Dig Deeper: Mining the Documents

July 24, 2012
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Pebble Project’s Environmental Baseline Document

In 2012, the Pebble Partnership released its assessment — which it says it spent eight years and $120 million working on — of the proposed mine’s impact on the environment in what it calls “one of the most comprehensive environmental study programs ever undertaken for a natural resource project in Alaska.” The report, available for download by chapter, totals roughly 27,000 pages, but condensed summaries are available here.

Opponents have charged the data is nearly impossible to analyze independently because its in locked form: all of the data would have to be entered by hand. Critics also argue the study focuses on main stem rivers rather than the headwaters, where the majority of the salmon habitat is located.

Learn more about the study in Pebble Project’s FAQs.

Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. Preliminary Assessment (PDF)

Released in October 2011 by Northern Dynasty, one of the companies in the Pebble Limited Partnership, this 555-page-report provides the latest and most comprehensive plan about Pebble’s proposed mine, including details about development, drilling and costs.

Pebble Science

A number of scientists concerned about “the mine’s impact on water quality and fisheries” have published their own research about Pebble’s impacts on fisherieswater qualityseismic riskacid drainagewaste disposal; and other aspects of the local environment.

The Regulators’ E-Mails

Emails obtained by conservation group Trout Unlimited through Freedom of Information Act Requests reveal that some state regulators who attended meetings with Pebble were frustrated by the company’s refusal to share information.

In this e-mail, an official of Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game writes, “It’s virtually impossible” to review Pebble’s science because “they don’t provide detailed project designs, … agency staff have consistently asked for.”

Some regulators questioned why they had been asked to the meetings, saying that “none of their suggestions had been used in any of Pebble’s studies.”

A representative from US Fish and Wildlife wrote, “this entire process only benefits [Pebble’s] public relations campaign.” In another e-mail, a regulator expressed frustration that “further participation in the process is a waste of our time (and money to travel to meetings).”

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Report (PDF)

The EPA spent more than a year gathering information about the salmon ecosystems in the Bristol Bay watershed and published a draft assessment in May 2012. It came down hard on the Pebble Project, detailing the many risks involved, including a major loss of fish habitat, the high probability of a damaging pipeline break, the catastrophic consequences of tailings dam failures, and the never-ending threat of acid mine drainage. The findings are significant in that the EPA can unilaterally stop the mine.

Pebble has fired back at the agency, charging that its assessment was “rushed and inadequate,” and issuing a 10-page comment addressing “technical errors, inaccuracies and inconsistencies” in the assessment. In a statement, Pebble CEO John Shively also said (PDF):

We believe that the EPA has rushed its assessment process, and that this is especially problematic in light of the large size of the study area.  We have taken several years and expended considerable resources to study the ecosystem in a small area around the Pebble deposit, while the EPA has, in only one year and with limited resources, completed a draft assessment in relation to an area of approximately 20,000 square miles.  We believe that this explains why the EPA’s work has not yet approached the level of rigor and completeness required for a scientific assessment.

Shively isn’t alone. Anchorage residents have also complained, some of whom view the EPA’s involvement as federal meddling in states’ affairs and worry that it could detract from other investment. But some native Alaskans, environmentalists and fishermen have supported the agency’s involvement.

After an independent panel of scientists reviews their data, the EPA could make a decision, but the agency has not indicated when that will happen.

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