MAC: Mines and Communities

U.S. agency says Alaska mine threatens salmon, native cultures

Published by MAC on 2014-01-17
Source: Mining.com, Reuters (2014-01-15)

EPA stands by claim that Pebble mine would harm Bristol Bay wildlife, economy

Ana Komnenic

Mining.com

15 January 2014

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its final assessment on how mining would impact the Bristol Bay area of Alaska, where miner Northern Dynasty  is keen on digging.

The report details the potential impacts on salmon and other ecological resources from the proposed open-pit mine; the site is believed to hold about 55 billion pounds of copper and 67 million ounces of gold. If built, it will be one of the world's largest gold and copper mines.

The agency found that "large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses risks to salmon and Alaska Native cultures."

This conclusion doesn't come as much of a surprise: The EPA said essentially the same thing in its 2012 peer review report.

"Over three years, EPA compiled the best, most current science on the Bristol Bay watershed to understand how large-scale mining could impact salmon and water in this unique area of unparalleled natural resources," Dennis McLerran, Regional Administrator for EPA Region 10 said in a news release on Wednesday.

"Our report concludes that large-scale mining poses risks to salmon and the tribal communities that have depended on them for thousands of years. The assessment is a technical resource for governments, tribes and the public as we consider how to address the challenges of large-scale mining and ecological protection in the Bristol Bay watershed."

Proponents of the Pebble Project have long argued that the EPA's review is 'pre-emptive,' considering that the agency has not yet received a mine proposal.

The EPA says that it initiated the assessment in response to nine federally recognized tribes and other stakeholders who expressed concerned for salmon populations.

In 2010, several native tribes in the region called on the EPA to use its power under the Clean Water Act to prevent Pebble mine. Meanwhile, other tribes asked the agency to hold off until the mine permitting process begins.

The EPA says its assessment will help inform the public and governments when considering mining activities in the area.

Others argue that Northern Dynasty has simply taken too long to submit plans. The company says it expects to be in a position to initiate federal and state permitting under the National Environmental Policy Act as early as the first quarter of 2014," but that it will need a new partner before making a decision on timing.

Pebble mine proponents and republican legislators have also criticized the EPA for how much money it put toward reviewing the yet-to-be-proposed mine. As of July 2013, the agency had spent $2.4 million on its assessment.

Impacts

Without an official proposal to base its assessment on, the EPA has relied on a preliminary plan that Northern Dynasty submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The EPA says it also consulted mining experts.

According to the report, mining in Bristol Bay would wipe out anywhere between 24 to 94 miles of salmon-supporting streams and 1,300 to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds and lakes.

The EPA also considered the possibility of long-term water collection and treatment failures.

"Depending on the size of the mine, EPA estimates adverse direct and indirect effects on fish in 48 to 62 miles of streams under a wastewater treatment failure scenario."

In terms of economic impacts, the agency found that the Bristol Bay ecosystem generated close to half a billion dollars in economic activity in 2009 and provided employment for about 14,000 full and part-time workers.

Waning support

But the EPA isn't the Pebble Project's only problem. Though known as the 'Pebble Partnership,' the project no longer has any characteristics of a 'partnership.'

The project is wholly owned by Northern Dynasty after Anglo American walked away from its half last September. Rio Tinto said last month that it's considering dropping its 19% stake in Northern Dynasty.

About $700 million has already gone into the project, though the bulk of this came from former partner Anglo American.

Rebuttal

Soon after the EPA's report came out, Northern Dynasty issued its own announcement, calling the assessment's methodology and findings "flawed."

"Publication of the final watershed assessment is really the final chapter in a very sad story," Northern Dynasty CEO Ron Thiessen said in a statement. "We believe EPA set out to do a flawed analysis of the Pebble Project, and they certainly succeeded with both their first and second drafts of the BBWA [Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment]. We have every expectation that the final report released today is more of the same."

Theissen assures that the report does not include any recommendation or regulatory actions that would prevent the company from moving forward with its plans.

"We have every expectation that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process required by NEPA, to be administered by the US Army Corps of Engineers, will ultimately provide a much more rigorous, fair and transparent review of the science surrounding this important project," the CEO added.

Northern Dynasty estimates that the mine would support 15,000 jobs and contribute more than $2.5 billion annually to the country's GDP.

The company's share price declined by less than one percentage point on Wednesday, trading at $1.51 per share. Over the past 12 months, Northern Dynasty has dropped more than 60% on the Toronto exchange.


Alaska mine threatens salmon, native cultures -U.S. agency

By Nicole Mordant

Reuters

15 January 2014

VANCOUVER - Large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses serious risks to salmon and native cultures in this pristine corner of southwest Alaska, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a report released on Wednesday.

The EPA said a mine could destroy up to 94 miles (150.4 km) of salmon-supporting streams and thousands of acres of wetlands, ponds and lakes. The report focused on the impact of mining in an area where a Canadian-based company wants to build a large copper and gold mine.

Polluted water from the mine site could enter streams, causing widespread damage in a region that produces nearly 50 percent of the world's wild sockeye salmon, the EPA said.

The Bristol Bay region supports all five species of Pacific salmon found in North America, which include sockeye, Chinook, chum, coho and pink salmon. It is also home to bears, moose and caribou.

There is also the risk of accidents and pipeline failures that could release toxic copper concentrate or diesel fuel into salmon streams or wetlands, the EPA said.

"Our report concludes that large-scale mining poses risks to salmon and the tribal communities that have depended on them for thousands of years," Dennis McLerran, the EPA's regional administrator in the Pacific Northwest, said in a statement.

The report, which concludes a three-year study and follows two drafts that also warned of widespread ecological damage from mining, does not recommend policy or regulatory decisions.

Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd's Pebble project would develop an open-pit mine in the region, which has one of the world's largest copper-gold deposits.

The Vancouver-based company was swift to condemn the report, and said the EPA had repeatedly failed to meet its own guidelines and policies for watershed assessments, risk assessment and peer review.

"We believe EPA set out to do a flawed analysis of the Pebble Project ...," Northern Dynasty Chief Executive Ron Thiessen said in a statement.

Alaska's U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Senate's Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said the EPA has weighed in too soon.

"If the EPA has concerns about the impact of a project there is an appropriate time to raise them, after a permit application has been made, not before," Murkowski said in a statement.

"It is clear that a preemptive veto is still being considered by EPA. Such a veto is quite simply outside the legal authority that Congress intended to provide EPA."

The company vowed to press on with the project, located some 200 miles (320 km) southwest of Anchorage. Northern Dynasty lost its project development partner last September when mining group Anglo American pulled out of the venture.

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