* Share price falls 1.6 percent
* Analysts say any impact very long term (Adds U.S. government comment, updates share reaction)
By Barbara Lewis
LONDON, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Chile’s Antofagasta said it was considering a legal challenge to a refusal by U.S. authorities to renew mineral leases in Minnesota, a rejection analysts and lawyers said could be overturned after President-elect Donald Trump takes office.
Antofagasta said on Friday the renewal of two long-held leases in the Iron Range region of Minnesota, where its unit Twin Metals is developing a proposal for underground copper-nickel mining, had been refused.
It said it was assessing the impact and would “continue to pursue legal avenues to protect its contractual mineral rights”.
The leases were issued by the federal government in 1966 with a right of unlimited, successive 10-year renewals.
Twin Metals filed the current lease renewal application in mid-2013 after the leases had been twice.
In a separate statement, Twin Metals said it was “greatly disappointed” by the refusals from the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.
“If allowed to stand, the BLM-USFS actions will have a devastating impact on the future economy of the Iron Range and all of Northeast Minnesota, eliminating the promise of thousands of good-paying jobs and billions of dollars in investment in the region,” it said.
A U.S. government statement said the administration of current President Barack Obama was acting to protect a wilderness area and the Forest Service had cited a potential risk of environmental contamination.
“This is the right action to take to avoid irrevocably damaging this watershed and its recreation-based economy, while also taking the time and space to review whether to further protect the area from all new mining,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in the statement.
Antofagasta shares fell nearly 2 percent in London trade, while the wider sector was 0.7 percent lower.
Analysts said any real impact was long term and in any case predicted the company would eventually get the permits.
“As a proposed underground operation, the environmental impact should be relatively small, so I would imagine that the company is relatively confident of regaining the licences on appeal,” Edward Sterck of BMO Capital Markets said.
Mining stocks rallied after Trump’s election in November, buoyed by his pledges to invest in infrastructure and revive U.S. manufacturing and jobs.
“The expectation is he will be more open to developing (U.S.) resources,” Laurent Ruessmann, a partner at Fieldfisher law firm said. “The question is whether he will do it in a sustainable way.” (Additional reporting by Rahul B. in Bengaluru and Timothy Gardner in Washington, editing by David Evans and Susan Fenton)