Pebble Mine

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Pebble Mine
Pebble Mine is located in Alaska
Pebble Mine
Pebble Mine
Location of the Pebble prospect in Alaska
Coordinates: 59°53′50″N 155°17′43″W / 59.89722°N 155.29528°W / 59.89722; -155.29528Coordinates: 59°53′50″N 155°17′43″W / 59.89722°N 155.29528°W / 59.89722; -155.29528
Countries United States
State Alaska
Borough Lake and Peninsula
Time zone Alaska (AKST) (UTC-9)
 • Summer (DST) AKDT (UTC-8)
Area code(s) 907
Exploration drill rig at the prospective site of the Pebble Mine

Pebble Mine is the common name of a mineral exploration project investigating a very large porphyry copper, gold, and molybdenum mineral deposit in the Bristol Bay region of Southwest Alaska, near Lake Iliamna and Lake Clark. The proposal to mine the ore deposit, using large-scale operations and infrastructure, is controversial. Proponents argue that the mine will create jobs, provide tax revenue to the state of Alaska, and reduce American dependence on foreign sources of raw materials. Opponents argue that the mine would adversely affect the entire Bristol Bay watershed; and that the possible consequences to fish populations, when mining effluents escape planned containments, are simply too great to risk. Much of this debate concerns the tentative plan to impound large amounts of water, waste rock, and mine tailings behind several earthen dams at the mine site.

Possible mining plan[edit]

The exact nature and scope of proposed mining activities at Pebble are yet to be finalized - but the general outline of the plan is known. A contiguous body of ore is known as Pebble West where mineralization locally extends to the surface, and as Pebble East where it is a deeply buried (off to the east) root of the deposit.

Pebble West would probably be mined as an open pit. The open pit preliminarily envisioned by Pebble Mines Corp. is two miles (3 km) wide and several thousand feet deep. Most of the rock removed from the pit will be waste, up to 10 billion tons of waste rock.[1] That waste rock material, along with allowed discharge chemicals, would be stored (forever) in two artificial lakes behind massive earthen dams. The largest of the dams containing these lakes would be 740 feet (230 m) tall and 4.3 miles (6.9 km) long. The Pebble East part of the deposit would most likely be mined using underground methods.

Only a huge mine benefiting from economies of scale is feasible at Pebble, due to the low-grade character of the ore. Development and construction of a mine at Pebble would be a massive industrial project, taking years and costing billions of dollars.[2] It will require many miles of roads and bridges across currently wild and undeveloped land, pipelines for fuel and for rock slurries, the use of great amounts of process water, impoundment of great amounts of surface water, electric powerlines, and constant transport and use of fuel and industrial and domestic chemicals and supplies.[3]

Some design possibilities being considered include: construction of a port on Iniskin Bay of Cook Inlet with a private two-lane freight road roughly 104 miles (167 km) long built along the north side of Lake Iliamna between the mine and the new port; trucks hauling ore concentrate on that road to the port; several pipelines along the road which would carry fuel and a slurry of metal concentrate from the minesite to the portsite. The slurry would be dewatered at the port before being shipped to a smelter, with a pipeline returning the water to the mine.[4][5] Power to operate the mine would possibly come from a combination of overhead powerlines and a submarine cable across Cook Inlet.[6]

Feasibility studies (detailed mine construction and operation plans) are being prepared by Pebble Mines Corp. The company expects to apply for permits in 2012, at the earliest.[7][8]

If Pebble is fully developed, it will be roughly operationally similar to existing large copper porphyry mines such as Chuquicamata, Bingham Canyon, and Ok Tedi - although the environmental setting and some technical considerations of Pebble vary widely from these desert and tropical examples.

Location, land status, and mineral rights[edit]

The Pebble prospect is in a remote and usually uninhabited part of the Bristol Bay watershed, in Southwest Alaska. The nearest communities, about 20 miles (32 km) distant, are the villages of Nondalton, Newhalen, and Iliamna. The site is 200 miles (320 km) southwest of Anchorage, Alaska.

Pebble is approximately 15 miles (24 km) north of, and upstream of, Lake Iliamna. The deposit area is characterized by relatively flat land dotted by glacial ponds, interspersed with isolated mountains or ranges of hills rising one or two thousand feet above the flats. Pebble is under a broad flat valley at about 1,000 feet (300 m) above sea level dividing the drainages of: Upper Talarik Creek, and the Koktuli River.

Upper Talarik Creek flows into Lake Iliamna, which flows through the Kvichak River into Bristol Bay. Waters in the Koktuli River drain into the Mulchatna River, a tributary of the Nushagak River which empties into Bristol Bay at Dillingham. Lake Clark, approximately 20 miles (32 km) east of Pebble, is upstream of the deposit area.

