Viewpoint: Perpetua’s PR move and what Barrick sale means

The Star-News, Viewpoint by Samuel Stoddard

There was a lot of news in last week’s issue of The Star-News regarding Perpetua Resources. First there was the news that Perpetua will spend $12 million to clean up existing mining waste left by previous mining companies.

It’s important to point out that this work will be done outside of the Draft Environment Impact Statement which has not been approved yet. In fact a supplemental DEIS is due out for public comment this summer.

There was an Administrative Settlement Agreement and Order on Consent or ASAOC between the EPA, the Forest Service and Perpetua Resources. This “sweetheart deal” allows Perpetua to begin the cleanup prior to the overall SGP being approved.

Why is that important? First it allows Perpetua and their bureaucratic and political allies to make public relations hay with it before the public comment period for the supplemental DEIS, i.e. “look how responsible we are. We are paying out of our own pocket to cleanup other company’s messes!” The timing of this news is no accident.

Secondly it fends off future lawsuits regarding this clean-up and ongoing water pollution at the site. Another interesting aspect to this news is Perpetua’s terminology regarding the existing waste. They talk about actual “waste rock” together with “mining waste,” seeming to lump it altogether to make the quantities appear greater for their cleanup program.

Mine waste rock is simply rock removed during the mining process but that is too low in mineral content to justify processing it. Interesting that in Perpetua’s DEIS they avoid calling it “waste rock” but refer to it by the more environmentally acceptable term “development rock.”

Also they intend to use it all around the site including on the tailings dam. In my experience on mining projects it’s extraordinary to receive approval to start environmentally sensitive work prior to the Environmental Impact Statement being approved. I don’t know how much Perpetua has spent to date with no return on their investment but it seems strange to spend even more unless there is something happening behind the scenes.

That brings me to the next headline in The Star-News: “Barrick Gold sells its stock in Perpetua.” Barrick is one of the world’s largest gold mining companies.

I have experience with Barrick and know their priorities. They are: acquire high value assets, get them into production quickly and start making money. This sale tells me that they are out of patience with Perpetua and want to cut their losses.

They would not have sold out if they were confident in the new Perpetua PR strategy of selling the “green antimony mining project” and PR mantra of “we are caring and responsible neighbors and want what’s best for Valley County.”

How does Barrick’s exit effect the project? Perpetua now has no partner with any actual mining experience or resources. Instead they claim that they will execute the project themselves. Would you want the state to award a multi-billion dollar contract to build a highway system to a contractor with no experience or resources?

For the general public, Barrick leaving the project is a double-edged sword. First, it could be a sign that Barrick has read the writing on the wall and the project probably won’t be approved. However, if the project is approved we are stuck with a company with no actual mining project execution experience or resources which could be a formula for disaster. Also, Barrick has a terrible reputation around the world for environmental, tribal and community relations issues so not having them involved could be a net positive result.

And last but least, the Viewpoint in last week’s edition, “Independent analysis needed of Stibnite mine” by steering committee members of the Idaho Headwaters Economic Study Group. This article, in my opinion, is probably the most important article in last week’s issue of The Star-News.

While there has been a lot of attention given to the execution and environmental issues of the project, the attention given to its community impacts has either been nonexistent or totally lopsided.

Perpetua has gone above and beyond in selling itself as the ideal neighbor and expounding on all of the positive effects the Project will have on the community. This Viewpoint did an excellent job of pointing out the disparities in previously done impact studies paid for by Perpetua themselves.

For those who have not been exposed to a mining mega project, it is difficult to imagine just the increase in traffic on the local roads, i.e. accidents and maintenance impacts.

Kudos to this group for taking the initiative to form what appears to be the first serious and impartial effort to do a credible study of how this project will actually effect Valley County’s residents, businesses and infrastructure.

(Samuel Stoddard lives in Cascade.)

Story originally published in The Star-News in McCall on Thursday, June 23, 2022. Republished with permission.