"Only after the last tree has been cut down. Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only after the last fish has been caught. Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten."
-Native American Proverb
The estimated value of the Pebble Mine’s mineral resources are definitely astounding. However, I thought it would also be interesting to see how profitable the salmon fishing industry has been in the Bristol Bay Area. According to a 2010 study by the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage, the […]
The protests against the Pebble Mine are not exactly unfounded. Historically mines, especially gold and copper mines, have been very destructive to the environment and the people who rely on them. Earthworks and Oxfam America published a report on the negative effects of mining called Dirty Metals: Mining, Communities and the Environment. Included in the beginning of the report is the diagram of the gold mining and refining process seen below.
The processes behind the mining of copper and gold are not at all efficient. The report states that only .51 percent of ore mined for copper is actually usable metal, and only .00001 percent of ore mined for gold. But it is not only the inefficiency of mining these metals that leads to environmental degradation. It is estimated that mines in the United States are responsible for more than 90 billion tons of waste ore. The chemicals involved in the process are dangerous for the environment too. The way that gold is extracted is by spraying cyanide, which bonds with the gold, onto crushed ore and then chemically separating the two. The remains of this process are called tailings, a mixture of crushed rock, water, and chemicals. These tailings are stored in on-site tailing dams, which are often structurally unsound. Tailing dam failures are responsible for about 75 percent of major mining accidents over the past 25 years.
Considering all of these threats, and the fact that it takes only 1 millionth of a gram (or 1 microgram) of cyanide per liter of water to kill a fish, the people who rely on the rivers near the Pebble Mine have a right to be concerned. Mining is not an industry that has a history of low environmental impact, and despite promises the Pebble Mine has the potential to cause severe damage to the Sockeye Salmon runs in Bristol Bay.
Bristol Bay is a very controversial area as government agencies are pitted against each other and environmentalists battle with industrialists. The Pebble Mine will provide over 1000 long-term jobs, increasing Alaska’s mining workforce by almost 25%. So why then are the locals so against this development? What makes salmon so special? Pacific salmon are […]