The Pebble West/East deposits are centered upon 59.8971N, 155.2952W (59°53′50″N 155°17′43″W).

The Pebble mineral deposits are on land owned by the state of Alaska. Pebble Mines Corp. holds mineral rights for 186 square miles (480 km2) of state mining claims, an area which includes the Pebble deposits, as well as other, less explored, mineral deposits.[9]

Discovery and exploration history[edit]

Cominco Alaska Exploration (CAE) began investigations in the area in 1986. Early work focused on color anomalies visible from aircraft. Discovery of the Pebble West (originally named Pebble Beach) deposit occurred during the first drilling campaign in 1988. CAE continued drilling and other work through 1992, resulting in a calculated resource of 3 million tonnes of copper metal and 11 million ounces of gold contained in 1000 million tonnes of ore. After 1992 little further work was done on the project for nearly a decade.[10]

In 2001, Northern Dynasty Minerals, Ltd. optioned the property from Teck Cominco (the successor company to CAE's parent company), and began, in 2002, an extensive exploration program that is still in progress in 2011.

By 2004, Northern Dynasty had expanded the known resources at Pebble West to include 4,100 million tonnes of ore. Engineering, environmental, and socio-economic studies aimed at designing a mine commenced.

In 2005, Northern Dynasty discovered the Pebble East deposit. Also that year, Northern Dynasty acquired 100% ownership of the Pebble mining claims.[11][12]

In 2007, Northern Dynasty anticipated completing a prefeasibility study in late 2008, a feasibility study in 2011, and commencing production in 2015.[13] Northern Dynasty expected to have invested about $225 million in the project by years end, with about $85 million of that in environmental and socio-economic studies.[14]

In 2008, 140 million dollars was budgeted for project expenditures, and approximately 150,000 feet (46,000 m) of additional drilling was completed.[15]

In 2009, 70 million dollars were budgeted for the project, in order to complete a preliminary feasibility study, or "prefeasability" study, and to prepare the project for permitting.[16]

In 2010, 73 million dollars were budgeted to continue engineering efforts towards a prefeasibility report, environmental studies, and various administrative and community-relations work. Applications for development and operations permits are not planned until after 2010.[17][18]

For 2011, 91 million dollars are budgeted for the Pebble Project. The objective is to complete a prefeasibility study, leading to permit applications in 2012. Environmental and engineering studies (including 45,000 feet (14,000 m) of drilling) to support mine design decisions and to provide a complete environmental baseline are the core efforts.

Mining market and economics[edit]

Pebble is the largest (known) undeveloped copper ore body in the world, measured by either the amount of contained metal or the amount of ore.[19]

Northern Dynasty Minerals, Ltd. estimates that Pebble contains over $300 billion worth of recoverable metals at early 2010 prices.[20]

A report released by Northern Dynasty in early 2011 predicts profits for mine owners if a large scale open-pit mine is built at Pebble, given certain assumptions about the; cost of building the mine ($4.7 billion), size of the mining operation (200,000 tons per day), years that the mine will operate, metal prices over the life of the mine, as well as particulars of the mine design plan. The study assumes a slurry pipeline will deliver ore concentrate from the mine to a new port on Cook Inlet, and that there will also be trucks hauling ore concentrates to Cook Inlet. For a 45-year mine life with current copper, gold, and molybdenum prices the mine is expected to; return the initial capital investment (i.e. pay for itself) in 3.2 years, employ over a thousand people for the first 25 years, and provide a 23.2% pre-tax internal return on investment for the 45 year period. Expected pre-tax cash-flow of a 45-year operating mine is approximately $2 billion per year for much of the mine life, and significantly more during the later years. The report states that 58% of the ore resource will remain at year 45, given the same assumptions.[21]

Several prominent UK jewelers and American jewellery retailers and manufacturers have pledged not to buy gold from Pebble, should it ever be developed. This is due to the environmental impact that is characteristic of mines of this type and the sensitivity of the surrounding ecosystem.[22][23]

Reserves and resources[edit]

In 1992 Pebble was estimated to contain 3 million tonnes of copper and 11 million ounces of gold in 1 billion tonnes of ore.

In 2004 Northern Dynasty had outlined, through additional drilling, over 4 billion tonnes of ore, none of it in the yet undiscovered "Pebble East."

