Alaska mine could be blocked to save salmon fisheries

Mar 01, 2014
File photo shows a salmon swimming up a stream in Alaska

US environmental authorities made a rare move Friday to block a massive copper and gold mine in Alaska before it even gets under way, in a bid to protect wild salmon.

The Pebble Mine project has the potential to be one of the biggest open pit copper mines, but once built, it could threaten the exceptionally rich salmon fishery in the Bristol Bay area, the Environmental Protection Agency explained in a statement.

"Extensive scientific study has given us ample reason to believe that the Pebble Mine would likely have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed and its abundant salmon fisheries," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

The EPA action could lead to an unprecedented federal ban on a mining project before the company behind it even puts in a permit request.

"This process is not something the agency does very often, but Bristol Bay is an extraordinary and unique resource," McCarthy said, calling it the "world's most productive salmon fishery."

Bristol Bay produces half the wild sockeye in the world, an average of 37.5 million fish per year, in part because of the exceptional water quality in the streams and wetlands there.

Plans call for the mine to be built near the headwaters of two rivers whose fisheries produce about $480 million of fish and employ some 14,000 people.

In order to move forward, the mine's promoters would need to show that their activities wouldn't threaten the ecosystem.

The EPA move is a victory for environmental activists, fisheries and indigenous groups who had been fighting the mining project for the past three years.

But Republican leaders in Alaska, including Governor Sean Parnell and Senator Lisa Murkowski disapproved, with Murkowski warning the EPA action could set a "terrible precedent."

Promoters of the Pebble project say the region holds one of the world's largest and richest mineral gold and copper deposits, which could produce 36 million tonnes of copper and more than 3,000 tonnes of gold within the next 30 years.

The EPA carried out a large-scale study starting three years ago to evaluate the potential impact of mining on the Bristol Bay ecosystem.

The final report was completed in January and contains 1.1 million public comments as well as the analysis of two independent expert panels.

Explore further: Tropical storm batters southern Mexico coast, kills six

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

After millennia of mining, copper nowhere near 'peak'

Jul 03, 2013

New research shows that existing copper resources can sustain increasing world-wide demand for at least a century, meaning social and environmental concerns could be the most important restrictions on future copper production.

Chile president gives nod to huge gold mine

May 30, 2013

Chile's visiting president said Thursday that Canadian firm Barrick Gold can resume operations at its massive gold mine in Chile as long as environmental rules are followed.

Copper making salmon prone to predators

Jul 10, 2012

Minute amounts of copper from brake linings and mining operations can affect salmon to where they are easily eaten by predators, says a Washington State University researcher. Jenifer McIntyre found the metal ...

Coal industry fumes as US revokes mining permit

Jan 14, 2011

The withdrawal of a permit for a controversial "mountaintop removal" coal mining operation has sparked outrage in the US industry, but was hailed as a victory for environmental protection and the health of ...

Recommended for you

Nepal to end rescue operation on trekking route

1 hour ago

Nepal was wrapping up rescue operations in its northern mountains Monday, saying all the hikers believed to have been stranded on a trekking route by a series of deadly blizzards are now safe.

Major breakthrough could help detoxify pollutants

15 hours ago

Scientists at The University of Manchester hope a major breakthrough could lead to more effective methods for detoxifying dangerous pollutants like PCBs and dioxins. The result is a culmination of 15 years of research and ...

Heavy rains leave 22 dead in Nicaragua

22 hours ago

Days of torrential rains in Nicaragua left 22 people dead and left homeless more than 32,000 others, according to an official report Saturday.

Plastic nanoparticles also harm freshwater organisms

Oct 18, 2014

Organisms can be negatively affected by plastic nanoparticles, not just in the seas and oceans but in freshwater bodies too. These particles slow the growth of algae, cause deformities in water fleas and impede communication ...

User comments : 10

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

verkle
1.3 / 5 (12) Mar 01, 2014
EPA is no longer about science today, but politics.

Bonia
Mar 01, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Bonia
Mar 01, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Bonia
Mar 01, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
The Shootist
1 / 5 (9) Mar 01, 2014
Maybe we should give Alaska back to the Russians. At least their government isn't run by bureaucrats.
Bonia
Mar 01, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
freethinking
1.4 / 5 (10) Mar 01, 2014
yup, jobs are not important to Obama.
yup, affordable health care is not important to Obama.
yup, treaties with American Allies is not important to Obama.
yup, rule of law is not important to Obama.

what is important to Obama?
Caliban
4.6 / 5 (10) Mar 01, 2014
Are any of you aware of just how much damage a mining operation like this causes?
Ever seen an actual pit mine?
Do you know what kinds of toxic materials are used to separate metals from ore?
Do you understand what kinds of infrastructure would have to dug out in this pristine terrain to support an operation of this size?
Do you understand that the mining tip has to dumped nearby as operations proceed?
Do you understand the effects of spills, leaching, runoff and sedimentation on the watershed and marine environments? Air pollution?
Do you understand what it means to lose a way of life?

Obviously not -so it's a very good thing, indeed, that there are those who do, and understand that short-term profiteering doesn't justify the long term loss that this project would cause.

There is plenty of gold, silver, and copper in Ontario, where the impact of mining can be much better managed.
Semmster
5 / 5 (11) Mar 01, 2014
Salmon fisheries are a renewable resource, PITS, whatever you take out of them, are not. Thank goodness there seems to be a part of government that works. Hope the decision sticks.
freethinking
1 / 5 (8) Mar 01, 2014
Yup, mining bad, metals bad, work is bad, jobs are bad, chemicals are bad, humans are bad. Lets get our minerals from other countries that don't care at all for the environment. This makes us dependent on our enemies, weakens us, all while hurting the environment a whole lot worse. Yup makes a lot of sense if you are a environmentalist Progressive.

Remember every time you breath that the EPA says CO2 is a bad chemical that needs to be regulated.

qunungnauraq
5 / 5 (9) Mar 01, 2014
The proposed site of the Pebble mine is a sulfide laden ore body located in a large delta in the Bristol Bay watershed. When water comes in contact with the sulfides they will turn into sulphuric acid and dissolve toxic metals, releasing them into Bristol bay. An 800+ foot tall earthen dam would be used to trap toxic mine tailings, right in an active seismic zone. From a technical standpoint, the odds for failure of the mines architecture and release of toxic metals into Bristol Bay are unacceptably high, and would turn Bristol Bay into a deadzone, destroy salmon spawning areas, and severely damage Alaska's commercial fishing industry. So what do you support, A Canadian mining company or Alaskan fishermen? All you troglodytes who think stopping pebble mine is about politics are obviously too stupid to comment on a scientific website like Phys.org. I live in Alaska, why do you that don't even care. Get a life.
Horus
5 / 5 (4) Mar 01, 2014
Great move. Downstream to the state of Washington such destruction by the Copper mine will cost Washington State between 4-8 Billion annually. Sorry, but that mine productivity doesn't compare.
Bonia
Mar 01, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Bonia
Mar 01, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (3) Mar 02, 2014
Caliban
5 / 5 (2) Mar 02, 2014
http://www.deesillustration.com/index.asp


Was that just for a few sarcastic laughs, or are you really that stupid?