“Alaska’s Secret Gold Mine: Biggest Gold Discovery of last 20 years”

By Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe, March 18, 2009

So … if you’re breathing, and you can read, and you’ve ever subscribed to any investment service or resource of any kind, you’ve probably seen this ad. My readers have wildly varying opinions of Stansberry & Associates and their newsletters, but one thing is certain: They know how to get the word out.

And the word, this time, is a teaser about a huge new gold discovery — aptly timed, with gold up here around $900 and many investors still manic for gold coins in the great “flight to safety.”

But it’s not just a gold discovery, it’s a gold discovery in the United States — so no worrying about South American arm-twisting, Russian government “partners”, or South African mines gone dark for lack of electricity. Of course, plenty of worry still about NIMBYs, and complaints about the environmental devastation that gold mining can bring, and other complications, I’m sure … but still, let’s see if we can figure this out.

The ad is for Matt Badiali’s S&A Oil Report (which, despite the name, seems to be their general “all commodities” newsletter now — I think they used to have an “S&A Gold Report” too, but it must not have been very popular). Matt says he offers “The world’s best–kept mining secrets—REVEALED,” and it will cost you about $50 a year. I don’t much care whether you wish to subscribe or not (you can see the opinions of a couple subscribers here, if you’re interested, or add your own if you’ve tried the service), but don’t subscribe just to find the name of this “secret Alaska gold mine” — for that, you’ve got your friendly neighborhood Stock Gumshoe on the case …

So what is the teaser today? Well, we know it’s a gold discovery in Alaska. Badiali throws in a nice quote at the top to get us excited:

“Mining journalist Mary Pemberton says, ‘the value of the minerals are worth hundreds of billions of dollars if they’re mined'”

Not bad! Except as far as I can tell, Mary Pemberton isn’t a mining journalist so much as she is an AP reporter in Alaska — she covers mining sometimes, but at the moment she’s covering the Iditarod, and last year she wrote plenty about Sarah Palin and Ted Stevens. And she really broke open the Snowzilla story for us lower 48 folks. Doesn’t mean a generalist reporter can’t impart the facts about a mine, of course … so what else do we hear?

“On October 13, 2007 this small firm published the results from its exploration in an area known as ‘Bristol Bay.’

“The results: This deposit holds 39 MILLION ounces of gold… absolutely huge in the mining business.

“To put that into perspective, that would make it the single largest gold deposit in America today, far exceeding the two largest existing mines – the Carlin and Goldstrike gold mines of Nevada. ”

OK, so that’s a whole mess of gold. And yes, if 39 million ounces were somehow to be removed from that mine, it would be worth, well 39 million times $900, carry the one, OK, I don’t want to complain, but it looks to me like that’s only $35 billion. Where’s my hundreds of billions?

So if we’re willing to settle for $35 billion, what is it we’re looking for?

We get some more clues:

“* The mining industry’s leading audit firm, Scott Wilson Roscoe Postle Associates Inc., has independently reviewed and verified the drill results.

“* The value of the deposit has also been independently verified at more than $300 BILLION (at today’s prices). That means even if it earns just 2% profits, this company’s value could grow by a factor of 13… or a potential 1,300% increase in the current share price. [Gumshoe note: really? Did I do my math wrong? Gold is less than a thousand bucks an ounce, right? And a billion is a thousand millions … why is this deposit worth almost $10,000 an ounce?)

“* Three of the world’s top 10 gold producers have signed partnership deals with this small mining firm.”

OK, so just to keep you from pulling your hair out, those “hundreds of billions” and $300 billion numbers are for all the minerals estimated to be in this potential resource, not just the gold. So we can toss that out for the moment. What else do we learn?

“just a few months ago – on December 4, 2008 this small firm completed a second round of drill holes.

“And it’s these new results that are causing the industry to ‘sit up and take notice.’

“The updated results: This deposit actually holds more than 94 MILLION ounces of gold.”

OK, so we’re getting closer to $100 billion just on the gold value … not that it’s worth more than a tiny fraction of that while it’s sitting underground, of course.

Other clues?

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This resource is situated just outside a major city.

