In late July, the Army Corps of Engineers issued its final environmental impact statement granting a play by Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. (NYSEAMERICAN: NAK) to mine copper and gold at the company’s Pebble Mine site in the Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska.
The Trump administration, and, indeed the president himself, were believed to support the project. Until last Saturday, when news site Politico ran a story that the president had come under pressure from a big Republican donor, the CEO of a major sporting goods store, and his own son, Don Jr., to block the mine.
The Corps of Engineers has announced a conference call for Monday at which, Politico reports, it will say that technical issues remain before a permit can be granted and that the president will use the opportunity to make a statement opposing the project.
Thomas Collier, Northern Dynasty’s chief executive and chief operating officer of the Pebble Partnership that will run the mine, said in a Saturday press release that “we deny any reports that the Trump Administration is going to return to an Obama-like approach that allowed politics to interfere with the normal, traditional permitting process. This president clearly believes in keeping politics out of permitting – something conservatives and the business community fully support.” Collier once worked as chief of staff for Clinton-era Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit.
Bristol Bay and the surrounding wetlands that feed it are home to the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world and about 11% of the world’s total salmon supply. A clash between a mining operation and centuries-old fisheries industry was inevitable. The Corps’ approval comes nearly nine years after a state superior court approved the project. What happened during those years?
Two of Northern Dynasty’s original partners, AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. (NYSE: AU) and Rio Tinto PLC (NYSE: RIO), pulled out of the project. A third partner, Mitsubishi, sold its stake in 2011. AngloGold wrote off a $600 million investment in 2013 and, in 2014, Rio Tinto gave its 19% stake to two Alaskan nonprofits, which promptly sold it and established endowments to support scholarships and vocational job training for Alaskans. In May 2018, Toronto-traded First Quantum Minerals sold a $37.5 million stake it had purchased the previous December.
In 2010, Northern Dynasty’s stock traded at around $21.00 a share. Last Friday the stock closed at $1.45, and it traded down more than 38% Monday morning at around $0.90 a share. The stock hit a five-year peak of around $3.40 in February 2017, just a couple of weeks after Trump’s inauguration.
The stock’s 52-week low of $0.35 was posted in March, and the stock had recovered to around $2.50 after the Corps’ announcement on July 24.