There are many concerns about the Pebble Mine project being situated on Bristol Bay. The location is known for being a seismically active area with severe weather conditions. Flooding, high winds, and intense winters are no strangers to Bristol Bay. With all these natural factors involved, there is concern about the viability of keeping so much toxic run-off under control. The pollutants that result from a mine of this type include arsenic, mercury, acid drainage, and copper tailing. Copper is known to be very harmful to fish and salmon in particular. Small amounts can be lethal to salmon and even trace amounts will impair their sense of smell and play havoc with their ability to find spawning grounds, mate, and detect predators. The resulting problem could be one of massive fish-depopulation. Added to the nearly 2 million gallons of water that will have to be drawn from the headwaters daily in order to keep the mines clean, there is no wonder that people are concerned about the Pebble Mine project.
Environmentalists vs. Pebble Mine
It is a given that an undertaking the size of the Pebble Mine project will raise resistance from those who are concerned about the environment of Bristol Bay. The main arguments of those who are opposed to it consist of the potential impact on fishing, the long-term effects that the project will leave behind, and the record of mine failure and pollution that has been shown historically.
Any negative effect on the fish population of the area will have drastic ecological consequences for all species of the area. Other animals in the region that use fish as a main source of food could potentially be affected by a depopulation as could the fisheries that rely on the salmon for their livelihood. The dams that are to be used in order to contain toxins and prevent them from getting into the rivers and groundwater will need to remain long after the mine itself has gone dry. This will require that they be maintained at great expense and for a long time – some speculate forever – in order to ensure there is no pollution.
Statistics show that mines have been historically damaging to the environment around them. The EPA states that hard rock mining is the #1 toxic polluting industry in the world. The U.S. Bureau of Mines say that mine wastes have polluted more than ten-thousand miles of rivers in the U.S. and have resulted in the destruction of several fish habitats and populations. An independent study of 25 separate mines shows that 75% of them have failed to maintain the health standards that they predicted and promised to uphold.
Located in southwestern Alaska, Bristol Bay is fed by eight rivers, including the Nushagak which is known for being the world’s largest king salmon run. The river systems of the area are also known for having the largest rainbow trout population in the world. The massive fish population of Bristol Bay is an essential part of the ecosystem, providing food for the many land and aquatic animals of the region. The abundance of fish provides nearly one-half of the entire world’s commercial sockeye salmon.
The executives and public relations personnel of the companies in charges of the Pebble Mine project promise that they will do everything in their power to make sure that the mine does not affect the environment or the fisheries. They state that even if there are impacts they will limit the side effects of them by enhancing the natural productivity of the rivers. They stress that there is no need for people to be so opposed to the project when the results of their studies and the Clean Water Act review have not even been completed. Concerns from locals and others opposed to Pebble Mine are labeled as speculative and without grounding in the basis of scientific evidence.
While even the Vice President of Trillium admits that the project has the potential to have a devastating effect on the ecosystem of Bristol Bay, people are urged to wait until the proper studies are complete. The companies involved say that the exact design of Pebble Mine has yet to be determined and that the images that the opposition is circulating regarding it are based on a projection, not a fact. Barring the results of the studies, there is no way to know what the eventual mine design will be, including such details as the size of the mine and the dams or the way the control of toxins will be handled. These factors will be determined in more detail when the review has been completed.
Northern Dynasty Mineral Ltd., Trillium Asset Management Corp. and Calvert Investments have gathered together in an effort to undertake one of the biggest mining projects ever. Pebble Mine, if completed, would be the largest open pit mine in the world, harvesting a bounty of copper, gold, and molybdenum for its investors. When finished this mine would be more than 1500 feet deep, 2 miles wide, cover an overall area of more than 15 square miles, and host two dams for storage of toxic materials, one of them being the largest in the world at 4.3 miles long and 740 feet high. Normally a project of such epic proportions might be praised for its ambition. Pebble Mine’s proposed location near Alaska’s Bristol Bay, however, has caused this project to become a controversy.