Pebble Mine 101

3 08 2008

I, like all Alaskans have been inundated with information on Pebble Mine. I get stuff in the mail both for and against. I see ads for and against. I’ve gone and listened to presentations for and against.

I made up my mind long before most of the media maelstrom began. Why? Because I was a Geology minor in college. This goes to show that not only am I NOT an expert, but that you actually don’t need to be and expert to see disaster written all over this little mining experiment. I remember one of my geology classes was entitled “Earth Resources”. I was expecting to learn all about precious metals, gemstones, oil and coal, but ultimately realized that 90% of the class would focus on groundwater. One of the big giveaways was that the title of the textbook for the class was actually…yes… “Groundwater”. Not very exciting, I thought. I stuck it out despite my disappointment, and spent one entire semester immersed (if you will) in all things groundwater – water tables, filtration, wells, direction of flow, topographical maps, and most of all contamination. After the 80th test question that asked: “If Farmer A dumped X amount of chemical Y in his well, according to the topographical map, how long would it take to contaminate Farmer B’s well?”, I realized something. The answer was always, much faster than you think, and with much less than you think.

Not being a Farmer, and having neither a well nor a vengeful nature, I felt certain I would never need or use this information. I was wrong. The fates have delivered me the opportunity to actually utilize my semester’s worth of time, and calculator batteries, to vote a confident YES on Proposition 4.

If you need any further convincing:

The proposed Pebble Mine site is located at the headwaters that flow into the Nushagak River, Lake Iliamna, and Bristol Bay (home of the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery). You don’t need to be an expert to understand that contaminants, like the water they are in, tend to flow downstream. Oh, yes…and the mine’s giant earthen dam holding all those contaminants in, is also located on a fault line.

According to the EPA, mining has contaminated the headwaters of 40% of watersheds in the Western United States. FORTY percent. Are you willing to risk the Nushagak River, Lake Iliamna and Bristol Bay on those odds? Not me.

What about other similar hard rock mines? Well, a recent study of 25 modern hard rock mines showed that 76% exceeded water quality standards. SEVENTY SIX PERCENT. This is not a pretty picture.

But aren’t the locals clamoring for all those great mining jobs? No. In the only poll taken of Bristol Bay residents, 71% opposed the Pebble Mind Project and only 20% were in support. Why? Because they live there, and because they are apparently astute. Maybe they took a geology course.

I confess I’m still puzzled about those who feel that voting against the Clean Water Initiative is a good idea. Is it the blatant brainwashing from “Alaskans Against the Mining Shutdown”? No…remember the cruise ship tax? We figured out then that the side with all the money is usually not the side looking out for the little guy. Mining jobs? Maybe…but there are lots of great jobs on the slope too. My friend has one. He lives in Las Vegas. And when you stack up mining jobs, benefitting from a non-renewable resource against a LOT of fishing jobs, benefitting from a very renewable resource, is there really a question?

And don’t we all think that Alaska fishing families have been screwed enough lately? Not only did the Exxon Valdez disaster wipe out fisheries in Prince William Sound, but lately they’ve been nickel and diming fisherman to death….literally. 20% of the plaintiffs in the Exxon Valdez case are no longer living. And now we’ve got a supreme court that has in effect told large corporations that when they destroy an Alaskan fishery, their punitive damages don’t actually have to be punitive. Getting nervous? You should be, because the toxins that will come from Pebble Mine can’t be contained with floating booms.

So let’s see if you’re ready for your Earth Resources quiz. There are 2 questions.

Q #1): If mining conglomerate A, dumps X amount of contaminat Y into the ground, according to the topographical map, how long will it take to contaminate Fishery B and the people who depend on it?

A: Much faster than you think, and with much less than you think.

Q#2): What can you do about it?

A: On August 26th, vote “Yes on 4 and Yes for Fish” (and the people that love them).