Brent Murphy, vice president of environment with Seabridge Gold, gives a presentation on the KSM project at the Southeast Conference Office on Wednesday. Seabridge Gold are the owners of the KSM Project, a copper, gold and silver mine that would be located in northwestern British Columbia.

Brent Murphy, vice president of environment with Seabridge Gold, gives a presentation on the KSM project at the Southeast Conference Office on Wednesday. Seabridge Gold are the owners of the KSM Project, a copper, gold and silver mine that would be located in northwestern British Columbia.

Controversial KSM mine isn’t expected anytime soon

In a few weeks, survey crews will again be working on British Columbia mountainsides that could one day be home to one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines, but construction of that mine isn’t likely anytime soon.

On Wednesday, Seabridge Gold vice president Brent Murphy updated members of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce and Juneau Economic Development Council on the progress of the controversial Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine near the headwaters of the Unuk River.

“We are not going away. There will be a mining project. KSM will be built one of these days,” Murphy told a small group in the offices of Southeast Conference.

[Environmental groups: KSM a bad investment.]

Thanks to falling global mineral prices, “these days” are seemingly later, rather than sooner.

While exploratory drilling continues, Seabridge is still seeking a partner to develop its mine.

“Our primary objective continues to be to complete a joint venture agreement on the KSM project with a suitable partner on terms advantageous to Seabridge,” the company’s 2015 annual report stated. “This objective is mostly not under our control.”

According to a 2012 financial feasibility study, an investment of $5.256 billion will be needed to develop the mine. That titanic figure means Seabridge needs support from one of the world’s 10 largest gold and mining corporations, the company stated in its annual report, released three weeks ago.

As global metal prices have plunged amid economic trouble in China and other developing nations, “market conditions and industry confidence are key factors affecting the achievement of this objective,” the company declared.

If the company can find a partner, the payoff would be huge. According to the latest figures published by Coeur Mining, the Kensington Gold Mine has proven reserves of 67,000 ounces of gold and another 493,000 ounces in probable reserves.

KSM has 10,300,000 ounces of proven reserves and another 27,900,000 ounces of probable reserves. And that’s just the gold — KSM also has the potential for nearly 10 million pounds of copper, 191 million ounces of silver and 213 million pounds of molybdenum, a mineral used in electronic components and to harden steel.

That promise comes at a cost. Environmental groups have consistently opposed plans for the mine. While KSM does not intersect any salmon-bearing rivers or streams, it is upstream of the Unuk River, which flows through the Misty Fjords National Wilderness and into the Pacific Ocean north of Ketchikan.

[Part 1 of 3: Anti-KSM groups seek federal help.]

Fishermen have expressed concerns that runoff from the mine could contaminate the Unuk, harming salmon runs. Those concerns intensified after a tailings dam failed at the Mount Polley Mine in August 2014, contaminating British Columbia rivers and lakes.

[Mount Polley to reopen after 2014 disaster.]

Last week, the auditor general of British Columbia, Carol Bellringer, issued a report faulting the owners of another British Columbia mine, the Tulsequah Chief, for failing to stop the flow of acidic water from the mine and into the Taku River, which flows just south of Juneau.

“What we learned last week from the auditor-general is that the BC process is not the best in the world,” said Chris Zimmer, the Alaska campaign manager for Rivers Without Borders, which has opposed the KSM mine.

Murphy said the results of the auditor general report will have implications for KSM, too. “I think you will absolutely see changes coming. We know there are changes coming,” he said. “There will be stricter regulation. Of that, I have no doubt.”

[Tulsequah Chief Mine Owner defaults on debt payment, critics wonder about cleanup responsibility.]

While Zimmer has problems with KSM’s plans, he doesn’t think the mine is likely anytime soon.

“It’s a very, very complex project, and I’m sure investors are going to take a real hard look before they spend money,” he said. “I wouldn’t be optimistic about getting that kind of money in the coming years.”

• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com.

Related stories:

Empire Editorial: KSM: Leaving Alaskans with all the risk, zero benefits

My Turn: Doing mining differently up north

Head of UAS mine-training program opposes tax hike

Coeur Alaska gets OK for fuel depot at Kensington Mine

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of May 18

Here’s what to expect this week.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Friday, May 17, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, May 16, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Students and staff play a kickball game on the field between the Marie Drake Building and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Friday afternoon. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
School district leaders debate biggest needs for extra $5.2M approved by Legislature, in hope governor won’t veto it

Staff for special education and gifted students, homeschooling, paying off city loan high on list.

Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, speaks Wednesday, May 8, on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
After several deadly drownings, Alaska Legislature votes to require harbor safety ladders

Bill by Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, passes on final day of session.

Members of the Thunder Mountain High School culinary arts team prepare their three-course meal during the National ProStart Invitational in Baltimore on April 26-28. (Photo by Rebecca Giedosh-Ruge)
TMHS culinary arts team serves a meal of kings at national competition

Five students who won state competition bring Alaskan crab and salmon to “Top Chef”-style event.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, May 15, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, listens to discussion on the Senate floor on Wednesday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
A look at some of the bills that failed to pass the Alaska Legislature this year

Parts of a long-term plan to bring state revenue and expenses into line again failed to advance.

Most Read