Graphite One answers questions as mining exploration progresses

By Megan Ganon
Graphite One is continuing exploration work this summer for its graphite mine project near the Imuruk Basin on the northern slopes of the Kigluaik Mountains, which contains the largest known natural graphite deposit in the United States.
Last week, project leaders stood before some 50 Nomeites to make the case for the mine, offer updates on their progress and answer questions about potential jobs, environmental impacts and public access. on their intended route.
At a Tuesday, May 31 town hall meeting at Old St. Joe’s, Nome Mayor John Handeland introduced the Graphite One delegation, who came equipped with door prizes, free pizza, sweatshirts and more. advertising items.
“It’s an opportunity, I think, for future economic development and some community stability,” Handeland said. “And I’m really, really happy with the people at Graphite and their commitment to our environment, along with their efforts to extract the minerals.”
The company’s outgoing COO, Stan Foo, spoke the most, and he pointed out that Graphite One is still in its exploration phase.
The company envisions an open pit mine that is about a mile long, half a mile wide and up to 1,000 feet deep in some areas of the steep terrain. A crew of up to 200 people would operate the mine year-round, living on-site during their shifts rather than commuting. The raw graphite would be processed on site, reduced to powder and treated with chemicals in flotation tanks to create a 95% graphite concentrate. Each day, approximately 3,000 tons of this concentrate would be trucked to Nome, requiring approximately 10 round trips over 20 miles of private industrial road and then approximately 28 miles of Kougarok Road to the port of Nome.
From the port, the company would ship this material to a manufacturing plant, probably in the Pacific Northwest; Graphite One is exploring sites in Washington state where there is low-cost hydroelectricity, Foo said. The material would be stored at the port of Nome in the winter when transport by barge is not possible.
Graphite One, which is based in Vancouver, Canada, ultimately aims to create a US supply chain of high-quality coated spherical graphite for lithium-ion batteries, a critical component of many electric vehicles. The company raised around $24 million from investors last year. As of Tuesday’s market close, its stock was trading at $1.03 a share.
Foo said the company is still two or three years away from the licensing stage, and that licensing could take another one or two years, “optimistically.” If the project receives permits, they will likely need at least two construction seasons before any mining begins, he said.
The company operates a 24-person camp built last year near the graphite deposit where they mined long test columns from the ground. The camp is accessible by helicopter and the company has established a staging area off the Kougarok road. This summer they are also prospecting their 20 mile access route.
Much of the night’s discussion focused on Graphite One’s intended use of the road and this access road, which would connect the mine to the Kougarok Road between miles 28 and 29 via Mosquito Pass. and they propose that it be maintained throughout the year.
“I heard concerns, I [also] had people very excited about the possibility of road access to this area,” Foo said. “I can see why. Many hunters, anglers and snowmobilers have wondered about this. Our proposal will be a private industrial road. But in reality that decision would be the one that the permitting process would assess and that would be on state land so the Department of Natural Resources would provide advice on whether to open or close to the public through mining, and whether or not it should be recovered after mining.
Loren Prosser, the project manager, also provided an update on environmental studies on behalf of permits manager Ed Fogels, who was unable to attend the meeting. Prosser said that in 2021 the company had finished mapping the surrounding wetlands. This year they will continue fish habitat surveys and water quality monitoring on water bodies like the Cobblestone River and its streams.
The graphite deposit is about two miles west of where the Cobblestone exits the mountains. Graphite Creek is the only creek flowing above the deposit and there are plans to divert it around the pit.
“I think a lot of us know from the experience of the mines in the area that you really have to understand what the water quality is in the existing area to understand what that baseline is” , said Prosser. “And that’s really an important part of not only this level of the project, but also if the project is going to move forward, and even towards the end of the mine life, just understanding what the baseline is now before anything else changes.”
Graphite One said the project would provide good jobs for local people. When asked how the company plans to deliver on its promises, executives confirmed that they have no formal hiring policy that would prioritize local or Alaska Native workers. They said they were considering job training programs targeting people who already live in Nome, Teller and Brevig Mission.
“We’re certainly interested in making sure we’re giving opportunities to local people,” Foo said. “I don’t know if we have a formal preference, but we would definitely be looking for those opportunities where local training entities could be a way to come and work for us. We would pay attention to that.
A man in the audience asked how the company’s graphite products would compete in the global marketplace. Foo acknowledged it would be “difficult” but said the issue was “timely” amid political tensions that have highlighted vulnerabilities in the US supply chain.
“We depend on countries like China and others for really everyday products, and I think we’re in a position that we don’t want to be in,” he said. “I think the US government and military are very keen to have these resources purchased and produced in the United States and perhaps at a higher cost, but we anticipate that’s the direction the country may have to take. go.”
Company management also made presentations in Brevig Mission and Teller last week. These annual meetings, which had been suspended in recent years during the pandemic, are not part of any formal consultation process, Foo told The Nome Nugget. That will come later, once the company starts applying for permits and regulators get involved. But currently they are consulting with a livelihoods advisory committee.
One audience member asked for more active communication about the project, not only from Graphite One, but also from community groups who might partner with or consult with the mining company.
Larry Pederson, vice president of operations for the Bering Straits Native Corporation, rose to address this concern.
“Right now, our leaders are taking the position of letting the process unfold to see what comes,” Pederson said. “At this point, we’re in favor of supporting them a bit locally.” For example, Graphite One leases land for a satellite camp and leases storage space to BSNC. The company also provided flagmen for road closures caused by the company’s helicopter operations.
When asked for his main takeaways from the Nome meeting, Foo said the issue of road access would be an interesting discussion during the permitting process.
“My basic approach has always been, from a safety perspective, you want a private road,” Foo said. “But it’s on state land, so the DNR is going to have a say in how they want this road operated.”
Mike Schaffner, who previously worked at Ambler Mining and is the new vice president of mining for Graphite One, also said the decision would largely depend on public input.
“Undoubtedly what you’ll find is that public opinion will determine whether it’s closed or not,” Schaffner said. “Every road you build in Alaska was mandated by what they found during the 404 clearance process.”
Graphite One released its preliminary economic assessment in 2017, deeming the project viable, with an after-tax net present value of $616 million. Its next major document will be a pre-feasibility study. The company had said last year that the report should be released by the end of 2021. At the meeting, management said the study should finally be ready later this month.

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