Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Build Pebble Mine? - This WILL Happen


In May 1978, I was at a conference in Anchorage. The pipeline was being built. Along with a lot of other "stakeholders" (the first time I heard that term), I was at the MESA Summit, where we listened to various officials, functionaries and politicians talk about how the pipeline and Valdez terminal and tanker routes would function when the line was done and the oil flowed.

I was there as Whittier Harbormaster. Another ex-skipper of mine, Pete Isleib from Cordova, was there too. He represented a lot of local knowledge. I think he was ostensibly there as the pre-eminent ornithologist from Southcentral Alaska, which he was. But he had also spent thousands of hours on the Sound, year-round, gathering data for various bird, marine mammal and fish surveys.

We were both in a focus group, headed by a couple of Coast Guard officers, on the proposed tanker traffic separation lanes and proposed safety measures. Pete and I sat next to each other.

The Coast Guard moderators and a couple of oil company and Alyeska focus group members waxed eloquently about how smooth it all was going to work. Pete kept shaking his head quietly, back and forth. I looked at him, wondering.

Finally, Pete jumped on the statement of one of the coasties, saying something like "You're talking like this sort of plan always works. It doesn't always work. It always breaks down!

"There'll be a spill. Within ten years or so, there'll be a spill.

"It will happen at Seal Rocks, or Johnstone Point, or Bligh Reef, or Potato Point. Most likely, at Bligh Reef. It always happens at one of those places."

If Pebble Mine is built, the dam holding back hundreds of millions of waste-contaminated water will break. It is inevitable:

8 comments:

Unknown said...

I wonder how the impact and economics of Pebble would look if, instead of a mine aimed for 50 years of operation, it was a much smaller physical operation aimed at a 200 year operating life? Do we accomplish more appropriate development by reducing the scale of extraction? With no limits on ideas, how could we accomplish mining like this safely?

Anonymous said...

How about NO PEBBLE MINE AT ALL? It isn't the size of the fucking mine PB, it's Location, location, LOCATION!

Philip Munger said...

But, but, but - Sarah promised us it will be OK, and she gets her info straight from the big guy above, doesn't she.....?

Unknown said...

Anonymous 3:04 - I hear you. It is a sensitive spot, a beautiful spot, and produces a lot of fish which also support jobs, jobs which are hard to find in rural Alaska. That entire drainage is a sensitive area. Maybe there are places we just cannot get at. Then again, we do have a land-grant university whose original mission encompassed challenges like this. Maybe there is a different, better way to get at the ore. It does not hurt to research it. Folks need the jobs if it can be done safely.

But I hear both of you. The history of all such development doesn't exactly engender trust, does it? Still, Alaskans have a taste for hard problems.

Unknown said...

Phillip: Indeed, Sarah's blessing is sometimes enough to remove all trust, eh? Just adding to the discussion, I think a good approach for 'Progressive' is to be problem-solving accompanied by a social and conservation conscience. I am not suggesting an ideology, only an approach to problem-solving. It very well may be that the sum of all social and conservation factors at Pebble mean that the project should not be pursued. I don't know at this point. I am suggesting the Progressive approach to the situation is to ask under what conditions, if any, could development safely take place. There will be some mining projects in the State that will pass scrutiny. Is that approach what you mean for the term 'Progressive'?

Philip Munger said...

PB @ #5 - I've gotten to the point that I NEVER believe industry when they say they will build something to last longer than a very few years. If they were anywhere close to being able to clean up any of the enormous messes they create, I'd probably be more accommodating.

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