Estimates in February 2008 indicated: Pebble West contains (at a copper-equivalent cut-off of 0.30%) Measured and Indicated Resources of 18.8 billion pounds of copper, 31.3 million ounces of gold, and 265 million pounds of molybdenum, contained within 3026 million tonnes of ore and Inferred Resources of 5.9 billion pounds of copper, 9.1 million ounces of gold, and 993 million pounds of molybdenum contained within 1130 million tonnes of ore.;[11] Pebble East contains (at a copper-equivalent cut-off of 0.6%) Inferred resources of 49 billion pounds of copper, 45 million ounces of gold, and 2.8 billion pounds of molybdenum contained within 3860 million tonnes of ore.[8]

In February 2010 an updated resource estimate was released reporting that, based on a total of 509 drillholes and at a 0.30% copper equivalent cutoff (CuEQ), the Pebble deposit mineral resources (East and West combined) comprise: • 5.94 billion tonnes of ore as Measured and Indicated Mineral Resources grading 0.78% CuEQ, containing 55 billion pounds of copper, 67 million ounces of gold and 3.3 billion pounds of molybdenum; and • 4.84 billion tonnes of ore as Inferred Mineral Resources grading 0.53% CuEQ, containing 25.6 billion pounds of copper, 40.4 million ounces of gold and 2.3 billion pounds of molybdenum.[24]

By dollar value, slightly more than half of the value of Pebble is from copper, with the remainder split roughly equally between gold and molybdenum. Byproducts of silver, rhenium, and palladium metals will also be recovered.

Pebble is estimated to be the second-largest ore deposit of its type in the world (in terms of the value of the contained metal), slightly smaller than Indonesia's Grasberg Mine, which has more metal contained in a smaller amount of ore than Pebble .[14]

Geology[edit]

Ore body[edit]

The Pebble deposit is hosted in porphyritic granodiorite to tonalite of Upper Cretaceous age intruded into deformed sedimentary rocks of the Jurassic to Cretaceous age Kahiltna flysch terrane.[25]

Pebble Copper is a calc-alkali porphyry copper-gold-molybdenum deposit. The ore body extends from the surface to at least 1700 meters depth. In the western part of the orebody, mineralization occurs in a complex of several small granodiorite cupolas, diorite sills, older intrusions, breccias, and sediments. The western part of the deposit is locally exposed at the surface; thin gossans are developed and oxidation reaches 100 feet (30 m) in depth. The orebody extends eastward across a fault contact, at depth. East of the fault mineralization occurs in abundant sills and in the intruded sediments. Farther east, and deeper, the sills coalesce into a deeply buried granodiorite pluton. Mineralization and ore continue into the pluton. The eastern part of the deposit was eroded when it was exposed at the surface millions of years ago. It has since been buried by a thickening-to-the-east wedge of post-mineralization-age Tertiary sedimentary and volcano-sedimentary rocks.[26][27]

The age of mineralization at Pebble is reported to extend for several million years between 86 million years ago and 89.5 Ma.[28]

Metallic minerals identified at Pebble Copper include pyrite, chalcopyrite, molybdenite, and bornite, along with minor covellite, chalcocite, digenite, and magnetite.

Regional[edit]

The Kahiltna terrane is interpreted to represent a sediment trough formed on the landward (Alaska) side of the Wrangellia volcanic arc terrane, prior to collision of Wrangellia with Alaska. The Wrangellia and Kahiltna terranes docked to Alaska in the Cretaceous Period. This part of the Kahiltna terrane is dominated by Late Triassic basalt, andesite, and sedimentary rocks overlain by Jurassic-Cretaceous andesitic turbidites. Cretaceous granitic intrusive activity was widespread in the Kahiltna terrane. Tertiary volcanic and sedimentary rocks, and Quaternary glacial deposits, developed over the older rocks.[26]

The Lake Clark fault, or a splay, probably lies within twenty miles (32 km) of the Pebble deposits, and possibly much closer. The Lake Clark fault is a major right-lateral strike-slip crustal feature, it is considered to be a westward expression of the Castle Mt. fault. The actual ground trace of the fault and its splays is unknown in the Pebble area, due to extensive ground cover.[29][30] Recent studies indicate that a magnitude 7.1 quake can be expected to occur on the Castle Mt. fault on a 700-year cycle.[31] The Lake Clark fault is sub-parallel to and considered to be of similar nature to the Denali fault, which lies several hundred miles to the north. A magnitude 7.9 quake struck the Denali fault in 2002. The subduction zone of the Aleutian Trench lies approximately 125 miles (200 km) south of Pebble. This zone was the source of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake of magnitude 9.2.[32]

Current project ownership and management[edit]

Mineral rights to the Pebble deposit, which lies on and under State of Alaska-owned land, belong to Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP). A sequence of mining companies and partnerships have owned and kept in good status the Alaska mining claims at and around Pebble since the initial staking of ground around the deposits in 1987.

