BSNC invests $2M in Graphite Creek drilling project near Nome

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A sign at the Bering Straits Native Corp. office in Anchorage on Sept. 9, 2023. (Ava White/KNOM)

A Canada-based mining company is one step closer to developing the Graphite Creek deposit near Nome, which the U.S. Geological Survey says could be the nation’s largest graphite deposit.

That’s thanks in part to a $2 million investment by the Bering Straits Native Corp. Even though the project is in the preliminary stages, Bering Straits officials said they are prepared to invest more.

If the project is developed, Gov. Mike Dunleavy has said production from the deposit will significantly reduce U.S. reliance on other nations for graphite, a strategic material with applications in batteries and bombs designed to disable electrical grids. The BSNC investment builds on a $37.5 million grant by the U.S. Department of Defense in July.

BSNC’s Board of Directors unanimously approved a motion supporting exploration of the Graphite Creek deposit, which is over three miles long and situated just 37 miles north of Nome in the Kigluaik Mountains. The Canadian firm seeking to mine the deposit, Graphite One, issued a statement earlier this month outlining the project’s status.

“After careful review and many long discussions, we believe Graphite One shares our values of land stewardship and providing benefits to the region,” board chair Cindy Massie said in the statement. “Our investment in Graphite One is about providing opportunities for BSNC shareholders and being proactive about the future of our region.”

The project is speculated to yield 10.95 million tonnes of graphite material, equivalent in weight to more than 164,000 Boeing 737 airliners.

BSNC officials said they could invest more than $8.4 million into Graphite Creek’s development in the future, bringing the total investment to more than $10.4 million. Daniel Graham, the corporation’s interim president and CEO, said the board is confident about the economic growth Graphite One will bring into the region, with a pre-feasibility study showing a 24-year lifespan for the mine.

“While it’s hard to quantify at this period in time in their project, we have been told by the leadership of Graphite One that they’re very committed to growth in our region and of our people,” Graham said.

The investment agreement includes an advisory board of Graphite One staff, with a BSNC member, which will share expertise and information with residents of the region. The advisory board member has not yet been elected by BSNC’s board.

“It’s gonna be a board made up of some of their experts, both technically, and some of their other investors, and then Bering Straits (Native Corp.) will be able to have a member on that board,” Graham said.

The agreement will follow community meetings with local residents and Graphite One officials later this year.

Residents of western Alaska voiced their concerns about the project affecting their subsistence lifestyle in 2019. Despite their concerns, the project continued. Graham said this effect on subsistence was a concern for BSNC that they spoke to Graphite One officials about in detail.

“They have gone well out of their way to assure us that the footprint will be as small as possible and that the impact on subsistence resources for our people will be minimized wherever possible,” he said. “And they’ve also been really open to things like the workforce being able to leave their jobs and have their jobs when they come back after subsistence.”

The BSNC advisory board member will represent residents throughout the Bering Straits region.

“It will really be up to everyone on that board to voice their opinions and be able to pass along what they’re hearing from their constituency,” Graham said.

Anthony Hustin, Graphite One’s president and CEO, said in its statement that the company was looking forward to partnering with BSNC and “grateful for and humbled” by their support.

“All of us at G1 look forward to partnering with BSNC on ways to make our project a model not just for Alaska – but for a nation that is navigating the transition to a new energy future,” Hustin said.

Over the summer, on-site work took place at Graphite Creek, including drill rigs operating, and ongoing environmental and geotechnical studies.

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