We Don’t Need Any Poisoned Salmon
Academic Writing For Social And Natural Science
Even if you live out of Alaska, you must have heard something about the issue called Pebble Mine; if you haven’t, congratulations, you live in a very sheltered world. As we must all know by now, the prospect of Pebble Mine is among the upmost talked about and debated environmental issue facing the state of Alaska’s public and its wellbeing. Every day we, as Alaskans, view multiple advertisements either for or against the project, condoning it or saying it will help the state’s economy. The view that can be gathered by just asking around a town in any area of the state will most likely be a very one-sided statement. “It must be stopped immediately to save the environment” or “The mine will create jobs and revenue” are the base statements for either one respectively. An interesting thing about this topic though, is that there seems to be no neutral stance on it. It’s a very right or wrong, which side you’re on type of debate. To the basics, Pebble Mine is a proposed open pit mine situated in Bristol Bay near Lake Illiamna and is twenty miles from the villages of Illiamna, Newhalen, and Nondalton. (Coordinates of the mine site are 59°53′50″N 155°17′43″W). While the heavy mining is a few years off, it is being postponed by heavy opposition, lobbying, laws, acts, groups, and discontent in general. Even overseas companies have voiced their opinion, in roundabout ways.
With good reason, many opponents of the mine are involved with Bristol Bay’s many, large, productive salmon runs. Plans for Pebble currently say that all the waste material will be held behind three large earth made dams. This includes all mining waste which will stay there forever. In this essay, I will go over every aspect of the mine I can think of; and research the land that it will sit on itself, the wildlife in the area, the people living there, and the Pebble partnership’s plans during and after the mine. There will be a pros and cons for both sides; but ultimately I will be saying that the Pebble Mine should be stopped before it goes any farther than it already has. Our natural resources depend on the Bristol Bay watershed too much to risk it for a load of ore. In the end, it will be a question of natural resources that can provide indefinite pay and food for many people; or a shorter term mine that will benefit only a few compared to those who depend on the salmon.
The mining at the Pebble prospect, as it is currently being called, dates back to even before it became a major issue. Back in 1986, the land rights belonged to CAE (Cominco Alaska Explorations) and surveys done using aircraft and basic geology observations judged the Pebble west prospect to be an area worth drilling. In 1988, CAE began their first drilling campaign that lasted until 1992; the Pebble west was then calculated to hold about three million tons of copper ore and eleven million ounces of gold trapped within one thousand million tons of ore. After this initial drilling, a decade passed before any other major work in the area commenced again. In 2001, enter the current mine owners, Northern Dynasty Mining Ltd. NDM put in a bid for the Pebble claims with Teck Cominco; Teck Cominco had succeeded CAE in the decade when Pebble wasn’t being mined. The following year, NDM began their own drilling exploration of the pebble prospect and came up with a new calculation of four thousand one hundred million tons of ore of resources in pebble west. In 2005, NDM gained full ownership of the mining rights and also discovered what is now known as pebble east. Pebble East was projected to surpass pebble west in possible ore body that could be profitably mined. In 2007, NDM was close to finishing a preliminary feasibility study with an actual feasibility study which commenced in 2011. By the end of 2007, NDM has about two hundred and twenty-five million sunk into the project with a supposed eighty-five million into socio-economic and environmental studies alone. To date in 2011, ninety-one million dollars has been budgeted for completion of feasibility studies which will then lead to permit applications. If everything goes right for them, NDM and Anglo American plan to begin building and mining in 2015.
Now here is where we do some math. Pebble mine has sixty-seven billion pounds of copper, eighty-two million ounces of gold, and four million pounds of molybdenum. At 2008 to 2010 market prices, these ores combined to make an estimated profit of three hundred and seventy five to five hundred billion dollars. These estimates would make the entire Pebble Prospect the second, and now possibly the first, most valuable ore body of its type; second after the Grasberg Mine in Indonesia; with the potential to even surpass that mine, which makes it the most valuable or body of its type. The Bristol Bay Salmon industry alone brings in over one hundred and ten million on average a year. With last year’s prices and an estimated one hundred and eighty-six million salmon caught, the value upon the fish alone was just under five hundred and thirty-five million. This was the state wide harvest for last year’s season, the eleventh best season since statehood. Back in 2009, the total value of Alaska’s landings was about on point three billion dollars, the closest competitor of that year was Massachusetts with four hundred million dollars. In 2009, fishing revenues from every area of the industry brought in seventy-nine million. Looking at these numbers alone, pebble is the bigger payoff in the short run; yet the mine is estimated to be profitably productive for about one hundred years.
