Dunleavy to pitch Alaska mining at B.C. conference

  • Constantine Metal Resources Vice President of External Affairs Liz Cornejo and Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy check out core samples at the company's Palmer prospect site in Southeast Alaska near Haines. Dunleavy will head to Canada next week after the Legislature comes to order to attend the Association for Mineral Exploration Roundup conference in Vancouver Jan. 22-23. (Photo/Courtesy/Office of the Governor)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy will be spending part of the first week of the legislative session in Canada to tout Alaska’s mining potential and hear from investors what the state can do to help grow the legacy industry.

The governor will be attending the Association for Mineral Exploration Roundup conference in Vancouver Jan. 22-23, according to his spokesman Jeff Turner. Dunleavy’s commissioners of Natural Resources, Environmental Conservation and Fish and Game will accompany him on the trip as well.

Turner said the governor would be in Juneau for the first day of the legislative session Jan. 21.

In an interview Friday Dunleavy characterized the trip as a continuation of what he has been doing periodically through the first year-plus of his administration — meeting with key players in a host of industries to discuss investing in Alaska.

“We want to highlight Alaska and be able to answer any questions investors may have about our regulatory regime and just make a pitch that Alaska’s got some tremendous opportunities because we’re trying to capitalize on our resource wealth and have it developed responsibly so we can create jobs for Alaskans and wealth and potentially revenue for local communities as well,” Dunleavy said.

The conference will also give the governor and his cabinet officials a chance to clear up any misconceptions investors might have about Alaska’s mining industry and learn what under-the-radar impediments there might be to pursuing exploration projects in the state, he emphasized.

“This visit for me and my team will show us what the perception (of Alaska) is for investors,” Dunleavy said.

He compared it to going to the large CERAWeek oil and gas conference last March in Houston, where he and other administration officials were able to learn directly from industry players about their perception of Alaska.

In recent years the state had sent geologists and economic development staff to the AME Roundup, but having the governor and three of his cabinet members attend the conference sends an important message about the state’s view of the mining industry, Alaska Miners Association Executive Director Deantha Crockett said.

Former Gov. Sean Parnell was the last Alaska governor to attend the conference, she said.

AME Roundup aims to pitch exploration projects in western provinces and states to regional mining investors. According to the conference website, it is attended by more than 6,500 people each year.

According to industry analysts, there has been a resurgence in mining exploration in Alaska, with roughly $150 million spent on prospecting projects in the state the past two years. That is a sharp increase from the several years prior when just more than $50 million per year was spent searching for metals and minerals across Alaska.

“There are lots of different mining conferences around the world but this is the one where companies are looking at where they are going to spend significant dollars exploring projects, which for us means new mining companies in the state of Alaska, new mining opportunities,” Crockett said.

Dunleavy made his first public appearance the morning after his November 2018 election at the Alaska Miners Association trade show in Anchorage, which was also where he first proclaimed Alaska as being “open for business” under his leadership.

Crockett described Dunleavy’s presence at the mining conference as a “huge deal” for an industry that regularly requires upwards of a billion dollars of investment to see a project through development.

“To have the leader of our state say, ‘We want to make sure that you are comfortable making an investment decision in our state’ is a really big deal,” Crockett said. “Next week it’s a big deal, but it’s going to be a big deal for a long time after that.”

The Alaska Miners Association is hosting an “Alaska Night” reception Jan. 22 in Vancouver to highlight exploration projects in the state to prospective investors that Dunleavy will be attending as well, according to Turner.

Dunleavy added that the information he gathers in Vancouver should be helpful in policy discussions with federal officials. Dunleavy said he will be going back to Washington, D.C., in early February and he will taking what he learns at the conference back to the nation’s capital where he will continue to promote Alaska’s resources.

He noted that a large graphite prospect near Nome and rare earth element prospects across the state could greatly help the U.S. reduce its dependence on other countries, namely China, for minerals critical to defense and clean energy technologies, among other uses.

“We want to market ourselves as — this may sound strange — but as clean zinc and clean gold and clean rare earth (minerals); what that means is we want to produce these elements, these minerals, these metals in the safest way possible for the environment,” Dunleavy said.

In addition to attending the mining conference, the governor will be meeting with British Columbia Premier John Horgan and Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane, he said, to hear their views in resource-related issues and discuss possible economic partnerships.

Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang is traveling to Vancouver specifically to discuss the concerns many Southeast Alaska commercial fishing and conservation groups have with British Columbia mining operations with the watersheds of large, “transboundary” rivers that flow from the province through Alaska, according to Dunleavy. The downstream impacts some Canadian mines could have on Alaska salmon fisheries has been one Alaska’s congressional delegation and former Gov. Bill Walker’s administration highlighted for years with British Columbia officials.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
01/17/2020 - 2:27pm