Pebble Mine

Landscape near Iliamna where Pebble Mine would be built.

Bristol Bay groups opposing the large Pebble mine project say they’ve persuaded another major investor to back away from the proposal.

In a press release, Pebble opponents said that Morgan Stanley, a major U.S. investment bank, sold its major holding of shares in Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. this spring after meeting with Alaskan groups opposing the mine along with the Natural Resource Defense Council, or NRDC, a major conservation organization.

Morgan Stanley was the fourth largest shareholder in Northern Dynasty, with a high of 4,579,900 shares, said Alannah Hurley, spokesperson for United Tribes.

Mike Heatwole, spokesman for Pebble Partnership, the Northern Dynasty subsidiary that would develop the mine, said the company was aware that share had been sold but had no information as to why.

Hurley said, “UTBB (United Tribes) and its partner organizations in Bristol Bay have joined with NRDC in reaching out to Morgan Stanley as one of Northern Dynasty’s largest and best known institutional shareholders. Communications involved letters and, in late May, a video meeting.”

“Morgan Stanley was responsive to our concerns, eventually dumping over 99 percent of its shares in Northern Dynasty. We confirmed the sell-off through independent stock reporting companies, like Bloomberg,” she said.

Other Bristol Bay groups in the effort included Bristol Bay Native Corp, the Alaska Native regional corporation for the region; Bristol Bay Native Assoc., Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. and two Alaska-based conservation groups, Salmon State and Earthworks, Hurley said.

Opponents to the mine are uncertain whether the project will be approved or disapproved through the federal regulatory processes now underway and have pursued a strategy of chilling investment in the project. They have made contacts with investment houses like Morgan Stanley as well as major mining companies who invested with Northern Dynasty in Pebble.

“The move makes Morgan Stanley the latest major financial contributor to Northern Dynasty to leave the project, following in the footsteps of Mitsubishi in 2011; Anglo American in 2013; Rio Tinto in 2014; First Quantum Minerals and BlackRock in 2018),” United Tribes said in a press release.

“These companies have given several reasons for leaving the project, including the financial risk of investing in such an uncertain prospect with overwhelming local opposition,” the press release said.

Anglo American, a large international minerals company, became a partner in the project and made major investments in exploration and development planning but withdrew mainly because of corporate financial issues created a need to rebalance its portolio of new projects.

Mitsubuishi and Rio Tinto, which was a major stockholder, cited no reasons for withdrawing but concerns over uncertain economics of the project are believed to hve been major factors.

More recently, First Quantum Minerals, which had an option to take a position in Pebble as well as Black Rock and most recently Morgan Stanley were targeted by the opposition groups.

Pebble opponents claim that Northern Dynasty’s financial filings show the company is cash-strapped and does not enough money to get through the federal and state permitting process. “The company has not produced a financial assessment showing that the mine it proposes in its Clean Water Act permit application would be profitable. Mining experts have said that the proposal cannot be profitable,” the press release said.

Pebble is acknowleged to be a challenging project. It is one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper, gold and molydenum deposits but is in a remote location that would require several billions of dollars in infrastructure investment. It is also in an environmentally sensitive location at the headwaters of streams that feed salmon-bearing rivers and support large commercial and subsistence fisheries.

That has parked local opposition, although some local villages say they are open-minded to the project because of the employment it would create. Villages in the Lake and Peninsula Borough, in which Pebble is located, have few job opportunities and are seeing declining population and closing of local schools.

Others say any benefits are outweighed by risks to the regional salmon fishery. “Pebble has been a dark cloud over Bristol Bay for nearly two decades, and we are happy to see yet another major company walk away from this toxic project,” said Robert Heyano, president of United Tribes of Bristol Bay.

“Any investment in Northern Dynasty is an investment in the Pebble Mine, and supports the devastation of Bristol Bay’s people, sustainable economy, and our indigenous cultures,” Heyano said in a statement.

Norm Van Vactor, CEO of Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, said, “Pebble will threaten everything we hold dear in Bristol Bay, including the commercial salmon fishery that is a vital part of our regional, state and national economy. Morgan Stanley’s choice is welcome news in Bristol Bay, and we send a hearty thank you,” he said.

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