Pebble Mine: An Unacceptable Risk No Matter the Message

During a visit to London last week, I delivered to Anglo American another 28,000 petitions of opposition from NRDC members and activists to the proposed Pebble Mine, adding to the 100,000 delivered at the Anglo shareholder meeting on Earth Day, April 22.  They were graciously received by Anji Hunter, Anglo’s Group Head of Government and Social Affairs.

At the same time, one of my NRDC colleagues was in New York at the 10th Annual Metals and Mining Conference, listening to Bruce Jenkins talk about Pebble.  Mr. Jenkins is Senior Vice President for Corporate Development, Northern Dynasty Minerals, Anglo’s 50% partner in the Pebble project.  

Partners they may be, but what we heard was a tale of two messages:

From Anglo’s Anji Hunter, a conviction that there is no project plan, that the mine will not proceed unless it can be developed safely, and that the concerns of the local community matter.

From Northern Dynasty’s Bruce Jenkins, an equally firm conviction that Pebble “represents an ideal address for mine development and operation,” that Northern Dynasty is “fully committed to advancing the project through to operation,” and that, from a political perspective, “we’re not worried”  because “Alaska is a mine-friendly state.”  

Perhaps most remarkable was Mr. Jenkins’ astonishing assessment that, far from posing a risk to Bristol Bay’s incomparable wild salmon fishery, “the way the project is being designed there will be enhanced habitat quality and fisheries production.”  In other words, according to Northern Dynasty, the fishermen needn’t worry, because construction and operation of one of the world’s largest copper and gold mines at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed will actually be good for the salmon fishery!

If you believe that, I have an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico with a “fail-safe” blow-out preventer that I want to sell you.  

Little wonder that the Pebble Partnership’s request that the downstream communities “wait and see” falls on deaf ears.  Far from an  “ideal address” for a massive mine that will generate over 10 billion tons of waste, the watershed above Bristol Bay is world-renowned as ideal for raising wild salmon -- a complex web of streams, lakes, and subsurface hydrological connections that will inevitably and unavoidably be contaminated by the Pebble project.  No amount of hopeful promises or confident assurances from the Pebble Partnership can change that.  No amount of mining company science can change the fact that large-scale mining for gold and copper above Bristol Bay poses an unreasonable and unacceptable risk.   

The answer is the same no matter the Pebble Partnership’s messaging.  This project should be abandoned now.