This week’s devastating tailings dam failure at the Mount Polley copper mine in British Columbia released vast amounts of mine waste into streams, rivers and lakes in the headwaters of the Fraser River watershed. It will be some time before we know the full consequences of this mine failure, but it’s impossible not to draw comparisons with the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Both mines are large, open pit, copper porphyry mines at the headwaters of important salmon streams.
Ironically, the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP), the company behind the proposed Pebble Mine, has repeatedly pointed to the Fraser River as a watershed where mining and fish can coexist. Check out this video.
Even more so, Knight Piesold, the firm that provided designs for the tailings pond lifts at Mount Polley, also provided the initial designs for the tailings pond for the proposed Pebble Mine that PLP submitted to Alaska state regulators.
While industry and regulators claim that tailings pond failures are rare occurrences, they happen more often than industry would like us to know. In 2012, Earthworks released a peer-reviewed report that reviewed 14 out of 16 operating copper porphyry mines in the U.S. representing 89% of U.S. copper production. We found that full or partial tailings dam failures have occurred at roughly a quarter of them.
Clearly, the EPA’s plan to restrict mine waste disposal in the Bristol Bay watershed is critical to the future of our nation’s most valuable wild salmon fishery. Alaskans are calling on the EPA, with renewed urgency, to protect Bristol Bay's wild salmon fishery from mine waste disposal from the Pebble Project.
“We don’t want this to happen in Bristol Bay,” said Kim Williams, director of Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of Alaska Native Tribes and corporations. “With all the similarities between Pebble and the Mount Polley copper mine, we’re urging the EPA to take immediate action to finalize mine waste restrictions in Bristol Bay,”
All of this is happening just one week before the EPA holds hearings in Alaska (August 12-16) to get public comment on their proposal to restrict mine waste in Bristol Bay waters.