Tuesday, February 8, 2011

More Egypt Stuff - How Long is the Pebble Mine Containment Dam Supposed to Last?

To do what it is supposed to do - contain toxic wastes that would destroy the habitat of the world's greatest Sockeye salmon fishery - it would have to last about ten times as long as the Great Pyramids have been in existence. How likely is it that the dam would last that long?

  • Mining has a poor environmental track record. For example, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency mining has contaminated portions of the headwaters of over 40 percent of watersheds in the western continental U.S., and reclamation of 500,000 abandoned mines in 32 states could cost tens of billions of dollars.[61]
  • A recent study of 25 modern large hard rock metal mines compared water quality outcomes with environmental impact statement (EIS) predictions from the permitting stage. 76 percent (19 mines) of the 25 mines exceeded water quality standards in releases to either surface or groundwater. In this study "exceeded water quality standard" does not necessarily mean that the mines failed to abide by their permits. When the 15 mines with high acid-drainage, high contaminant leaching potential, and proximity to ground water are considered separately, this number is 93% (14 mines).[62][63]
  • Anglo-American PLC is not a desirable corporate partner. A report commissioned by opponents of Pebble, criticizes Anglo American for community, worker safety, public health, and environmental problems at their mining operations in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Mali, Ireland, and the United States(Nevada) and notes the difference between Anglo's stated corporate goals and their actual corporate performance.[64].
  • Earthquake hazards in the area are poorly known, and preliminary plans by the mining company do not prepare adequately for the potential risk.[65]

While yesterday's announcement that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will include scrutiny of the Pebble Project in its overall review of "the consequences of large-scale development projects" on the Bristol Bay watershed, is good news, we need to realize that the Obama administration's legacy on environmental review and performance in the face of environmental catastrophe is quite mixed, and not much better than that of his predecessor's administration.


Bill said...

Good job, Phil! Thank You

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your article. We need to keep writing our legislators, and let them know we don't want to take a chance with the building of the Pebble Mine...Let them know we back an EPA study, and an independent scientific study. Look at the Chuitna River Proposed Coal Mine. When we wrote letters to the EPA about it, we were told we needed to direct our letters to the Alaska Army Corp of Engineers and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. In writing the DNR, they gave out more permits saying it was just for exploratory purpose not building the mine. I felt a little hope in hearing the EPA was going to do a study on the Pebble. Maybe some of our letters have helped. We need to keep letting people know we don't want to trade a renewable resources (our fish and wildlife) for an unrenewable resource.

Anonymous said...


Pebble has yet to submit their plan,

You are so anti development that you are making up stuff and then criticizing it.

wait and see what they propose, then we can judge. But since pebble represents some sort of development it must be evil.

Development = Evil

Philip Munger said...


The dam design has been submitted. It has to last at least 30,000 years to work. What part of that do you not understand?

What a fool....

Hig said...

Regardless of the details of Pebble's plans (which likely will change relative to what they've submitted) they will rely on a "perpetuity plan" to keep downstream waters safe from acid mine drainage.

This means that the tailings facility will have to be maintained forever (even after 30,000 years the tailings are still a potential danger) or it will fail and flood downstream waterways with acid-generating tailings. The only guarantee we have that the maintenance will continue forever is a financial bond.

Perpetual waste storage is a wide-spread proble and PLP really hasn't done a good job assessing seismic risk issues with PLP's seismic hazard assessment.