The Pebble Limited Partnership is 100% owned by The Northern Dynasty Partnership, which is a wholly owned Canadian-based subsidiary of Northern Dynasty Minerals Limited. Important stockholders in Northern Dynasty Minerals Limited include Kennecott (19.8%) which is a wholly owned affiliate of Rio Tinto, management (13%). One non-executive member of the Northern Dynasty board is a Rio Tinto representative.

On December 23, 2013, Rio Tinto announced a strategic review of its $200 million investment in Northern Dynasty Minerals, and stated it would consider divesting. On April 7, 2014, it announced it would contribute its 19% holdings in the project equally divided between the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, which had opposed the mine, and the Alaska Community Foundation, which had cooperated with Northern Dynasty in managing the Pebble Fund, a financier of grants to organizations in the Bristol Bay area.[33][34]

Investors who had previously divested from the project included Mitsubishi Corporation, which had owned 9.1% interest in Northern Dynasty Minerals until 2011,[35] and London-based mining company Anglo American, which had owned 50% of the Pebble Limited Partnership between 2007 and December 13, 2013.[36]

The corporate officers and executive board members of Northern Dynasty Minerals Limited are all executive board members and corporate officers of Hunter Dickinson Corporation. Northern Dynasty is one of ten public mining companies controlled by Hunter Dickinson, a Vancouver-based Canadian corporation.[37]

Permitting[edit]

Northern Dynasty has applied for water rights permits to Upper Talarik Creek and the Koktuli River for use in mining operations. Altogether, Northern Dynasty has applied for rights to about 35 billion US gallons (130,000,000 m3) of ground and surface water per year,[6] about four times the annual throughput of drinking-quality water at the Anchorage Waste and Wastewater Utility.[38]

Scientific studies of the Pebble project[edit]

A very large amount of site-specific baseline data and scientific studies of potential environmental and social effects have been and are being conducted by the project operators and their consultants, as is normal for any large industrial project. These studies address a varied and interconnected group of concerns, much of them focused on water quality. Among these are: potential Acid mine drainage - the chemical stability and weathering products of the tailings (waste rock) removed from the mine and of the newly exposed and blast-fractured rocks within the proposed mine; seismic risks to the impoundment systems designed to contain the tailings and to control their chemical behavior; and the effects of road and bridge construction on fish habitat.[39][40]

Public interest in the project has also resulted in outside, and opposing, interests publishing scientific reviews of available data and comparisons with other projects. These include reports or summaries on; seismic risks,[41] acid rock drainage,[42] effects of roads and bridges on fish (roads supporting the Pebble mine could cross 20 known salmon streams),[43] and general water pollution-related concerns.[44]

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a scientific review of the Bristol Bay watershed focused on the Nushagak and Kvichak river drainages, in response to petitions from organizations opposed to Pebble. The report is expected to reach the public-comment stage in late 2011.[45]

Salmon and freshwater fish resources in the area[edit]

Bristol Bay is home to the largest run of salmon in the world, all five Eastern Pacific species spawn in the bay's freshwater tributaries. Commercial fisheries include the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery. The Kvijack River has the single largest red salmon run in the world.[46] The Kvijack drains from Lake Iliamna, which is downstream of the deposit. Along with herring and other fisheries, salmon account for nearly 75% of local jobs[47]

Sport fishing is also an important part of the area's industry. There are many lodges catering to sport fishermen exploiting the tremendous salmon and trout populations in the freshwater tributaries. Freshwater species include humpback whitefish (Coregonus pidschianpp), Dolly Varden trout (Salvelinus malma), and Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss).[48]

Not only the commercial and sport fish harvest is important: seasonal subsistence harvesting of salmon and year-round subsistence harvesting of freshwater fish is a critical part of life for rural residents of the Bristol Bay region, most of whom live downstream of the Pebble site.[49]

Human population of the project area[edit]

The Pebble site is within the Lake and Peninsula Borough. The Bristol Bay Borough and the Dillingham Census Area are adjacent. Altogether some 7500 people live largely rural lifestyles within or near the large area downstream of the Pebble site. The populations of Lake Clark National Park and other parts of the Bethel Census Area are upstream of the site or in a different watershed.

The populations in the area rely heavily on wild resources for subsistence purposes. Moose, caribou, and all five species of salmon are harvested by the residents of this region. Wild resources not only supply many communities with the majority of their foodstuffs but they also play an important part in the region's cultural heritage.

Controversy[edit]

The controversy over the proposed Pebble mine centers largely on the potential risk to salmon and other fisheries.

