It has been over 10 years since a new copper mine was fully permitted in Arizona (Freeport-McMoran’s [TSE:FXC] Safford open pit mine), longer than one would think given that the state accounts for over 4% of global production of the key industrial metal. The length of time between new copper projects coming online in Arizona, and the USA in general, underscores just how challenging it is for any new mining project to successfully navigate the permitting process to completion.
With only one permit outstanding, Excelsior Mining (TSE:MIN) can see the finish line on what has been, to date, a straightforward and efficient permitting process for its Gunnison Copper Project in Arizona’s Cochise County.
The remaining permit is a Class 3, Underground Injection Control permit that would be granted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA spent well over a year reviewing all technical and environment components of the Gunnison Copper Project and in October 2017 issued the company a draft operating permit.
In late February 2018, the public comment period component of the EPA process concluded, paving the way for Excelsior to receive the permit as early as April or May of this year. The completion of permitting would represent a major milestone for Excelsior, and serve as a boost to Arizona’s entire mining industry. Traditionally, the core components of Arizona’s economy have centred around the“Five Cs” – copper, cattle, citrus, climate and cotton. Copper mining remains a key economic driver for the state, and Excelsior’s project, which envisions the production of over 2bln pounds of copper over life of mine, will provide significant economic benefits in the form of employment and taxes.
Excelsior has already obtained the required state permit – the Aquifer Protection Permit was issued by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality in September 2017. The state permitting process was completed well within a two-year window, which highlights both the effectiveness of Excelsior’s permitting team headed by Sustainability Vice President Rebecca Sawyer and the fact that Gunnison is not burdened by issues that often delay large-scale development projects, such as the presence of endangered species, cultural sites or nearby large population centres.
Furthermore, the in-situ mining method to be used at Gunnison is arguably the most environmentally friendly way to mine an ore body.
All of those factors contributed to what so far has been a smooth permitting process. And if things go as the company expects over the next month or two, Gunnison would move into production around the end of this year.