Pebble Mine is already getting bigger

Last week, before the news of losing their financial backer, the Army Corps of Engineers posted “project updates” to its website that Pebble Limited Partnership quietly filed earlier in the month. The updates not only increase the size of the already-massive project, but they also further confirm what we’ve been saying all along: that Pebble’s mine plan is half-baked, and that any “small” mine plan inevitably will grow until the full 10.9 billion-ton deposit is mined.

In short, Pebble’s permit application is incomplete and the Corps of Engineers should halt its review.

Pebble itself agrees on the importance of a thorough, science-based review of their application. It’s the only way to ensure we’re not trading salmon and clean water for gold in Bristol Bay. However, it is impossible to complete a thorough and rigorous review because the company has failed to provide essential details on project components, is making substantive last-minute changes, and has only presented us with a phase-one permit application that fails to account for future expansion.

The Bristol Bay region is home to the world’s most valuable wild-salmon fishery, which generates $1.5 billion in annual economic output, more than 30% of all Alaska salmon harvests, and accounts for more than half of all private-sector jobs in the region. It is one of the last places on earth where an entire region—from the headwaters down to the ocean—remain intact and wild.  Hunters and anglers travel from throughout the globe to the Bristol Bay region for its trophy fish and game, its remote scenery, and its wild character. 

 Pat Clayton

Pat Clayton

The proposed Pebble mine threatens to forever alter the character and natural productivity of the Bristol Bay region. 

In its permit application to the Corps of Engineers, Pebble originally proposed a mile-wide and 1/3-mile-deep mine pit, an 83-mile-long transportation corridor with more than 200 road crossings over salmon streams and a year-round ice-breaking ferry across Lake Illiamna, and a 230-megawatt power plant with a 188-mile gas pipeline. The December version of the permit application proposed a 1.2 billion-ton mine with a 20-year mine life, we know the deposit is close to 10.9 billion tons and that Pebble intends to expand its operations far beyond what it originally proposed.

Concerns about inevitable future expansion of the mine are already coming to fruition and many important details about how the mine will operate remain unanswered.

The public scoping period is not even over yet and Pebble’s recent “project update” proposes an increase in the mine size from 1.2 billion tons to 1.5 billion tons of material—with corresponding increases to the volume of tailings, the size of the mine pit, the size of the power plant, and to the amount of road and marine traffic. (see details summarized below) Additionally, both the permit application and the “project update” glaringly omit any sort of economic feasibility report and important details about how Pebble will prevent impacts or manage ground and surface waters. 

Without all the essential details of the project there is no way for the public or for permitting agencies to adequately review this project and ensure we aren’t developing one resource at the expense of another. 

Please consider including points like these in comments to the Army Corps of Engineers today.

  • Total mine size increased from 1.2 billion tons to 1.5 billion tons.
  • Mining and milling will occur continuously instead of stockpiling some ore for the first 14 years to be milled later.
  • The volume of tailings will increase. Pyritic tailings will increase from 135 million tons to 150 million tons and move to the North Fork Koktuli East site.  Bulk tailings will increase from 950 million tons to 1,150 million tons.
  • The mine pit will increase in size.
  • The open pit water management pond is relocated to the south.
  • The powerplant will increase from 230MW to 270MW.
  • Road and marine traffic will increase by ~10%.
  • The liquid natural gas pipeline will increase in size from 10-inch diameter to 12-inch diameter
  • Barges will now transfer ore from the port at Amakdedori Bay to bulk carriers that will be moored in deeper water.

Please take a moment to weigh in with the Army Corps of Engineers today. 

Header image by Ben Knight.