The Bristol Bay Native Corporation and the mineral exploration company Millrock Resources made an agreement to explore for gold, copper, and molybdenum prospects on BBNC land near the Chigniks.
The prospect of copper and gold mining in Bristol Bay is controversial, and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation has been officially against the Pebble mine since 2009. But that doesn’t rule out other development.
“BBNC is opposed to the Pebble prospect. Upon its merits, it is a project we don’t support,” said L. Tiel Smith, BBNC Vice President of Land and Regional Operations. “But there are other resources on and near BBNC land that we want to continue to explore and assess to see if we can develop them.”
According to the corporation’s website, BBNC owns more than three million of the roughly 40 million acres in Bristol Bay, making it the largest private landowner in the region.
“Our interest is to further assess our lands. In this particular case, Millrock is helping us better understand the geology to give us an indication of what resource is there,” said Smith. “Then we’ll be able to better determine what our next steps are for further exploration or potential development.”
BBNC’s agreement with Millrock allows for exploration with an option to lease at three sites around the Chigniks, known as Kawisgag, Mallard Duck Bay, and Bee Creek. The lands are split estate; BBNC owns the subsurface rights, but Millrock will need separate agreements with local village corporations for surface rights.
Some exploration around the Chigniks was undertaken in the 1970’s, and again in 2005-06, with results Millrock sees as encouraging. The company has expressed their enthusiasm at the large, lightly-explored area they characterize as “highly prospective.”
Still, the odds of discovering a copper and/or gold deposit that could be mined for profit “aren’t very good,” said Millrock Resources President and CEO Gregory Beischer. “The reality for us exploration geologists is that somewhere near one-in-a-thousand to one-in-ten thousand prospects that are explored actually become a mine. But the payoff’s big if we actually succeed.”
Formed in 2007, Millrock Resources, Inc., is a relatively new junior exploration company. Chief Operating Officer Sarah Whicker recently told Alaska Business Monthly that the company is looking in Alaska “for those massive, world-class deposits that aren’t as easy to find elsewhere in the world right now.”
Millrock’s model is to stake claims with potential, then find investors to cover exploration costs in option-to-joint-venture agreements. Those investors are typically larger mining companies with deeper pockets. In a similar fashion, Northern Dynasty attracted mining giant Anglo American to the Pebble deposit and established the Pebble Partnership.
Millrock has several other projects in Alaska, including the Humble project roughly 50 miles northeast of Dillingham, and Audn north of Levelock.
CEO Greg Beisher has past experience with the Bristol Bay Native Corporation; he spent seven years at a BBNC subsidiary working on oil, gas and mineral resource development.
And the company’s Chief Exploration Officer, geologist Philip St. George, knows a thing or two about mineral deposits in Bristol Bay; he’s credited with the discovery of the Pebble deposit north of Iliamna back in the late 1980’s.