In general, mining opponents claim that the mine poses a significant and unacceptable risk to downstream fish stocks, and perhaps may even be inevitably an environmental disaster if built. Mining proponents claim that the mine can possibly be developed and operated without significantly harming Bristol Bay area fish. A steady stream of electoral, legislative, and legal challenges to possible future Pebble mine development are lodged in Alaska. Some of these assert that even the drilling and other scientific investigations conducted to date have caused significant adverse effects to the land and wildlife near the Pebble site.[50]

Pebble has been a major issue in Alaska politics since the mid-2000s; national environmental and sport-fishing organizations are involved, national publications cover the issue.[51]

A 2006 poll reported 28% of Alaskans in favor of and 53% opposed to Pebble. Another poll in 2006 reported 45% of Alaskans in favor and 31% in opposition. A poll of Bristol Bay residents reported 20% in favor and 71% opposed.[52][53][54] Fifty-seven percent of Alaskan voters in a 2008 statewide election voted against a ballot measure that would have essentially outlawed mine development at Pebble, and perhaps elsewhere in Alaska.[55]

Organizations including the Resource Development Council, Alaska Mining Association, and the Alaska Chamber of Commerce support development at Pebble. The proposal has strong support amongst state-wide elected officials in Alaska.

Opposition to the proposal is being led by organizations including; the Renewable Resources Coalition (formed in 2005 to oppose the Pebble project),[56] local native groups (such as the Bristol Bay Native Association[57]), commercial and sport fishing organizations (such as the Alaska Independent Fishermen's Marketing Association[58] and the Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association[59]), and environmental groups (such as American Rivers[60] and Trout Unlimited).[61] Deceased Senator Ted Stevens, a strong proponent of other resource extraction projects, expressed in 2007 his opposition to the Pebble proposal.[62]

In April 2009, a Native delegation from the Bristol Bay region attended in London the annual shareholder's meeting of Anglo American, the major mining company behind the Pebble project. Travellers[63] included Bobby Andrew, a Bristol Bay Village Representative, Peter Andrew Jr., a commercial fisherman and member of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation's board of directors, tribal advocate Lydia Olympic, Everett Thompson, a Bristol Bay driftnetter and business owner, and Thomas Tilden, chief of the Curyung Tribal Council. The delegation met with Cynthia Carroll, CEO of Anglo American, delivering the message that the Bristol Bay watershed is no place for an open-pit mine.[64]

Several prominent UK jewelers[22] announced a pledge not to buy gold from the Pebble mine if it is built, joining several American jewellery retailers and manufacturers who had done the same in 2008.[23]

Arguments against the proposal[edit]

Environmental[edit]

  • The fish in the watershed, and the wildlife that depend on them, are too important to risk in exchange for the economic benefits of the mine.
  • Accidental discharge of process chemicals and byproducts, heavy metals, and acid mine drainage to the environment are realistic concerns in mine design and operation. Some are dangerous to fish and other wildlife. Downstream salmon and freshwater fish species would be vulnerable to mine-generated pollutants, were a mine constructed at Pebble.[65] A threat to the fish would amount to a threat to the regional subsistence lifestyle.
  • Mining has a poor environmental track record. For example, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency mining has contaminated portions of the headwaters of over 40 percent of watersheds in the western continental U.S., and reclamation of 500,000 abandoned mines in 32 states could cost tens of billions of dollars.[66]
  • A recent study of 25 modern large hard rock metal mines compared water quality outcomes with environmental impact statement (EIS) predictions from the permitting stage. 76 percent (19 mines) of the 25 mines exceeded water quality standards in releases to either surface or groundwater. In this study "exceeded water quality standard" does not necessarily mean that the mines failed to abide by their permits. When the 15 mines with high acid-drainage, high contaminant leaching potential, and proximity to ground water are considered separately, this number is 93% (14 mines).[67][68]
  • Anglo-American PLC is not a desirable corporate partner. A report commissioned by opponents of Pebble, criticizes Anglo American for community, worker safety, public health, and environmental problems at their mining operations in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Mali, Ireland, and the United States(Nevada) and notes the difference between Anglo's stated corporate goals and their actual corporate performance.[69]
  • Earthquake hazards in the area are poorly known, and preliminary plans by the mining company do not prepare adequately for the potential risk.[70]

Economic[edit]

  • The mineral rights and the project are controlled by Canadian, British, Australian, and Japanese corporations, and not American ones, raising doubts about any purported benefits to American industry or economy.[71]
  • The mine may not provide significant tax revenue to the state. Due to Alaska tax structure, oil and gas drilling returns over 20% of resource value to the state and municipalities, fishing returns 1% to 5%, and mining returns approximately 1.5%.[72] However, considering the mine contains over $500 Billion in resources,[73] this 1.5% tax amounts to a maximum of $7.5 Billion in tax revenue over the course of the mine's operation. (For comparison, the entire commercial tax budget for the State of Alaska in 2011 was under $43 Million.[74]) The annual revenue potential of the mine is yet unknown, and consequently so is the tax revenue to the State.[75][76]

