In 1988, Cominco discovered enormous mining potential at the headwaters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay and named it the Pebble Prospect. In 2001, the company, then known as Teck Cominco, sold the Pebble Prospect to a junior mining developer – Northern Dynasty Minerals – for just $10,000,000 – citing “environmental concerns” and the extremely low grade of ore as the reason for letting go of the highly prospective mineral discovery.
The Pebble Prospect was situated astride the headwaters of the two major river systems feeding Bristol Bay. Bristol Bay’s enormous salmon population spawns throughout the river systems which intersect at the proposed mine site. Lake Iliamna, the largest incubator of salmon in the world, lies directly below the mine site and was/is being considered by the mine developers as a possible site for disposing of mine waste. Thirty to forty million salmon spawn in the waters at and below the proposed mine site. This salmon spawning habitat fuels the largest wild salmon fishery left on earth – employing over 7000 Alaskans - , the largest bears in the world, world record sport fishing streams and a Native population that has been documented as subsistence users going back almost 10,000 years.
Northern Dynasty has described the proposed Pebble Mine to shareholders as the largest gold mine and 6th largest copper mine in the world (now upgraded to 5th largest). All – repeat ALL - of the 20 largest copper mines in the world have destroyed the waters around them. No – repeat NO - such mine has ever been developed in a location as ecologically sensitive as Alaska’s Bristol Bay. And Northern Dynasty – in 20 years of operation – had never developed a single mine.
Recent studies on the effects of copper on salmon have shown that as little as 3 parts per billion disrupt salmons’ natural homing mechanisms. The Pebble Mine site is located 950 feet above Bristol Bay in an environment known for high winds and heavy rains. It is also located within a few miles of significant fault lines that have been the source of major earthquakes throughout history. As a large scale dissemination mining project, due to very low concentrations of ore per ton, the amount of earth that would be excavated would create an unprecedented amount of dust and debris. For the same reason, five of the largest dams ever created on earth have been detailed in Northern Dynasty plans to hold – in perpetuity - the 10 billion tons of mine waste that Pebble’s recoverable ore would generate. That equates to 3000 lbs of mine waste for every person alive on the planet today – to be contained forever in a major seismic environment on top of the two major salmon spawning river systems that feed the largest fishery left on earth.
The mining industries own documents have indicated that damage to the Bristol Bay fishery would definitely occur, but would be “mitigated”. Fishery biologists have documented that the salmon of Bristol Bay spawning streams each have unique DNA and would be impossible to replace. Mining industry promises have been broken again and again in the exploration phase of the Pebble Mine. Northern Dynasty said that the Talarik Creek would never be touched – calling it “sensitive fish habitat”. But the Talarik Creek is now actively part of the mine plan and developers filed for 100% of its water rights for mine development. In 2010 the Pebble Partnership had their water rights revoked due to multiple exploration violations. But in a state where no mine has ever failed to get permitted – they were quickly reinstated.The facts point to certain environmental disasters if Pebble Mine were to proceed – from the construction of roads and infrastructure crossing hundreds of salmon streams, from human error, from wind and rain blowing or flooding contaminants into the water system, or from dramatic seismic activity. If Pebble proceeds, another 1000 square miles of land in the Bristol Bay region – an area the size of the State of Rhode Island - have been claimed by other mining companies. The scope of the disaster if mine development in this area proceeds is the only question.