Alaska | Bristol Bay: Northern Dynasty Minerals
The Pebble mine is a massive copper/gold mine proposed in southwest Alaska at the headwaters of Bristol Bay and the world's largest wild sockeye salmon fishery. Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed:
- supplies roughly 50% of the world’s commercial supply of wild sockeye salmon.
- generates more than $480 million a year in revenue, and
- employs for 14,000 full and part-time workers.
If developed, the proposed Pebble mine would be the biggest mine in North America, with an estimated footprint of 30 square miles. Based on current projections, the mine would generate 10 billion tons of mine waste. The tailings waste would be stored in a seismically active area behind earthen dams. The mine has proposed to use nearly 35 billion gallons of water a year and would dewater key salmon spawning streams. It would also require the construction of a 100-mile road, and a massive power plant.
Alaska native communities and commercial fishermen, who rely on the sustainable salmon fishery for their way of life and livelihoods, strongly oppose the mine.
"The pure waters of Bristol Bay have sustained my family for generations, says Everett Thompson, a commercial fisherman and shareholder in the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. "This watershed provides a subsistence lifestyle and commercial fishery worth fighting for. We will fight to save this place with all we have so that my daughter and her generation have the opportunity to carry on living from and protecting Bristol Bay – a home beyond compare."
Leading jewelry retailers have also expressed their opposition to the mine, recognizing that the Bristol Bay watershed is an ecosystem of international significance. Many have now signed the Bristol Bay Pledge to show their support for protection of the Bristol Bay watershed.
In an Op-Ed in the Guardian in 2008, Yupik elder and Nunamta Aulukestai leader Bobby Andrew told Anglo American, one of the companies behind the Pebble Project: “The proposed Pebble mine has the potential to do real harm to Anglo American's reputation - you can't force a community to accept a mine it does not want.”
The effort to protect Bristol Bay scored a major victory in September 2013, when Anglo American cancelled its investment in Pebble Mine. And, in April 2014, when Rio Tinto followed suit.
Now, a junior Canadian mining company, Northern Dynasty is the only company behind the project, with no major mining company to providing financing for the project.
While the decision by Anglo American and Rio Tinto is great news, the struggle to protect Bristol Bay from the mine is far from over. Alaska Native communities, commercial and sports fishermen, businesses and conservation groups sportsmen have called on the EPA to protect Bristol Bay from the impacts of large-scale mining. They have petitioned the EPA to use its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to protect the salmon’s spawning grounds from mine waste disposal. The EPA initiated the 404(c) process in July 2014, releasing its proposal to restrict mine waste disposal in the Bristol Bay headwaters to overwhelming public support.
Strong opposition to the mine is backed by an EPA scientific assessment that determined the construction of a mine in the area would result in the destruction of up to 94 miles of streams used for spawning and rearing habitat for salmon, as well as up to 5,350 acres of wetlands. In the follow up public comment period, hundreds of thousands of people expressed their support for protecting Bristol Bay from the mine.
In a last ditch effort to advance the Pebble Mine, Northern Dynasty filed a legal challenge against the EPA under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The court issued a preliminary injunction preventing the EPA from finalizing the 404(c) action until after a court decision has been issued.
In the meantime, a January 2016 report by the Inspector General found “no evidence of bias” in how the EPA conducted its evaluation of the proposed mine, or that the EPA predetermined its outcome. EPA’s assessment concluded that “mining of the scale contemplated at the Pebble Mine would have significant impacts on fish populations and streams surrounding the mine site.
For more information:
- Why Anglo walked away from the planet's richest undeveloped gold deposit: Blog post
- Earthworks report: US Copper Porphyry Mines: Track Record of Water Quality Impacts
- Press release: 100 Jewelers Pledge Support for Bristol Bay from Pebble Mine
- Press release: Food Retail Industry Flexes Its Muscle for Alaska’s Bristol Bay