Pebble Mine

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In southwest Alaska, plans are underway to construct North America's largest copper and gold mine.  Called Pebble Mine, the mine would endeavor to harvest North America's largest known deposit of gold and copper.  Gold has its value in many things, ranging from jewelry to electronic parts, and copper is used in today's technology as well, with its value also seen in the emerging green economy.  Supporters of the mine praise its eventual ability to generate more jobs, and that it will generate immense tax revenue for the state of Alaska.  Also, if successful, the mine could generate around 80 billion pounds of copper, and over 100 million ounces of gold.  However, the bulk of the controversy surrounding the mine comes from its location, which serves to be problematic due to the high environmental hazards that mines can have. 

            Pebble mine would sit between two rivers that drain into Bristol Bay, home to a large fishing industry.  A mine of Pebble's size would produce massive amounts of environmentally hazardous tailings, which could produce acid mine drainage, which I talked about in my first post.  The acidic drainage could seep into Bristol Bay, poisoning the water and killing large populations of fish.  To prevent this, plans have been made to create large dams to store the tailings, filling two valleys with large lakes.  However, the location of the dams would reside in a high earthquake risk area, and if ever an earthquake were to hit, the dams could be damaged to the point where large quantities of sulfuric acid could drain into Bristol Bay. The mine would also have a very significant environmental footprint.  Massive quantities of energy would be needed to power the mine, and roads built to supply and ship material could disrupt eco-systems surrounding the area, potentially throwing off the migration patterns of certain animals, and hindering the hunting practices of local native tribes.  Also, the amount of money generated by the fishing and tourism industry is far more than the possible tax revenue generated from Pebble Mine.

            Pebble, however, has taken these concerns into consideration, investing almost $120 million into research, research which includes studying the potential environmental aspects of its operation.  The mine offers the possibility of mining vast quantities of valuable resources, and studying how it may be developed in an environmentally safe way has become very important.  Alaska as a whole has strict regulations when it comes to mining, and according to the Anchorage Daily News, "Modern Alaska mines have achieved success where others have failed because of the environmental care required by the state coupled with responsible practices exercised by conscientious companies that take environmental stewardship seriously." This is of course in contrast to earlier mining, when things weren't so regulated, and it was much easier to get away with things then it is now, and because of this, it's quite possible that earlier in the 20th century the mine may have been built without a problem. I personally think that it's a little difficult judging just how harmful the mine will be if it hasn't even been built yet. Using past mining operations as an example for the environmental hazards that mines of this caliber can have is an efficient way of predicting what could happen, however until the mine is actually put into motion, one could never know.  There have been mines in the past that have been very successful with tailing storage, and have never had a problem with acid mine drainage.  I feel that as long as they fully study and understand the environmental aspects that Pebble Mine could have, adhere to the regulations put on them by the state, and create roads that wouldn't interfere with the local ecosystems, then Pebble Mine could be an interesting success for Alaska.


Works Cited

Taylor, Ken. "Concerned About Pebble Mine? Read This Document."

                   COMPASS: Other Points of View. Anchorage Daily News. 17 March 2012.

                   Web. 30 April 2012



Coil, David, McKittrick, Erin, Higman, Bretwood. "Pebble Mine (Copper/Gold Prospect)."

                   Ground Truth Trekking. 13 April 2012. Web. 30 April 2012.

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