Imagine, a “sudden leakage of the waste water pond” at the planned Pebble Mine – contaminating the famed Bristol Bay watershed that currently sustains one of the most productive fisheries in the world – Alaska’s wild salmon fishery, generating over $400 million each year. After the leak is revealed, imagine Anglo American’s Board of Directors – the British mining giant with a 50% interest in the Pebble project – issuing a statement expressing “its deep regret regarding the incident and the improper handling of information disclosure by the company, for causing substantial losses to the fish farmers located at the reservoir downstream of the mine and having a harmful impact on society.”
Turns out that it’s not that hard to imagine; you just have to read the exact same statement that ZiJin, China’s sixth-largest copper producer, recently issued after “2.4 million gallons of acidic copper waste spilled from its Zijinshan mine, poisoning enough fish to feed 72,000 residents for a year.”
I have another game for you. Which company, Anglo American or ZiJin, made the following statements?
A. “We pursue gold and silver, but care more about clear water and green mountains.”
B. “We treasure [natural] resources and will use the best science and technology to ensure that they are protected.”
C. “[Company X’s] environmental vision is to minimise harm to the environment by designing, operating and closing all of our operations in an environmentally responsible manner.”
D. “Company [X] implements a sustainable development strategy for the mines, ensuring a coordinated and healthy development of various undertakings including environmental protection and mining. It promises that all mines to be constructed will be built into ‘green mines.’”
It’s tricky right? They all reflect the same platitudes. ZiJin made statements A and D and Anglo American made statements B and C. You probably don’t have to do too many internet searches before you can come up with similar statements from BP. But the point is not whether these statements are true or are backed up in practice, the point is that regardless of the best intentions, accidents happen and even the best run mines leak.
Knowing the risk, weighing the benefits against the costs, is it any wonder that the people of Bristol Bay Alaska and its watershed are worried about the impact the proposed Pebble Mine will have on their environment and livelihoods? Maybe that’s why the project, proposed by Anglo American and its Canadian-based partner Northern Dynasty Minerals, is overwhelmingly opposed by the residents of the region, with the latest surveys indicating over 80 percent opposition in the Bristol Bay and Lake Peninsula Boroughs.
Of course, they have good reason to be worried and the common sense not to place their trust in companies that have one goal – maximization of shareholder profit when planning, constructing, and operating mines around the world. As my colleague Joel Reynolds, who is leading NRDC’s campaign against the Pebble Mine project, has detailed most recently here and here, the proposed mine is an unreasonable and unacceptable risk. Today’s news out of China helps show us why.