Arguments for the proposal[edit]

Economic[edit]

  • The mine, and supporting activities, would provide significant tax revenue to the state. The State of Alaska predicts that direct mining tax revenue, even without Pebble, will be one of the most important sources of non-oil tax revenue (exceeding revenue from fishing).[72]
  • The mine will create well-paying jobs in an increasingly poverty-stricken region[77] — roughly 2000 jobs for construction, dropping to 1000 permanent jobs during the 30 to 60 year expected life span of the mine.[78]
  • The mine would provide a domestic resource of raw materials lowering the United States reliance on foreign sources.[79]

Environmental[edit]

  • Protection of the environment and fisheries will be ensured by the stringent environmental review and permitting process, including an EIS, that is required before development is allowed.
  • Much of the poor environmental track record of mining is from a time before current technologies and regulations.
  • Northern Dynasty has a "no net loss" policy for fisheries.[80]

Active legal challenges[edit]

On December 18, 2009, an appeal was filed in Alaska Superior Court contending that a decision in November 2009 by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ commissioner rejecting their challenge of an exploration permit for the proposed Pebble Mine issued in February 2009 was inappropriate. The suit contends that the Department of Natural Resources failed to give Alaskans adequate notice and opportunity to comment on the permit, and that it failed to consider the timely filed appeal. Trustees for Alaska is pursuing the suit for Nunamta Aulukestai and two Bristol Bay residents.[81]

Six federally recognized tribes filed Nondalton Tribal Council et al. v. State of Alaska DNR[82] with the Alaska Superior Court (Third Judicial District) on May 5, 2009. The suit challenges the validity of the 2005 Bristol Bay Area Plan, one of many Area Plans created and administered by the State of Alaska that, along with other State and Federal rules, define land status and the appropriate and legal uses of State land within the plan boundaries.[83]

The Bristol Bay Area Plan (BBAP) applies to about 12 million acres (49,000 km2) of state-owned uplands and lands beneath rivers and lakes in the Bristol Bay drainages, including lands at and in the vicinity of the proposed mine. The plan also covers about 7 million acres (28,000 km2) of state-owned tide and submerged lands.

The suit alleges that the 2005 BBAP, which replaced the original 1984 version, drastically altered, without legal justification, the land-use designations, classifications and acreages defined in the 1984 plan; and that the 2005 plan fails to provide adequate protection for subsistence resources, sport hunting and fishing, wildlife habitat and other renewable resources. If successful, the suit will require the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to write a new area plan, a many months-long process involving much public input and review of draft versions, although ultimately, approval of an area plan is decided by the Commissioner of Natural Resources, an appointee of the Governor. As of Aug. 7, 2009, DNR had not filed an answer to the complaint.

Nunamta Aulukestai et al. v. State of Alaska DNR,[84] was filed in Alaska Superior Court (Third Judicial District) on July 29, 2009, by Trustees for Alaska on behalf of the Bristol Bay Native organization Nunamta Aulukestai, former Alaska First Lady Bella Hammond, original Alaska Constitutional Convention delegate Victor Fischer, and other individuals. The suit seeks "Declaratory and Injunctive Relief," asserting that the Alaska Department of Natural Resources repeatedly violated Section VIII of the Alaska Constitution, which specifically provides that there shall be, "...no disposals or leases of state lands...without prior public notice and other safeguards of the public's interest..."

The plaintiffs are seeking, among other things, an injunction voiding the existing permits, including water-use permits, issued to Pebble Limited Partnership, Pebble East Corp., and Pebble West Corp. by the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources. The injunction being sought is specific to Pebble permits and would not directly apply to other mineral exploration projects (or to mining operations) in the state. The suit alleges that the DNR's "pattern of permitting," is defective because it has not been sufficiently rigorous in determining that issuing a permit will best serve public interest, as demonstrated by a lack of documented scientific studies by the DNR and by a lack of public review and input, prior to issuing routine permits. A Declaration by one of the plaintiffs references the Commentary on Article VIII on State Lands and Natural Resources of December 15, 1955; "As requirements change and many tasks become routine, appropriate modifications can be made in procedures if rigid requirements are not specified in the Constitution itself."

The suit also alleges that significant, and documented, adverse effects on land, water, and wildlife have already occurred as a result of drilling and other exploration activities at Pebble since 1989.[85] In late 2009 the presiding judge rejected a State of Alaska motion to dismiss the case and also denied a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop mining exploration at the Pebble Project. A Petition for Review on the preliminary injunction decision was filed with the Alaska Supreme Court.

