Pebble Review Panel Finds Flaws With Baseline Studies

Bristol Bay Watershed Map

Bristol Bay Watershed. (Map courtesy EPA)

With two big studies out on the proposed Pebble Mine, there’s been a fight over whether work by the Pebble Partnership or the Environmental Protection Agency is more credible. Now, members of a science panel sponsored by the Pebble Partnership are criticizing the Partnership’s own research.

The Keystone Center’s science panel met in Anchorage this week to review the Pebble Partnership’s baseline environmental studies for the mine it hopes to build in Southwest Alaska. The studies are meant to serve as a reference for what the region looks like now, without any major development.

On Tuesday, panelist Falk Huettman, a professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, expressed concern that the baseline reports hadn’t fully considered the issue of biodiversity in the region. He also suggested that the work done on habitat use in the area was “insufficient.”

Ecologist Robert McFarlane had the harshest words, and he focused his criticisms primarily on the study of birds.

“I can say the documents is adequate as a list of species that are present,” said McFarlane. “It is not adequate for any type of study that you might want to come back to from some years in the future to ask, ‘Have there been any changes?”

McFarlane acknowledged that when it comes to building a mine, it will be more important to look at the impact on fish than on birds. But he still slammed the methodology used to study the birds, calling the research presented “backwards,” “frustrating,” and “disturbing.”

Terry Schick is the environmental consultant who handled the bird studies for the Pebble Partnership. He said they were limited in the field in how much data they were able to collect. And, he added, their team wasn’t given enough money to use a more current methods.

“We were not given the budget to produce those for this report,” said Schick.

Pebble Partnership’s study isn’t the only big piece of research on the mine out there. In April, the Environmental Protection Agency released its revised assessment of the project, which concluded that a mine in the Bristol Bay region could affect major salmon streams. The Pebble Partnership has called that work “deeply flawed,” because the EPA based its studies on a hypothetical mine plan instead of waiting for the partnership to file the plan they intend to use.

Watch the panels

Day 1

Day 1 – Part 1

Welcome and Introductions – Todd Bryan, The Keystone Center
Overview and Purpose of the Environmental and Socioeconomic Baseline Studies – Charlotte MacCay, Pebble Partnership
Vegetation and Wetlands & Waterbodies – Mine Study Area and Transportation Corridor
Pebble Consultant Presentations – Chris Wrobel, HDR Alaska

Day 1 – Part 2

Vegetation and Wetlands & Waterbodies – Mine Study Area and Transportation Corridor
Keystone Science Panel Review
Keystone Panel Members – Larry Gough and Robert Naiman
Moderated by Milo Adkison, UAF
Open Discussion

Day 1 – Part 3

Terrestrial Wildlife, Trace Elements, and Threatened and Endagered Species – Mine Study Area
Pebble Partnership 2012 Agency Meeting on Environmental Baseline Studies
Pre-recorded, Feb. 1, 2012

Day 1 – Part 4

Terrestrial Wildlife, Trace Elements, and Threatened and Endagered Species – Mine Study Area
Pebble Environmental Consultant Presentations – Brian Lawhead and Terry Schick, ABR

Day 1 – Part 5

Terrestrial Wildlife, Trace Elements, and Threatened & Endangered Species – Mine Study Area
Keystone Science Panel Review
Keystone Panel Members – Peter Albers, Andy Baltensperger, Larry Gough, Falk Huettmann, and Robert McFarlane
Moderated by Milo Adkison, UAF

Day 2

Day 2 – Part 1

Welcome and Introduction – Todd Bryan, The Keystone Center
Terrestrial Wildlife, Trace Elements, and Threatened and Endangered Species – Mine Study Area
Open Discussion

Day 2 – Part 2

Terrestrial and Marine Wildlife, Trace Elements, and Threatened and Endangered Species – Transportation Corridor and Cook Inlet
Pebble Environmental Consultant Presentations – Brian Lawhead, Terry Schick, and Bob Day, ABR

Day 2 – Part 3

Terrestrial and Marine Wildlife, Trace Elements, and Threatened and Endangered Species – Transportation Corridor and Cook Inlet
Keystone Science Panel Review
Keystone Panel Members – Peter Albers, Andy Baltensperger, Larry Gough, Falk Huettmann, and Robert McFarlane
Moderated by Milo Adkison, UAF

Day 2 – Part 4

Terrestrial and Marine Wildlife, Trace Elements, and Threatened and Endangered Species – Transportation Corridor and Cook Inlet
Open Discussion

Day 2 – Part 5

Keystone Science Panel Preliminary Recommendations
Keystone Panel Members – Peter Albers, Andy Baltensperger, Larry Gough, Falk Huettmann, Robert McFarlane, and Robert Naiman
Moderated by Milo Adkison, UAF
Comments from Pebble – John Shively, Pebble Partnership
Closing Remarks and Next Steps – Todd Bryan, The Keystone Center

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