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Pebble Mine: Road to Disaster

Joel Reynolds

Posted June 21, 2011

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Thumbnail image for Ketchum Iliamna.jpgMost people who've heard of the massive Pebble Mine — proposed for construction in the wild lands above Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska — know about the gigantic open pit, the estimated 10 billion tons of mining waste laced with toxics, the unavoidable risk of contamination to the wild salmon fisheries of region, and the overwhelming opposition of the people who live there.

But few people understand that it gets even worse.

The foreign mining companies that make up the Pebble Partnership have said very little about impacts from the road, power plants, slurry pipelines, relentless heavy-duty diesel truck traffic, and even a deep water port that would accompany the mine – infrastructure essential to its operation, destructive in its own right, and staggering in its geographic scale.

This week my colleagues and I flew over the proposed right-of-way of what is currently estimated to be a 104-mile road from the mine site to Cook Inlet.  From the pristine alaska 115.jpgwild lands at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed, the road would wind south, crossing innumerable streams and other water bodies, large and small, where salmon spawn.  It would skirt the east end of Lake Iliamna -- the largest fresh water body in Alaska – eviscerate the community of Pedro Bay, bridge the Iliamna River (among others), and traverse steeper Alaska Bay Map.jpgand steeper slopes as it winds its way through icy mountain peaks that drop precipitously into the deep blue waters of Iniskin Bay in Cook Inlet. 


There, an industrial marine terminal and a deep water port would be constructed at the receiving end of a new slurry pipeline, where ore from the mine would be loaded onto large, ocean-going container ships.  These industrial facilities – and the increased ship traffic that it is intended to attract -- wouldn’t be good news for the critically endangered population of Beluga whales that reside in Cook Inlet, already home to the Port of Anchorage to the North. The population has already been federally listed as endangered and its Cook Inlet habitat designated as critical. 

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Although no one yet knows how the power for the massive mine and associated infrastructure would be generated – power needed, for example, to continuously and permanently dewater the site, power the mine construction and operations, slurry the ore, treat the run-off, and run the port – estimates are that the demand would equal or surpass that required by the entire city of Anchorage.  The costs of such facilities – economic, environmental, and social --- would be staggering.

It’s no secret that the technological and engineering challenges of large-scale mining in a region as wild, wet, and vast as is contemplated for the Pebble Mine are unprecedented, from the mine itself to the facilities essential to service it.  But it is equally clear that, even if the world’s best engineers could be enlisted to build it, there is no way they could engineer away the inevitable and innumerable risks of failure, accident, fuel and chemical spills, contamination, and ultimately economic, environmental, and social devastation that such a project, in such a location, would pose to the communities, to the fishermen, and to the wildlife of Bristol Bay.

The Pebble Mine is a road to disaster.  And when the ore has left the country, the people of Alaska will be left with the wreckage.

Say no to Pebble Mine.

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Vernajean KolyahaJun 21 2011 08:48 PM

Thanks for the article, I live in the village of Pedro Bay. This past weekend there was an oil spill in Pile Bay 8-10 miles from here, it was little over 100 gallons, could have been worse. But this is only the beginning, and it will only get worse. Thanks for the help for the fight against Pebble.

G KJun 21 2011 10:19 PM

The statistic cited here about the energy needs for the proposed Pebble Mine -- potentially comparable to the power used by the city of Anchorage -- is really alarming. Thanks for doing this research. And thanks
for raising awareness about the entire scope of the mine's environmental impact. - GK,

George TrembathJun 22 2011 06:33 AM

For all of the reasons so eloquently stated above, this project should not be allowed to proceed and my heart goes out to those trying so valiantly to stop it.
But the reality is that unless we do something about the demand side of the equation, projects like this will continue to have profit-appeal and political acceptability until the very last resource is gone and the very last habitat is trashed. In parallel with direct efforts to stop resource projects there must exist a vigorous campaign to dramatically reduce consumption. This must engage the consequential masses - in a broad educational campaign about the impossibility of endless growth. The best time to halt growth and start contraction has long passed. It is no longer even urgent, it is now critical ... emphasis on "now". Without the influence of this parallel strategy of general reduction in demand, we are not just fighting a single resource project, we are at war with the whole profit-centric, lobby-rich, corporate system. Its arsenal is enormous and constantly re-supplied by the profits we continue to deliver via our consumption. Stop using their stuff ... they'll stop mining it.
Check out a flagship feature film education campaign.

George TrembathJun 22 2011 06:50 AM


Big Miners, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Ag et al are not the Big Polluters. They are merely the providers, facilitators and merchants for the true big polluters, us, you and me, the end consumer. Corporations are managed by humans who limit personal responsibility by the boardroom mechanisms of revolving doors and musical chairs. But corporations are not human in themselves. They have no heart, no mind, no ethics, no morals. And worse still, they are legally bound to make profits for their shareholders. They can only be influenced by modifying the capital/social/political/market system under which they operate. The 'lowest hanging fruit' available in this quest is reduction in the consumption of the resources they deliver to us. Public education is, in turn, the key to that.

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