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Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay Alaska, USA


Description:

The area of Bristol Bay in Alaska is home to one of the greatest runs of wild sockeye salmon and over two dozen Alaskan Native Communities. The area is rich in deposits of gold, copper and molybdenum, which can be found in the around the Kvichak and Nushagak Rivers, two of the eight major rivers that feed Bristol Bay [2] [6].

Since 2010, there is a proposal for a mine that would be one of the largest in the country. Because of its size, geochemistry and location, the Pebble proposal mine runs a high risk of polluting Bristol Bay [2]. Therefore, environmentalists, activist and local residents highly oppose and protest against the proposed project [2] [3][4] [5]. The proposed mine developers is the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) [2]. 

The proposed mine by the Pebble Limited Partnership at the headwaters of the Nushagak and Kvichak rivers would be 2 miles across and 2,000 feet deep. Billions of tons of mine waste would be dumped into artificial lakes created by flooding 10 square miles of land behind earthen dams more than 600 feet high [2][6].

The environmental risks of this project are enormous, but equally important are the devastating repercussions the mine will have on the indigenous peoples of Bristol Bay, who have lived on these lands for generations and depend on the bay’s salmon for their survival [2]. 

Accordingly,  7,500 people live in the Bristol Bay region, the majority of them Alaska Natives --- Yup’ik, Alutiiq and Athabaskan tribal members of Bristol Bay. With wild salmon comprising 52 percent of the average Native family’s diet, these fish and the clean water they depend on are key to survival [1] [2].

Environmentalist and the communities underthe name "Save Bristol Bay" reacted at the begging of the mine proposal, 10 years long battle, and achieved the following:

In 2010: Nine Bristol Bay tribes, commercial fishermen and sportsmen requested to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to initiate the 404(c) process of Environmental Assessment study under the Clean Water Act [2].

2012: In response to the above request, EPA issued two drafts of the Assessment, concluding that the Pebble proposal would negatively impact Bristol Bay salmon. Public input was accepted nationwide, with more than 1 million comments supporting EPA's work, and hundreds of scientists weighed in verifying these conclusions [2].

2013: The Alaska Department of Natural Resorces (DNR) signed and adopted a Determination of Reclassification and Plan Amendment to the Bristol Bay Area Plan, which significantly increased the amount of lands classified Wildlife Habitat and Public Recreation in the region [2]. 

The same year, the final Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment was released recommending that it is not likely that Pebble can operate in Bristol Bay without harming salmon [2]. Anglo American, the first and a major investor in the Pebble mine, abandoned its $541-plus million investment in the project [2].

2014: Global mining giant Rio Tinto gifted its 19.1% stake in Northern Dynasty (now the sole member of the Pebble Limited "Partnership") to two Alaskan charities, therefore also walking away from the Pebble mine [4].

2014: EPA released its Proposed Determination proposing to limit mining within the Bristol Bay region on the basis that the mine would cause irreversible and unacceptable damage to the Bristol Bay salmon ecosystem. Over 1.5 million comments were submitted across the country on the proposal, 85.9% of which were in support of strong protections for Bristol Bay [2] [7].

2016: An independent federal watchdog, the Inspector General, determined the U.S. Environmental Protection agency acted fairly in its conduct during the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, the findings of which ultimately directed the Agency to limit mining activities in Bristol Bay due to its unacceptable risk on wild salmon, clean water and a thriving fish-based economy [2].

2017: After a meeting between the EPA Administrator and the CEO of Northern Dynasty, the EPA Administrator ignored years of scientific study and overwhelming public opinion and directed staff to withdraw important protections for Bristol Bay salmon. At the same time, Pebble's website states they are "only just now preparing to apply for permits," despite promising the permit applications were eminent, presumably while waiting for a "favorable political window, for over ten years", according the the activists website [2]. Therefore a large  number of comments were submitted to the EPA in support of strong protections for the region [2] [7]. 

The same year (2017) Pebble filed for a key federal-level permit. The phase one plan presented in the permit application confirms that the proposed Pebble mine would be harmful for Bristol Bay and its world-famous salmon fisheries. In response, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the key agency in charge of reviewing the permit, laid out an unprecedentedly rushed permit review timeline. But U.S. EPA announced that he would not withdraw the 2014 Clean Water Act 404(c) Proposed Determination for Bristol Bay, Alaska [2]. 

2018: The Army Corps of Engineers released the final report concerning Pebble’s phase one permit. Over 400,000 comments were submitting raising concerns about Pebble’s application, including the incompleteness of the plan submitted, lack of demonstrated proof of financial viability, inadequate opportunity for public input, improperly segmenting review due to the mine expand, and negative impacts to the region [2].

2019: The Corps underestimate the environmental impacts. Still, the document showed the proposed Pebble mine will cause immense impacts to the region, destroying more than 3,500 acres of wetlands and 80 stream miles. Close to 700,000 comments were submitted in opposition to Pebble’s plan [2] [7].

