There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the proposed Pebble Mine project planned for the Bristol Bay area of southern Alaska.
As may be expected, proponents of the mine are espousing the many financial benefits that come with such an undertaking (jobs for locals, a boosted economy, increased access to natural resources so that America can cut reliance on foreign suppliers, etc.), while those on the opposing side decry the pollution, waste, and destruction of habitat that have historically accompanied this type of operation.
Both sides have valid points, but with the many changes occurring across the planet thanks to global warming and other forms of pollution, people have begun to take note of the dangers of industry and the impact they could have on our long-term chances for survival as a species.
The hazards surrounding this particular mining operation bear consideration.
The Pebble Mine project is exploratory in nature. Although gold, copper, and molybdenum (often components of steel products) are the target of the proposed mine (which will include both an open pit and an underground operation), the word “exploratory” should give pause to those that support the project.
What this really means is that there are, as yet, no limits on how far the fingers of the mine could reach. In fact, there is no finalized plan. So despite the fact that there are contingencies in place to dispose of waste water and tailings (earthen dams at the site), there’s really no telling if these measures will be enough.
Considering the number of Superfund sites in the United States, history says they won’t.
Of course, the real issue for environmentalists concerns the fish in the region. Naturally there is a general distaste associated with the destruction of the natural beauty that currently exists in this largely untouched region.
Mining operations, even those that engage in “clean-up” efforts, leave the land they use utterly uninhabitable. In many cases, flora, fauna, and animal populations are permanently lost. But in the case of Bristol Bay, such losses could have far-ranging implications.
It turns out that this area plays host to the largest remaining wild-salmon fishery in the world. Not only is this important for the continuing existence of the species, but it also concerns the local economy. Both residents and outsiders have long relied upon this $350 million dollar industry to supply their livelihood.
As the proposed mine stands to destroy nearly 60 miles of habitat that the salmon use for breeding, the negative impact could be quite expansive.
In addition, acid drainage and other pollutants are likely to affect other animal species in the region that rely on the watershed for sustenance, and it could even spread to human habitations like so many other mining after-effects have.
Just look to the Libby Mine in Montana; it was declared a public health emergency in 2009 due to the effects of asbestos poisoning on residents of nearby towns Libby and Troy. Do the people of Alaska’s Bristol Bay area really want to tempt fate for a few ducats?
And then there is the destruction of the natural beauty of the area. With all of the extreme weather we’ve seen in the last year, you’d think people would start to get the hint about the inherent dangers of polluting our environment.
Although mining doesn’t contribute significantly to air pollution, the damage to the soil and water of ecosystems and the endangerment of species (which threatens biodiversity) are just part of a bigger picture, one in which humans slowly destroy the environment that supports their very existence. And the Pebble Mine is a part of that plan.
Evan Fischer is a conservation writer who works with NRDC and other organizations to protect our health and environment.
- Rough Draft Research Essay(sorry its late, was confused with another date): (envirowriters.wordpress.com)
- Follow the Money (opinion8ed2.wordpress.com)
- We’re for Local Control (Except, of Course, When We Are Not) (sierraclub.typepad.com)