TORONTO, Jan 5 (Reuters) -- NovaGold Resources may speed up development of its Galore Creek copper-gold joint venture in British Columbia, due to rebounding metal prices and the improved fortunes of project partner Teck Resources, NovaGold said on Tuesday.
Galore holds a treasure of 8.9 billion pounds of copper and 7.3 million ounces of gold, but development was put on ice in 2007, when cost estimates more than doubled to C$5 billion ($4.8 billion).
The 50-50 partners have since been working on an alternative development plan to reduce costs, although Teck's participation came into question after the company was forced to sell some assets to pay down billions in debt taken on to buy Fording Canadian Coal Trust in 2008.
Teck has since rebuilt its balance sheet and said in October it was finished selling off assets.
Copper, meanwhile, has regained much of the ground lost in the late-2008 resource crash, while gold prices have charged above $1,100 an ounce, setting a record high last year.
In a statement, NovaGold said it and Teck are considering a more aggressive program for 2010 to advance the project towards a construction decision.
"Copper's turned around, gold's turned around, Teck's got its house back in order, so we're just looking at the project again with sort of more vigor this year," Rhylin Bailie, NovaGold's manager of investor relations, told Reuters.
The company expects to release an updated mine plan by the end of the first quarter. It would then work up an updated pre-feasiblity study using updated higher copper and gold prices and taking into account the redesign, which involves a new plan for the processing facility and tailings dam.
A construction decision would follow, but not this year, Bailie said.
Shares of Novagold were down 8 Canadian cents at C$6.48 on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Teck was up 80 Canadian cents at C$39.81.
NovaGold's other big project is the Donlin Creek gold deposit in Alaska, a joint venture with Barrick Gold.
The project holds a massive reserve of 29 million ounces of gold and is expected to produce an average of 1.6 million ounces a year in the first five years after it begins production, which is currently seen in 2015.
However, like Galore Creek, Donlin has a high price tag, with a study last year pegging start-up costs at $4.5 billion. NovaGold and Barrick are currently working on plans to reduce that number.
($1=$1.04 Canadian) (Reporting by Cameron French; editing by Rob Wilson)