And that’s probably enough to put you out of your misery, so let’s feed this into the Thinkolator … this company is …

Northern Dynasty Minerals (NAK in New York, NDM in Toronto)

Their planned big Alaska mine is to be developed by the “Pebble Partnership,” which is jointly owned by Northern Dynasty and Anglo American (AAUK). It’s generally been described as a copper mine, not a gold mine, but that designation might well flip back and forth depending on which metal is performing better. It is a major “copper-gold porphyry system,” with reserves of 94 million ounces of gold, as teased, but also 72 million pounds of copper and 4.8 million pounds of molybdenum.

The site is about 200 miles from Anchorage, and near a couple villages, and some folks there seem quite worried about salmon being nearby … it’s apparently close enough to the headwaters that serve the Bristol Bay fishery that there is substantial concern, at least among environmentalists and fishermen.

They’re in pre-permitting now, according to the company’s website, and it looks like they’re working with a really massive environmental study of the area. Probably a good thing, given the fact that it’s near an important fishery and includes a lot of, you know, nature and stuff. This is still very much an exploratory project, though they have already identified those massive reserves and done a lot of drilling to define the potential. They now say that they’ll be completing a “prefeasibility study” in 2010, and initiating permitting then after reporting to stakeholders, with the goal of permitting in 2013 and production in 2016. So we’re a ways from actual earnings or anything of the sort unless Northern Dynasty sells off more of their rights, and it seems, from an outsiders perspective, like they’ve intentionally tapped on the brakes for mine development in order to beef up the environmental study and PR campaign to get buy-in from Alaskans. If you want to see the updated reserves, and view the PR film and the timeline, they’ve got a pretty good corporate website with all that info here.

I won’t wade into the debate that Alaskans are undoubtedly having about this project, except to say that there does seem to be a debate — Mary Pemberton has written several articles about this project, including one here about jewelers opposing it on environmental grounds, and one here (the one that Badiali quotes) that’s a broader look at the project but also mentions the possible environmental impact. That second article, by the way, is only about 18 months old, and it tells us that they had planned to be done with permitting by now and into mining in 2009, which just goes to show you how quickly timelines can change for mining companies.

For more on the environmentalists side you could visit any number of sites, but here are a couple: a blog from an Alaskan environmental writer, and the website of what appears to be one of the main opponent groups, and the local news and Anchorage newspaper both cover this quite frequently. Whether or not you have an opinion on the environmental issues, it helps to know that there is a debate, and what it’s about.

According to Anglo American, “if the mine cannot be planned in a way that provides proper protections, it will not be built” … but then again, they are putting billions of dollars into this, so it could be just PR talk, I have no idea.

Badiali goes on in some detail to talk about why this stock, which does not have permits yet, will be the same kind of huge winner as other big gold mines would have been if you had invested in their owners before they got mining permits (Goldstrike, the Carlin Trend, etc., which helped to turn their miners into huge companies) …

“The multi–million dollar question: How do we know the permits will get approved?

“I have about 250 pages of research and reports sitting in my office, which I’d like to show you, regarding this massive gold deposit.

“All the research I’ve done over the past 8 months leads me to believe the State of Alaska will, in fact, issue the necessary permits.

“And the #1 reason I believe this is an absolute slam–dunk: Alaska has NEVER turned down a mining permit.”

I’ll assume that he’s right about that — I certainly know less about mining than he does, and I don’t know of any mining permits that have been rejected in Alaska … but of course, that doesn’t guarantee success with the next mine, or mean that environmental concerns couldn’t bring the dispute to the courts and derail mines that have been permitted, this is all pretty far outside my area of expertise.

There was an interesting article a couple weeks ago about regulatory changes and their impact on mine waste rules in Alaska under Bush’s EPA, and we might read into that what could happen under a potentially less mining-friendly EPA. Here’s the article, you can draw your own conclusions (it also has some general info about the “new gold rush” in Alaska, FYI).

And with such a large potential mine, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of folks in the investing punditry world who are interested — Peter Grandich has written about them many times, and it’s been covered by seekingalpha bloggers from time to time, just to note a couple resources for you.

So … this is a truly huge gold and copper resource, with potential for a very long-lived mine, and probably plenty of controversy to go along with it. I don’t know what might happen to this stock in the next ten years or so as they try to develop the site and begin mining, or what might happen to commodity prices that could alter the project, but if you’ve got some ideas, well, feel free to share them below.