The Bristol Bay watershed area is located in an area that is prone to all kinds of natural events that can potentially damage any building or structures sitting on it. The mines and dams would face hazards that include earthquakes, volcanic activity, permafrost upheaval/collapse, snow avalanches, and stream icing. The area that is being planned for mining sits in the 2B seismic zone, which was rated at moderate seismic activity. The International Building Code specifies moderate seismic activity as ground motion ranges from 25 to 60% gravitational acceleration for 0.2 seconds to 12 to 25% gravitational acceleration for 1 second. This rating is equivalent to magnitude 5 earthquakes. There have been records of magnitude 7 earthquakes in the area. Alaska, throughout the state, experiences magnitude 6-7 earthquakes roughly 5 times a year; with magnitude 8 earthquakes occurring every thirteen years. Many of these earthquakes are generated in the subduction zone of the Pacific Plate going under the North American Plate. Even more worrisome is the fault lines that Pebble is located near. The Castle Rock fault line splits into the Bruin Bay Fault and the Lake Clark Fault by the head of Cook Inlet. The Bruin Bay Fault runs roughly parallel to Cook Inlet; while the Lake Clark Fault runs down through Lake Clark. Reports don’t agree where the exact fault runs but they say that Pebble Mine runs within 5 miles of the fault. The Pebble Limited Partnership claims the fault runs 18 miles away from the Pebble Mine. If a building is near a fault line and an earthquake occurs along that fault, the effects of said earthquake can exhibit three times as much force that the same quake would generate 200 miles away. Pebble Limited Partnership claims the mine structures can withstand magnitude 7.8 earthquakes, yet if they are 5 miles from the fault, this may not be enough to keep damages from happening to the facility or the tailing dams. The nearest volcanoes are about 100 miles away but are still very active, especially in recent years. Illiamna, the Katmai group, Ukinrek Maars, Ugashik-Peulik, and the Togiak Lava Fields are all listed as active volcanoes with eruptions occurring from Illiamna, Augustine, and Ukinrek within a century. Augustine alone last erupted in 2005 while Illiamna in 2003 and 2005, had non-eruptive activity. Currently, the Alaska Volcano Observatory has all these volcanoes listed as Green, meaning current activity or lack thereof is deemed normal for them. However, these volcanoes do lie on or near the Aleutian Arc; this arc makes up the northern border of the Ring Of Fire. Meaning these volcanoes are prone to activity. Threats from volcanoes by themselves can create pyroclastic flows, ash fallout, and lava flows. Geologist that did study in the area consider volcano induces mudflows (lahars) and volcanogenic floods to be the biggest threats. Any one of these natural occurrences could easily, in the least, cause minor damage to the facilities at Pebble. Another threat that could be devastating is tsunamis. An extreme example would be the 2009 Indonesia Tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands and destroyed as many homes. Given, Bristol Bay is more protected from tsunamis and not as many people live in the area. The Pebble Mine would also be inland possibly far enough to be safe. The only tsunami threat to Bristol Bay would have to come from the Bering Sea. However, not as protected is the proposed deepwater dock that ships would come tie up to take on cargo and ore from the mine. The proposed dock is planned to be built at Iniskin Bay in Cook Inlet. The 1964 Good Friday Earthquake generated a tsunami that struck even into Kachemak Bay, which is pretty well protected. Iniskin Bay is more out in the open, but is located on the west side of Cook Inlet.
The companies backing Pebble Mine are Anglo America PLC. and Northern Dynasty LTD. with vested interests and stocks from other companies, including Rio Tinto and Mitsubishi. Anglo American, despite its name, is a London, U.K. based company with a U.S. subsidiary. Northern Dynasty LTD. hails from Vancouver, British Columbia, while they have done a lot of exploratory drilling in Pebble, back in August the company put their 50% interest in the Pebble Prospect up for sale. So far, no bids have been placed. What would happen though id NDM sold their half of the partnership, they would be taking away their word and be replaced by a company that gave no word about preventing damage to environment. Rio Tinto is a dual bases mining company with offices in London, U.K. and Melbourne, Australia. Rio Tinto was brought into the Pebble Partnership back in 2006 by Northern Dynasty to lend credibility to the project. The main point is none of these mining companies are all from over-seas countries. While Alaska may benefit off of Pebble, it will be nothing compared to what Northern Dynasty and Anglo American and shareholders will make. In a report by Northern Dynasty, there were 95 million shares sold with a market capitalization of $959 million as of June 30, 2011. This means that those shares must be paid off before anybody else is, that includes the Alaska and anybody living in mining affected area. Plus, all the money they put into exploration and studies, they will want to make that back first thing at least. As for claims that these companies want only the best for the environment of the Bristol Bay Watershed, a report by Philip Mattera (Anglo American’s Track Record: Rhetoric or Reality) concluded that despite the companies concern about environmental damage prevention; mines owned by the company had reports of acidic mine drainage getting into other rivers in South Africa, mercury air pollution in Nevada, and degraded rivers in Ireland. Rio Tinto has also been under pressure from their own questionable economic and social history. Given that accidents do happen, these are also accidents that have far reaching and disastrous effects; especially in Bristol Bay where neither people nor salmon can afford toxic spills flowing into the streams. Given these records and with the possibility that these companies don’t appear as stringent with mines on different continents; this is only another reason to shut down keep the Pebble Mine from coming to completion.
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