Friday Focus:  Anxiously Awaiting Ambler Road Draft SEIS and Authorization.    

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Ambler Road draft SEIS expected this month
Shane Lasley, North of 60 Mining News, September 15, 2203

Trilogy Metals Inc. Sept. 11 reported that 2023 summer field activities at the Upper Kobuk Minerals Project were subdued as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management reevaluates the permits for the proposed 211-mile road to the Ambler Mining District in Northwest Alaska. An expected release of the draft supplemental environmental impact statement for the Ambler Access Project in the coming two weeks, however, provides some hope that a decision on the re-issuance of the road permits could be before the 2024 field season.

BLM and the National Park Service originally issued the federal authorization for the Ambler Road in 2020. Last year, however, BLM remanded the road permits.

The federal land manager cited a lack of adequate consultation with Alaska tribes and an evaluation of potential impacts the road might have on subsistence uses as reasons to remand the previously issued authorizations.

A draft SEIS that incorporates the missing data cited by BLM is now expected to be released by the end of September, and the final EIS and record of decision on the reevaluated Ambler Access Project is slated for the second quarter of 2024.

The wait is frustrating for Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a quasi-state-owned corporation better known as AIDEA that plans to build the road and recoup the construction and maintenance costs from tolls charged to companies that develop mines in the district.

“This delay not only impacts AIDEA and our partners with additional costs, but it also impacts individuals, communities, and the State who would like to see the economic benefits, future jobs and revenue that come with construction and operation of the road,” Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority Executive Director Randy Ruaro said earlier this year.

Stunted season

The impact of waiting on the BLM to reevaluate the Ambler Road was seen in the Bornite Camp at UKMP this summer.

Ambler Metals LLC – a joint venture equally owned by Trilogy and South32 Ltd. to advance exploration and development at UKMP – carried out minimal field work this year.

The work mostly involved a small geological team that continued work started in 2022 on the geological setting and alteration at Arctic, the first deposit expected to be developed in the Ambler District.

A 2020 feasibility study for Arctic detailed plans for a mine that is slated to produce an average of more than 155 million pounds of copper, 192 million lb of zinc, 32 million lb of lead, 32,165 ounces of gold, and 3.4 million oz of silver annually over a 12-year mine life.

Ambler Metals also used the camp to carry out sampling of core from Bornite, a large deposit about 16 miles southwest of Arctic that hosts roughly 6.4 billion lb of copper and 77 million lb of cobalt.

This year’s core sampling was in support of a study led by the Colorado School of Mines to investigate the occurrence and distribution of germanium and other critical elements at Bornite

Ambler Metals has hired Wood Canada Limited and SRK Consulting (Canada) Inc. to complete an initial scoping-level study to investigate the potential of processing Bornite ore at the mill at Arctic. This is expected to extend UKMP operations to 30 years and result in cost-saving synergies between the two projects.

Metallurgical test work to potentially increase cobalt reporting with copper concentrate was initiated in July using three previously tested concentrates from the Bornite deposit. The test work is being conducted by ALS Minerals and is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of this year.

In addition to Ambler Metals’ program, the Bornite Camp supported crews completing environment baseline, cultural resource, and other studies in support of BLM’s Ambler Access Project SEIS and more robust future field work in the Ambler District if the federal land manager reapproves the road project by mid-2024.