In July 2010, the Alaska Superior Court issued a ruling that Nunamta Aulukestai et al. v. State of Alaska DNR will proceed to a non-jury trial in December 2010. The ruling dismisses one of the six claims in the lawsuit; and limits the scope of the upcoming trial specifically to the Pebble permits, rather than to the Alaska mineral exploration permitting system in general.[86]

Past political actions opposing the proposal[edit]

Two pieces of legislation designed to outlaw large scale mining in the Pebble area were introduced in the Alaska state legislature in 2007; both stalled permanently in committee. A third attempted (by ballot measure) piece of legislation was the Alaska Clean Water Initiative, 2008. It was voted down at statewide polls in 2008 after months of high profile public debate, heavy advertising, and a series of judgements by the Alaska State Supreme Court. The measure remained an active public issue; in June 2009 the state of Alaska's Alaska Public Offices Commission released a report detailing violations of campaign funding laws during the contest.[87][88]

Then-Governor Sarah Palin was a strong supporter of the project and faced criticism about her public opposition to the initiative, the involvement of state government on its behalf, and the intended use of a $7 million federal earmark to facilitate it. Ethics questions were raised about her and her husband Todd's participation in the effort to move it forward.[89]

Bill to create Jay Hammond State Game Refuge[edit]

A proposal to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to create a fish refuge in the Koktuli and Talarik watersheds has been strongly supported by mine opponents and strongly opposed by Northern Dynasty. The Board of Fisheries voted to create a panel to study the proposal (which could decide to recommend a refuge to the legislature), and both sides claimed this as a victory.[90] In March 2007 the Board voted to take no action on the proposal due to pending legislation.[91]

In January, 2007 Senate Bill 67, introduced by Senator Gary Stevens, of Kodiak, proposed the establishment of a State Fish and Game Refuge covering about 7 million acres (28,000 km2) of state land in the Kvichak and Nushagak drainages (with the refuge to be named after former Alaska Governor Jay Hammond). It proposed that no uses incompatible with: fish and wildlife populations, commercial or subsistence food gathering, or recreation would be allowed in the refuge. The bill sought to close the refuge to the staking of new mining claims. Most significantly, the bill would have made illegal the storage or disposal of any quantity of, "industrial waste," thereby making it impossible to develop any industry, including mines, within the refuge. The bill was referred to the Senate Resources Committee.[92] The bill never emerged from the Senate Resources Committee and died with the end of the 25th Alaska Legislature in 2008.

Bill for Protection of Salmon Spawning Water[edit]

In February 2007, HB 134 was introduced in the Alaska State House by Representatives Edgmon, Ramras, Dahlstrom, Gara, and Kerttula entitled: "An Act relating to conservation and protection of wild salmon production in drainages affecting the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve; and providing for an effective date."[93] By making it law that, "a person may not alter, destroy, displace, relocate, channel, dam, convert to dry land, or otherwise adversely affect any portion of the anadromous fish waters of the Bristol Bay watershed in connection with a sulfide mining operation," the bill intended to make it impossible for Pebble Mine to continue its development. The bill was heard several times in the House Fisheries Committee, and was forwarded to the House Resources Committee.[94][95] The measure died with the end of the 25th Legislature.

2008 Alaska Clean Water Initiative[edit]

In August 2008, Ballot Measure 4, the "Alaska Clean Water Initiative," was voted down (approximately 57% against and 43% in favor) in the statewide primary election. The initiative was created by the same political forces that brought about the stalled; Bill to create Jay Hammond State Game Refuge and Bill for Protection of Salmon Spawning Water. Ballot Measure 4, although it was written to apply statewide (which the Constitution of Alaska demands), was written and supported by forces specifically opposed to any try at developing the metal resources at Pebble. Supporters of the Measure argued strongly that the Measure would not affect any other mining operation in Alaska. Opponents of the Measure argued that it would have had serious, and unnecessary, adverse effects on the mining industry statewide.

