-day extension. With due diligence and details to be worked out, the potential partners decide they need more time.
April 6The Corps announces a scoping period extension to June 29. The Corps states that its overall timeline will not be affected by this extension. However, additional public input is likely to be an outcome and the Corps may in fact need more time to analyze it.
April 9-199 public scoping meetings held. (Meeting transcripts) There are few comments in favor of the Pebble project during those meetings that allow live speech. Rallies against the project are held during Homer and Anchorage meetings.
May 1FQM announces another 30-day delay in formalizing agreement with NDM. Investors begin to wonder, and worry, about the delay.
May 11PLP submitschanges to its plan, citing a responsiveness to concerns raised during scoping. The Corps does not consider the changes major. Opponents do, saying that “major revisions” “substantially increase almost every project component.”
May 25NDM announces there will be no final agreement with FQM. FQM is quiet about what led to its decision. PLP says it is confident another partner will come forward, but there are concerns about its financial health and ability to pay for permitting.