Alaska’s Continuing Clash of Resources

The Bristol Bay watershed in southwest Alaska is the site of an ongoing clash between mining and conservation interests. On the mining side is Northern Dynasty Minerals of British Columbia and Anglo American, an international corporation headquartered in London. Together these companies form the Pebble Partnership, and their proposed mine is known as the Pebble Mine.The opposition to Pebble Mine includes a diverse coalition of native groups, village councils, commercial fishermen, local residents, guides, and conservationists.

The Pebble Mine would develop a world-class ore body that is characterized as a porphyry copper, gold, and molybdenum mineral deposit. Because the deposit contains low-grade ore, the mine scale of operation would necessarily be large. Consequently, Pebble Mine is projected to consist of an open pit mine up to 2 miles wide and 1,700 feet deep, a related underground operation, a processing mill, and extensive tailings ponds. Because of the projected large-scale mine development, the opposition groups contend that environmental risks, particularly for the wild salmon fishery, dwarf any potential economic benefits of the mining operation.

In May of 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a draft environmental assessment (EA) of the Pebble Mine-like development. The EPA was petitioned by 9 tribal governments to do the EA, and thus an end-run was made around the state bureaucracy. The EPA did conclude that significant environmental damage would result from mining activity. Foremost among these conclusions were that 55 to 87 miles of pristine streams and up to 2,500 acres of wetlands would be destroyed by mining and mine-related operations.  Significantly, the EPA also noted that there is a potential risk of the mine’s tailings ponds failing, and hence acidic water and heavy metals could be released into salmon spawning grounds. The final EA is still in progress, and so the clash continues.

Read more at: Bristol Bay Clash