2019: Despite EPA releasing comments critical of Pebble’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the agency announced that they would begin to withdraw the 2014 Proposed Determination on Water Act [2].

In October 2019, tribal organisations, Trout Unlimited, and conservation groups announced that they would be suing the EPA over this decision. The groups allege that the EPA broke the Administrative Procedures Act and Clean Water Act when it ignored science and the potential impacts of developing the mine, and that the decision was made  to support Pebble’s acquisition of the key federal-level permit [2].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay Alaska, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Alaska
Location of conflict:Bristol Bay
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Ports and airport projects
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Ports and airport projects
Specific commodities:Copper
Gold
Molybdenum

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The mine will be a two-mile wide pit that could produce 2 billion metric tons of acid-producing ore. For the mining process two vast tailings reservoirs and a 3,286-acre waste rock pile, and an 86-mile service road with pipelines, processing facilities, power plants, and

other industrial infrastructure [1]

Furthermore, the project could destroy over 3,000 acres of wetlands and more than 21 miles of salmon streams at the mine site located in the headwaters of Bristol Bay’s world-class salmon run (plus destroy at least an additional 1,000 acres of wetlands and impact hundreds of streams from the road and pipeline). The project besides the mine includes the following extra projects [2]:

- Construct a massive tailings storage facility, treatment ponds, and associated dams and embankments would block and inundating salmon streams;

-It would also construct a private two-lane 83-mile-long road with more than 200 stream crossings and 8 large bridges;

-Develop an ice-breaker barge system is included in the project across Lake Iliamna with two lakeside terminals;

-The project would develop a private and large Port facility on Cook Inlet near salmon streams and extending more than 4 miles into the inlet waters and known habitat for sea otters, beluga whales, humpback whales, and seals;

-Furthermore, to build and operate a 230-megawatt power plant (with two additional 2mw plants at the port) approximately 15 miles upwind from Lake Clark National Park;

-Then a 188-mile-long natural gas pipeline over land and under the Cook Inlet and Iliamna Lake;

-At closure, the 1.1 billion tons of tailings waste into the pit, to be monitored and maintained in perpetuity.

- The mine and supporting facilities are currently proposed to run continuously for 20 years

Project area:16,000
Level of Investment:140,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:7,500
Start of the conflict:01/01/2010
Company names or state enterprises:Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) from United States of America
Northern Dynasty Minerals from Canada - Owner and primary funding of Pebble Mine
Relevant government actors:-United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
-U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:-Trout Unlimited’s Alaska program
-Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
- Save Bristol Bay (savebristolbay.org)
-WhyWild
-Renewable Resources Coalition
-International Federation of Fly Fishers
-United Fishermen of Alaska
-Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association
-Bristol Bay Regional Development Corporation
-Alaska Native subsistence users represented by Nunamta Aulukestai,
-Alaska Native Inter-Tribal Council and regional tribal and village councils
-Local lodge owners and guides, such as Brian Kraft, owner of Alaska Sportsman’s lodge

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Yup’ik, Alutiiq, Athabaskan
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Boycotts of companies-products

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsPotential: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Mine tailing spills, Other Environmental impacts, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Noise pollution, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsPotential: Occupational disease and accidents, Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood

Outcome

Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Proposal and development of alternatives:Although Environmental Protection Agency released comments critical of Pebble’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the agency would begin to withdraw the Proposed Determination from 2014 which showed immense impact on the environment. The project besides mining would even include other several "supporting" projects like dams and road and pipelines infrastructure. There is no alternative proposed by the company nor the agency.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Not yet, while the Pebble Mine is still proposed there are local EJOs, large environmental organizations and other supporters have created a strong resistance to try and prevent the ecological and economic consequences that the mine would create. However. the project is still under consideration.

Sources & Materials

[4] Bristol Bay, National Wildlife Federation
http://www.nwf.org/wildlife/wild-places/bristol-bay.aspx

[6]Alaska Department of Natural Resources - Pebble Project

[7] Save Bristol Bay.org: Pebble project Fact Sheets
https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55319e94e4b02842e0615731/t/5b353f1b575d1f7d68c89b1c/1530216222456/2018PebbleFactsheet.pdf

[4]

[1] Honoring the River, National Wildlife Federation April 2013
http://www.nwf.org/pdf/Tribal-Lands/Honoring%20the%20River%20Report.pdf

[2] Save Bristol Bay campaign
http://www.savebristolbay.org/

[5]Our Bristol Bay
http://www.ourbristolbay.com/the-bristol-bay-protection-effort.html

[5]Our Bristol Bay

[3]The Huffington Post on the Pebble Mine
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/pebble-mine-bristol-bay/

[6] Alaska Department of Natural Resources - Pebble Project
http://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/mining/largemine/pebble/

Meta information

Contributor:Sara Orvis, University of Michigan School of Natural Resources, [email protected]
Last update23/01/2020

Images

 

Pebble mine protests

Source: Water keeper.com

Anti Pebble mine sticker

Source: Capital Research Center