Environmental group releases more secretly recorded videos of Pebble Mine executive

Two new secretly recorded videos of Northern Dynasty Minerals CEO Ronald Thiessen discussing the financial aspects of the Pebble Mine project have been revealed by the Environmental Investigation Agency, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group.

In September, the EIA posted a series of videos it surreptitiously recorded of conversations with Thiessen and Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier, which led to Collier’s resignation on 23 September.

The new videos show Thiessen discussing the string of investors that have abandoned the project, marking financial losses for at least two of them. In a press release, Tim Bristol, the executive director of SalmonState, a non-governmental organization with the mission of protection Alaska’s wild salmon populations, called for Thiessen’s ouster based on his comments from the recordings.

“The new additions to the Pebble Tapes underscore that Alaskans cannot trust the company behind this project; that they have been pulling political strings for Pebble for years; and that they expect a massive amount of cash from Alaskans in order to make Pebble happen,” Bristol said. “Not only would Pebble do irreversible damage to the planet’s greatest wild sockeye salmon fishery, it would be a huge drain on Alaska’s already terrible fiscal situation. The proposed Pebble Mine is a lie built by liars. It’s time to end the lie, once and for all, with an [Environmental Protection Agency] veto of this toxic project under the Clean Water Act.”  

In the new recordings, Thiessen acknowledges the projects investors have spent USD 1 billion (EUR 858 million) thus far.

"We've spent almost a billion dollars in total on the project today. And have built nothing," Thiessen said. "We spent over USD 150 million [EUR 129 million] preparing for permitting. And then the permitting process itself we spent USD 100 million [EUR 85.9 million] on. I would say that we probably spent more than three times as much as the average."

Thiessen describes the abandonment of four major investors – Rio Tinto, Anglo American, Mitsubishi, and First Quantum, in detail.

 “Rio [Tinto] invested USD 200 million [EUR 171.8 million] in the company, and that's how part of the billion dollars that was spent. Anglo American came in as a 50-50 partner at asset level in 2007, funded USD 575 million [EUR 494 million] worth of expenditures."

Mitsubishi left in 2011, selling its 9.1 percent investment in Northern Dynasty, and Anglo American walked away from a 50 percent interest in 2013, according to Thiessen. In 2016, Rio Tinto gifted its 19.8 percent shares to Alaska-based charitable foundations – the Alaska Community Foundation and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation. Thiessen states on the tapes that Rio Tinto's shares were bought by a private company named Sterling Global.

Then in 2018, First Quantum walked from the project before investing. First Quantum was to provide USD 150 million (EUR 128.9 million) for legal and consulting costs associated with the permitting process in exchange for an option on half of the Pebble Partnership.

Thiessen said he expected the state of Alaska to pitch in USD 1.5 billion (EUR 1.29 billion) to support the development of infrastructure for the project.

"The total [capital expenditure] on this in round numbers is going to be about USD 5.5 billion [EUR 4.72 billion]," Thiessen said. "We believe the state of Alaska and other entities in Alaska will fund most of the infrastructure for about USD 1.5 billion, so the net is USD 4 billion [EUR 3.44 billion]."

Additional reporting by Jes Hathaway/National Fisherman

Photo courtesy of Environmental Investigation Agency


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