Controverisal Alaska mine may not be worth developing

Four hundred and seventy six drill holes later, we now know the rough size of the giant, controversial Pebble deposit.

The copper and gold prospect in salmon-rich Southwest Alaska holds about 72 billion pounds of copper and 94 million ounces of gold, according to the estimate published Thursday by one of the companies advancing Pebble. At today's metal prices, Pebble's mineral resource is worth about $236 billion. Six months ago, when metal prices were soaring, the same amount of copper, gold and molybdenum was worth $500 billion.

Those numbers don't include the cost of prying the metal from the rock or harnessing the electricity needed to power a massive, remote mine. The project -- deeply controversial for some Alaskans because of its location near the headwaters of two rivers that feed the world-class Bristol Bay salmon fisheries -- could turn out to be uneconomical to build despite the huge value of the minerals there. The mining companies with rights to Pebble are a couple of years away from deciding whether to build a mine.

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