Pebble Mine: Investors Beware
After denial of federal permit, Canadian owner of embattled Bristol Bay mining scheme doubles down on assurances to potential investors, ignoring intensifying support of demand by Alaskans for permanent protection of Bristol Bay fishery.
“Caveat Emptor”—let the buyer beware—is a long-standing doctrine of American law and good advice for any consumer. “Caveat Investor” is even better advice for anyone who may be listening to Northern Dynasty Minerals, sole owner of the destructive Pebble Mine, as it continues to troll for funding. After a decade of steady decline in the company’s stock price, its former mining partners—and plenty of its past or present investors – probably wish they had heeded the warning.
Ten years ago, in February 2011, when Pebble’s mining partnership included Mitsubishi Corporation, Anglo American, and Rio Tinto, the share price for Northern Dynasty topped $21.00. Today, that single company (with Pebble Mine its only asset) is all that remains of the partnership, and in just the last month its share price has dropped yet again—to around $0.66 a share.
And yet Northern Dynasty’s assurances to investors continue—despite the devastating Pebble Tapes, the resulting resignation of Pebble’s CEO, the strong statements of opposition by Alaska’s two Senators, and the Army Corps of Engineers’ permit denial last November.
Just last week, for example, in a March 4th video Fireside Chat at the BMO Global Metals and Mining Conference, Northern Dynasty CEO and Director Ron Thiessen assured potential investors that “we are by no means at the end of the road or dead.” He offered an update on the company’s administrative appeal of the permit denial (a decision is not expected until “late summer or early Fall”). He promised more “news releases to further unpack the differences between the Record of Decision . . . and the administrative record,” and he assured investors that “we’re going to try to stay busy to keep our shareholders engaged and the communities engaged.”
Remarkably, he reiterated what has perhaps always been Northern Dynasty’s most preposterous claim—that “Pebble will enhance the fisheries” in Bristol Bay. In other words, instead of putting at risk the world’s most productive wild salmon fishery (as federal agencies, scientists, mining experts, and the people of Bristol Bay have found), Northern Dynasty contends that Pebble can build what it hopes will be North America’s largest open pit copper and gold mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay and actually improve the fishery!
Considering that this singular natural gem of an ecosystem is the product of millions of years of evolution, that it produces between 30-60 million fish each year (including 50 percent of the world’s sockeye salmon), that it generates $1.5 billion in revenue and 14,000 jobs, and that Pebble would threaten all of this with billions of tons of mining waste toxic to fish, Thiessen’s assertion is both absurd and broadly discrediting in its astonishing misunderstanding of, or its failure to acknowledge, the undeniable risks of such a project in such a place.
Also disturbing is what Thiessen did not say:
He said nothing about the intensifying diversity of voices calling for permanent protection—to put to rest not only Pebble but any large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed. Since December, when United Tribes of Bristol Bay (“UTBB”), the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, and the Bristol Bay Native Association released The Call to Protect Bristol Bay, a groundswell of support has emerged for implementing their regional vision for the future:
- Over 200 organizations representing millions of members and activists—conservation, environmental, recreational and commercial fishery, hunting, and other groups—have joined The Call’s demand for (1) Clean Water Act section 404(c) protection by EPA and (2) creation of a national fisheries area by Congress;
- In a February 24, 2021 Open Letter to President Biden published in Politico, UTBB called for an end to the uncertainty that hangs over Bristol Bay, stating that “the time is now” to complete the 404(c) process begun and nearly completed by the Obama Administration in 2014;
- In a letter of support on March 1, 2021, Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay (“CFBB”) reiterated that request in a letter to EPA Administrator-designate Regan and Acting Administrator Nishida;
- In a March 4, 2021 letter also to EPA’s leadership, the Bristol Bay Defense Fund—a coalition of organizations leading the charge for protection of the region (including NRDC)—added its voice in support of completing the 404(c) process;
- And in a letter sent just yesterday, NRDC, too, submitted additional argument in support of EPA action.
And this support continues to build. But because Northern Dynasty has no other assets or reason to exist beyond the Pebble Mine, it can be expected to continue, against all odds, to promote its project for as long as it can pay the salaries of its leadership team.
To that end, CEO Thiessen made clear last week the company’s intention to “stay busy,” including a flurry of regular news releases, presumably not just to attract new investors but to keep despair at bay among the company’s existing shareholders. While this may generate movement in the company’s share price, it will not address the fundamental flaws that have prevented this destructive mining project from winning approval even from the Trump Administration.
Today, with President Biden already on record in support of long-term protection for Bristol Bay from Pebble or any project like it—and with intensifying, broad-based support for permanent protection of the watershed—Northern Dynasty’s financial prospects are more dire than they have ever been.
Consider this a word to the wise: Investors beware.
The time is now to secure a healthy future for Bristol Bay, its communities, and its wildlife—forever. The people of Bristol Bay deserve our support.
Take action now.