Ambler Mining District/ Upper Kobuk Mineral Project

Ambler Mining District/ Upper Kobuk Mineral Project

NovaCopper Inc.’s  Upper Kobuk Mineral Project (previously known as the “Ambler Prospect”) seeks to develop a large copper/zinc/gold/silver deposit in the Ambler Mining District in the northwestern Arctic.  NovaCopper Inc. conducted exploratory drilling in the summers of  2011 and 2012.  Exploration has focused on the Arctic, and Bornite deposits.  A preliminary economic assessment released in 2011 estimated total payable metal production over the life of the mine at 1.7 billion pounds of copper, 2.0 billion pounds of zinc, 291 million pounds of lead, 266,000 ounces of gold and 22 million ounces of silver.

Ambler Mineral Belt and proposed road routes.  The Brooks East Corridor is the main route now in consideration.  Source: DOWL HKM (2011)

The project is very remote.  The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities’ Roads to Resources program proposes building a 220-mile- long road connecting the Dalton highway to the Ambler Mining District.  This road would greatly abet development of the Upper Kobuk Mineral Project.  The proposed road could have significant environmental impacts.  The current road proposal calls for crossing 161 rivers and streams and establishing gravel quarries every ten miles along the roadway.  The state of Alaska would pay for road construction (estimated to cost $430 million) and maintenance (estimated to cost $8.5 million a year).

Kobuk River near Ambler (Source: John Gaedeke)

The Arctic Deposit contains sulfides that, when exposed to the environment, react with oxygen and water to generate sulfuric acid. This can enter the watershed, causing it to become highly acidic and inhospitable to almost all life.  The feasibility study for the mine implies that active water treatment will need to continue forever after the closure of the mine to mitigate this acid.

In 2012, the Brooks Range Council was formed to oppose the mine and road.

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