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Taryn Kiekow Heimer’s Blog

Modern Mines Leak: Given the Chance, Pebble Mine Will Too (Part 2)

Taryn Kiekow Heimer

Posted January 18, 2013 in Reviving the World's Oceans, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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Yesterday I blogged about Baia Mare – a modern mine in Romania whose tailings dam failure in 2000 released 100,000 cubic meters of cyanide and other toxic mining waste into nearby waterways.  Although there are numerous examples of accidents at modern mines across the globe, I chose to focus on Baia Mare because at the time it was called the worst environmental disaster since Chernobyl.

Today I’d like to focus on modern mining accidents closer to home. Take, for example, the Grouse Creek gold and silver mine in Idaho, which began operating in 1994.  Located near Jordan Creek – a stream federally designated as critical salmon habitat – this modern mine experienced problems from the start.  Construction activities caused a landslide which buried 100 yards of Jordan Creek.  Less than a year into operation, a tailings impoundment began leaking and numerous cyanide spills had occurred.  The mine had amassed over 250 water quality violations by the time it closed in 1997. In 1999, cyanide was still leaking from the mine into waters that were home to endangered Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout. The federal government issued a consent order to clean up the mine under CERCLA.  

Or take the Gilt Edge mine in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  This gold and silver mine operated from 1988 to 1996. Shortly after mining began, cyanide leaked into the groundwater and nearby Strawberry and Bear Butte Creeks. The mine began generating acid mine drainage in 1992.  This acid drainage left area streams unable to support a viable fish population. It was designated as a Superfund site in December 2000.

Closer to the proposed Pebble Mine, the Fort Knox gold mine north of Fairbanks spilled 45,000 gallons of cyanide water solution after a bulldozer struck a supply line in August 2012.  Officials say it was cleaned up successfully, although a long-term sampling program has yet to assess the extent of the soil contamination.  

In short, accidents and human error occur at modern mines – even under rigorous federal and state permitting and monitoring requirements.

The EPA has been asked by the people and tribes of Bristol Bay, Alaska to protect the area from large scale mining like the proposed Pebble Mine.

NRDC supports this local opposition to Pebble Mine.  That’s why we’re rallying nationwide pressure to stop the Pebble Mine -- spearheaded by actor, environmental activist and NRDC Trustee Robert Redford.

        

Now is the time for action.  We know that modern mines are not infallible. Accidents do happen.  And Bristol Bay is not a place where we should gamble with disaster.

Tell President Obama to save Bristol Bay and stop the Pebble Mine. 

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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