Legal arguments concerning the proposed bills and ballot measures[edit]

Advocates of Pebble argued that the bills and measures discussed above would constitute an illegal taking of property rights. The rights under discussion are the mineral rights granted by the State of Alaska to holders of mining claims on state land. Opponents of Pebble disagreed.[96]

2013 Evaluation by the Environmental Protection Agency[edit]

In April 2013, EPA issued a draft of the assessment of the impact of proposed mining plans on the fisheries, wildlife and Alaska native tribes in the region.[97] The draft assessment was open to public comments until June 30, 2013.[98]

In January 2014 the finished assessment was released. The assessment painted a bleak picture for the future of salmon habitat should the mine be opened, but the agency did not use is regulatory authority to stop the mine entirely. Although the process involved the public and was subject to peer review Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively severely criticized it, claiming it was unscientific and based on a predetermined outcome.[99]

A few days after the release of the assessment Senator Mark Begich broke with the rest of the Alaska congressional delegation by openly opposing the mine.[100]

References[edit]

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  7. ^ adn.com | Top Stories : Pebble's prospects grow
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  31. ^ http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2007/1043/pdf/of07-1043_508.pdf
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  33. ^ Rio Tinto to undertake a strategic review of its shareholding in Northern Dynasty, Rio Tinto Group, 23 December 2013. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
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  38. ^ Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility Overview
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  40. ^ Not Your Grandfather's Copper Mine[dead link]
  41. ^ Seismic Risk at the Pebble Mine, summary adapted from paper by Bretwood Higman, Ph.D., March 2008 (available at http://www.groundtruthtrekking.org/PebbleHazardLetter.pdf)
  42. ^ Acid Rock Drainage and Metal Leaching at the Pebble Project, summary prepared by Dr. Kendra Zamzow
  43. ^ Fisheries Impacts at the Pebble Mine, text by William J. Hauser, Fish Talk Consulting
  44. ^ EPA includes Pebble in review of proposed Bristol Bay projects: Pebble | Alaska news at adn.com
  45. ^ Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "Sockeye Salmon - Wildlife Notebook Series". Retrieved 2007-01-06. 
  46. ^ Our Bristol Bay : Media Resources: Fact Sheets: Bristol Bay Commercial Fishing
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  48. ^ Freshwater Fish Harvest and Use in Communities of the Kvichak Watershed, 2003 see in particular, Figures 7 through 14
  49. ^ http://www.trustees.org/Supporting%20Documents/Complaint.pdf Archived July 22, 2011 at the Wayback Machine
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  51. ^ Renewable Resources Coalition. "A Summary of Statewide Polling Results on Pebble Mine". Archived from the original on 2006-11-21. Retrieved 2007-01-06. 
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  56. ^ Nunumta Aulukestai. "Nunumta Aulukestai". Retrieved 2007-01-06. [dead link]
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  62. ^ Profiles
  63. ^ Timesonline: Catching the Imagination, by Everett Thompson
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  65. ^ Environmental Protection Agency. "Liquid Assets 2000: Americans Pay for Dirty Water". Retrieved 2007-01-23. 
  66. ^ Comparison of Predicted and Actual Water Quality at Hardrock Mineshttp://www.earthworksaction.org/publications.cfm?pubID=211
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  72. ^ [5][dead link]
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  74. ^ Archived July 20, 2011 at the Wayback Machine
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  76. ^ Bristol Bay Bourough Economic Overview, State of Alaska Dept Commerce and Economic Devphttp://www.dced.state.ak.us/dca/aeis/Bristol/General/Bristol_General_Narrative.htm
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  81. ^ Nondalton Tribal Council et al v. State DNR
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  83. ^ Nunamta Aulukestai et al v. State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources[dead link]
  84. ^ http://us-cdn.creamermedia.co.za/assets/articles/attachments/22530_nunamta_v__state_press_release.pdf
  85. ^ Judge lets anti-Pebble lawsuit go forward: Mining | Alaska news at adn.com
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  87. ^ Report rips foes of Pebble mine prospect: Pebble | Alaska news at adn.com
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  89. ^ Anchorage Daily News: "Both sides laud decision on fish refuge." Retrieved January 23, 2007.[dead link]
  90. ^ "Alaska Board of Fisheries Summary of Actions from March 07 Meeting". Retrieved 2007-11-28. 
  91. ^ Bill Text 25th Legislature
  92. ^ "Alaska State House Journal". Retrieved 2007-11-28. 
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  94. ^ HB 134 text
  95. ^ Alaska Law Review: Geoffrey Y. Parker, Frances M. Raskin, Carol Ann Woody and Lance Trasky, Pebble Mine: Fish, Minerals, and Testing the Limits of Alaska's "Large Mine Permitt...
  96. ^ http://www.epa.gov/ncea/pdfs/bristolbay/bristol_bay_assessment_erd2_2013_vol1_exec_summary.pdf
  97. ^ http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=EPA-HQ-ORD-2013-0189
  98. ^ Bendinger, Dave Mixed Reaction to EPA Assessment Alaska Public Radio Network 1-15-2014
  99. ^ Ruskin, Liz Begich Takes stand Against Pebble Mine Alaska Public Radio Network, 1-20-2014

External links[edit]

Government links
Opposition
Proponents
Pebble education and information
News