Broken Promises: No to Pebble Mine

The controversial Pebble Mine encompasses the projects of Pebble West and Pebble East, and as proposed, would be the largest open pit mine in North America. Pebble Mine’s intent is to turn out gold, copper, and molybdenum.

Pebble Mine is located in the Bristol Bay watershed, near Lake Clark, Katmai National Park, and the largest freshwater lake in Alaska, Lake Iliamna. The Pebble Mine site is situated in a known earthquake zone of the Ring of Fire, about 100 miles southwest of Mt. ReDoubt, and the risks inherent in the Pebble Mine plan rival those of Chevron's construction of the Drift River Oil Terminal. The potential environmental and economic impact on the region is much greater.

At this juncture, Anglo-American, and their Canadian subsidiary, Northern Dynasty, oversee the project and have stated that they are "undecided" as to whether or not they will use cyanide to process the gold at the site. Their stated indecision is not comforting, as cyanide, which is highly toxic, is the most common method of gold extraction. The metal-containing ores at Pebble Mine are also rich in sulfide minerals, a major source of water pollution at mines.

The Pebble Mine operation requires the creation of two very large lakes to store the discharge chemicals, tailings, and other waste from the project. The proposed lakes would require the flooding of two valleys, via the construction of four large dams. The largest dam proposed would be larger than the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington. The mine would also require more than 250 megawatts of power, which is more electricity than is currently used by the entire Kenai Peninsula. Northern Dynasty’s apparent intent is to utilize Homer Electric to provide the power through a power line run across Cook Inlet. Additionally, the project would necessitate a freight road, or a pipeline on the north side of Lake Iliamna to transport slurry.

The proposed mine pit sits in the Pebble Valley, at the headwaters of the Upper Talarik Creek, and the Koktuli River. Downstream these creeks feed into two of the world's largest salmon spawning rivers - the Nushagak and the Kvichak. Northern Dynasty has asked for water rights to remove all the water in the Upper Talarik Creek, and the Koktuli River. The Upper Talarik Creek, for which Northern Dynasty has applied to drain the headwaters, is a noted major salmon spawning stream. The Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers have some of the world's largest sockeye salmon runs, in the tens of millions, and the Nushagak hosts one of the world's largest king salmon runs.

The wildlife populations at risk are immense and diverse. At the center of the controversy are the fish and fisheries, and the regional subsistence lifestyle. All five species of Pacific Salmon, Rainbow Trout, Dolly Varden, and a variety of other species live and spawn in the waters downstream from Pebble Mine. The Bristol Bay watershed is home to the Mulchatna caribou herd, which is the third largest in Alaska. The Mulchatna herd depends on the vegetation near the mine site, and the herd calves in the Pebble Valley. Migratory birds from all over the world nest and feed in the wetlands around the rivers in the area. Lake Iliamna is also home to one of only two populations of freshwater seals in the world.

The Pebble Mine issue has attracted world-wide attention, and is prominent on the agendas of environmental and commercial/sport-fishing groups. A delegation of Alaska Natives recently brought the issue to the fore when they traveled to the Anglo-American shareholders' meeting in London this spring. As a result of their efforts, many jewelers world-wide have pledged not to buy Pebble Mine gold.

Anglo-American and Northern Dynasty have made many condescending promises during the exploratory stages of this project, and they are already breaking those promises. As the poster states, "If Pebble breaks their promises during exploration, what can we expect when they really start digging?"

I join my voice with the others who say, “No Pebble.”

(click on images to enlarge)
- images courtesy of Nunamta Auluketsa