Photo by Paul Colangelo
After the development project was presumed dead for several years, Pebble Limited Partnership has taken new steps toward gaining the permits it needs to start operation of the gold, copper, and precious metals mine in Southwest Alaska. On Feb. 20th, the Alaska District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it had published the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the 20-year mining proposal at Pebble Mine.
Near the headwaters of Bristol Bay and its world-class salmon runs, the location was long seen as a deal-breaker for Pebble Mine. Should anything go wrong or if the plan itself isn’t on the level, the world’s strongest run of wild sockeye salmon will be contaminated and potentially decimated for countless generations.
We’re not going to pretend we’re unbiased. Stanley Park Fish House very much prefers a healthy, delicious, and sustainable source of meat for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children. We also believe an honest cost-benefit analysis clearly shows Pebble Mine is a bad idea environmentally, agriculturally, and economically.
What’s at Stake?
The Pebble Mine is expected to produce 5.74 billion pounds of copper, 6.4 million ounces of gold, 32 million ounces of silver, 260 million pounds of molybdenum, and 6.4 million pounds of rhenium, a superalloy that’s valued for its wear resistance and ability to withstand corrosion. This isn’t an insignificant deposit. It’s unclear, however, whether the mine can produce at this level by focusing solely on deposits near the surface.
Bristol Bay is home to the world’s strongest run of sockeye salmon, among other sources of wholesome seafood and natural delights. In 2018, the Bristol Bay area produced a Sockeye harvest of approximately 42 million salmon. This was out of 50 million Sockeye salmon in the entire state of Alaska. It affects communities all across the country who have local fishermen, like Nick Lee in Moab, who spend the summer months fishing Bristol Bay waters and then bring their salmon harvest back home to sell to their friends, neighbors, and local restaurants.
Moreover, Bristol Bay is known not just for the strength of its salmon run but also its pristine waters. People the world over looking for a healthy and clean-tasting fish rely on Bristol Bay fisheries to source their salmon. According to this piece in the NYTimes, the 40,000 square-mile watershed generates 14,000 jobs and $1.5 billion annually for the local Bristol Bay economy.
What’s the Plan?
Pebble Limited Partnership says that the new plan is to focus on a deposit that comes right to the surface. The details of the plan indicate a mining operation that’s 1.3 miles long, 1 mile wide, and dug to a depth of 1,970 feet. It will also include large collecting pools of sulfurous liquid waste. United Tribes of Bristol Bay is concerned about potential spills and dam failures polluting the local watershed, as well as additional health concerns for local residents. The mining industry has a horrendous track record when it comes to adherence to best practices. But even if Pebble Limited Partnership is as diligent as possible, the risk of disaster will be omnipresent. This area of Southwest Alaska is prone to earthquakes.
Bipartisan Opposition may not be Enough
For decades, the Pebble Mine has been opposed by Democrats and Republicans, including many pro-industry, pro-development, high-profile politicians. The late senator, Ted Stevens, famously described Pebble Mine as “the wrong mine in the wrong place.” The World Bank has committed to a plan that would develop the world’s energy resources in a responsible and sustainable fashion. The Pebble Mine has been cited as the antithesis of the bank’s climate-smart plan. This mine is literally the example of what we don’t want to do for a sustainable future. It’s not the sort of project that can be justified by making tweaks to the mining plan. Yet, under the tutelage of the Trump administration, Pebble Limited Partnership continues to plow ahead with its plans and is getting dangerously close to the final permits it needs to begin operations.