Are mine’s investors online ‘Pebble trolls’ or ‘social engineers’?

(Photo by Jason Sear, KDLG – Dillingham)

There are some long-term investors in the proposed Pebble Mine that are fighting for the project online. Many have held onto their stock for years hoping the massive gold and copper deposit in Southwest Alaska gets developed.

The political fight and concerns over its proximity and potential risk to Bristol Bay salmon have left their dreams, so far, unrealized.

Dylan Brown, a Washington, D.C.-based reporter for E&E News spoke with Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove about his recent story headlined, “Embattled Pebble investors would rather fight than switch.”

Grove: So I had heard this described as “online Pebble trolls,” and there’s a guy in your story that describes what they’re doing more as “social engineering,” but maybe you can explain to me kind of what’s going on here.

Brown: Yeah, so I kind of first ran across this crew of guys a few months back, and they started reaching out, predominantly online and also through email to get a hold of me about, you know, kind of what’s going on with the Pebble Project. And so I ended up speaking with a few of them and they described an effort that’s kind of unusual, when it comes to investing. But to really go on the offensive and start talking about why they think this project is a good one and why it should be developed. And they described it as “social engineering.” So essentially them reaching out to all the stakeholders involved and that includes federal agencies, state regulators and reporters to try to figure out where the project was at, because obviously this is a huge project making its way through the federal permitting process, which can take a while.

Grove: My understanding is they can be kind of aggressive. You interviewed some and I just wondered, who are these people? And what is a “NAK Long?”

Brown: So that was the term that they use to describe themselves. It’s about a group of about two dozen hardcore investors (“NAK” for the Northern Dynasty stock symbol, “long” for long-term investor). That means they have about 40,000 to upwards of 250,000 shares in Northern Dynasty, the parent company of Pebble Limited Partnership, and these are just kind of guys from across the country.

One of them I talked to was a former lawyer from Vancouver, British Columbia who’s been investing in mining stocks for 30 years. And contrast him with the young man I talked to about social engineering, and he’s based in Bellingham, Washington. Just a kind of a group of far-flung people across the country that have found each other online. And so they they congregate predominantly in these message boards and forums. The one I did the most research on this was called Stock Twits, which is kind of a social media site, as it were, for investors. So they’ll get on there and talk about the Pebble Project and essentially kind of banter back and forth and insult one another and it kind of just turns it into any old place on the internet at that point.

Grove: For people that have not been, you know, every day checking their stock price, can you walk me through the timeline of what the stock has done, sort of the last few years?

Brown: Yeah, so it’s had a hard time, I guess, to sum it up neatly. Since about 2011, as the EPA and the Obama Administration got heavily involved with regulating the Pebble Project, the stock price for Northern Dynasty has collapsed, and so it’s gone from well over $20 to at this point under a dollar.

Grove: So they get pretty aggressive about this investment of theirs, and why is that and what is different about their tactics than other investors?

Brown: Yeah, my, since the story’s come out my social media has kind of exploded, in mostly not-so-nice ways, but it’s very interesting. I mean, this is a project with a potentially huge payoff for these guys. I mean, this is, according to the Northern Dynasty, the largest green field — so kind of untouched — mineral resource in the world. So that draws a lot of people looking to get rich in a big way, and so what generates a lot of the animosity and hostility towards anybody who writes about the project, as I’ve been doing for the past three years, is tied up in how much money is at stake and how much of their own finances are at stake. One investor, I pointed out, you know, he was tired of hearing from the opponents because they put his retirement at risk. So that gives you kind of an idea of how much money is invested from these guys.