- Proposed Pebble Mine, Bristol Bay, Alaska
- July 2011
For the past several years exploratory drilling near Bristol Bay, Alaska has resulted in a major discovery of gold, copper and a metallic ore known as molybdenum worth an estimated value of $300 billion. Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. and London-based mining group, Anglo American, are proposing to develop an open pit gold and copper mine, known as Pebble Mine, at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.
The bay is the world’s largest commercial wild salmon fishery having an estimated annual run of 40 million sockeye salmon, which generates $450 million in revenue each year and supports 10,000 jobs.
If approved, the productive life span of the mine is estimated to be about 25 - 50 years. It would leave behind an open-pit mine 2 miles wide and 2,000 feet deep along with earthen dams 4.3 miles wide – three times larger than the Three Gorges Dam in China! (pictured)
The Pebble Mine dams would contain 10 billion tons of toxic mining waste. These waste storage dams would need to be monitored in perpetuity (which means forever!). Carol Ann Woody, owner of Fisheries Research and Consulting in Anchorage, Alaska says the plans are worrisome. "The earthen dams must not leak and must contain the waste indefinitely. It is in an area that is known for seismic activity and active volcanoes." (1)
Any copper sulfide leakage would be toxic to aquatic life; it would affect the salmon’s ability to smell, which would make them unable to return to the spawning grounds upriver.
The infrastructure to support the mine - building a 100 mile road, slurry pipelines, a water port, power plant and 200 miles of transmission lines through sensitive areas would disrupt animal migrations and affect the whole eco-system in the surrounding area such as bears, moose, caribou, wolves and whales that depend on spawned salmon for their existence.
We must ask ourselves, Is Pebble Mine worth the risk of destroying the world’s largest salmon fishery? Once the salmon are destroyed, they are gone forever. The only thing that would remain would be an open-pit mine and earthen dams filled with toxic mining waste and the regret of a very bad decision.
"We can't lower our guard," Wang Xiaofeng, who oversees the Three Gorges Dam for China's State Council, said during a meeting of Chinese scientists and government reps in Chongqing, an independent municipality of around 31 million abutting the dam. "We simply cannot sacrifice the environment in exchange for temporary economic gain." …..Scientific American 3/25/08 (2)
Let’s take this opportunity to learn from history. In 2000 a leach mine in Romania, similar to the proposed Pebble Mine, leaked a deadly cocktail of cyanide and heavy metals that poisoned the Tisza River killing fish, birds and wildlife all within a week. (3)
Hecla Mining Co in Idaho’s Silver Valley near Coeur d’Alene must pay out a settlement of $263.4 million plus interest for millions of tons of mining wastes that were released for several decades into the South Fork of Coeur d’Alene River and its tributaries. (4) The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the money will be used for clean up and to help repair the environment and restore wildlife.
Do we want future generations of Alaskans to have to file lawsuits to fund a clean up of an environmental Bristol Bay/Pebble Mine disaster?
At the request of Bristol Bay Natives, commercial fisherman, sport fishermen and recreationalists, chefs and retailers, the EPA is currently conducting a 12-month scientific assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed and the potential impacts that large-scale mining could have on Bristol Bay’s communities and fisheries.
Under the Clean Water Act (404(c) the Administrator of the EPA has the authority to restrict any area as a disposal site if the discharge will have an adverse affect on fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas), wildlife, or recreational areas. This decision would make it impossible for the Pebble Mine project to move forward.
Clean Water Act Section 404(c) ……. “The Administrator is authorized to prohibit the specification (including the withdrawal of specification) of any defined area as a disposal site, and he is authorized to deny or restrict the use of any defined area for specification (including the withdrawal of specification) as a disposal site, whenever he determines, after notice and opportunity for public hearings, that the discharge of such materials into such area will have an unacceptable adverse effect on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas), wildlife, or recreational areas. Before making such determination, the Administrator shall consult with the Secretary. The Administrator shall set forth in writing and make public his findings and his reasons for making any determination under this subsection.” (5)
In order for the EPA to move forward in making this decision, they need to hear from the nation's public and will be seeking public comment throughout this review process. Therefore, anyone who buys, sells, eats wild salmon can play an important role in the future of Bristol Bay's salmon fishery.
Elizabeth Dubovsky, Trout Unlimited's WhyWild Director, notes, "As salmon consumers, we each share responsibility in upholding the basic ingredients that wild salmon need to thrive, such as clean, free-flowing water and a pristine habitat. If we want to keep eating wild salmon, then we must work together to protect it.”
Pebble Mine has the potential to destroy a wild, pristine region which contains the largest wild salmon fishery on the planet. It will destroy a way of life for native people that has been in existence for thousands of years.
Take Action: Save Bristol Bay
"Seeing everything as a commodity, a piece of raw land to be developed, impoverishes our souls just as it degrades the sanctity of the land".........................................Paul John Roach
(3) Rapid Environmental Assessment of the Tisza River Basin, 2004 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Section 3.5.2 Tailings Deposits and Section 3.5.3 Mine Waste Water
- Wild Alaska Salmon Threatened by Proposed Copper Mine, CHEFnews.com
- Anglo American’s Pebble Mine Investor Advisory – Reputational Risks, Regulatory Challenges and Legal Uncertainties, October 2009, authors Steven Herz and Bonnie Gestring
Movie: Red Gold