Pebble CEO emphasizes mining project’s changes at legislative meeting

Members of the media walking to an exploratory drill rig. Photo by Jason Sear, KDLG – Dillingham
Members of the media walking to an exploratory drill rig at the Pebble Mine exploratory site. (Photo by Jason Sear/KDLG)

The Army Corps of Engineers released its review of the proposed Pebble Mine last month. The copper, gold and molybdenum mine would be built in the Iliamna Lake region of Bristol Bay.

In a project update before the House Resources Committee on Monday, Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier said the draft environmental impact statement demonstrates that the proposal is an acceptable path forward.

“One of the reasons that the current Pebble Project, I think, is perfectly appropriate to go ahead with a public comment period that is twice what the statute requires, is that we took a lot of controversy out of this project,” he said.

Collier said the organization has addressed concerns raised about the initial project in the most recent permit application.

For example, Pebble designed a smaller mine and will not use cyanide to extract gold. It no longer has plans for facilities in the upper Talarik Creek. Pebble also separated the bulk tailings storage facilities — which would store solid mine waste — from the facilities that would store potentially acid-generating materials.

Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, speaks during a House floor session, March 11, 2019. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

A major objection to the proposed mine is that it could cause irreparable harm to fish habitat in the region. But during the presentation, Collier said that instead of endangering salmon habitat, the mine plan actually optimizes it by treating water and then strategically releasing it during spawning time. He described the process to Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau.

“The way it benefits it is, up where this mine site is, a lot of these streams don’t have annual flow. And so what we can do is bring back annual flow to the streams,” he said.

“But if they don’t have annual flow, then it’s not really a benefit,” Hannan said. “If they don’t have flow, then they are unlikely to have salmon that spawn in them because, naturally, salmon don’t go to streams that don’t have flow that could hold their spawn, at least in the case of sockeye.”

Collier responded, “By making them streams that could (hold salmon spawn), we benefit the habitat.”

Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, chair the first meeting of the Alaska Legislature’s Oil and Gas Working Group in Juneau on Oct. 24, 2017. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Committee members also posed questions about Pebble’s financial situation. The Canadian company Northern Dynasty Minerals is backing the project, and Collier said a Canadian statute precludes Pebble from disclosing certain financial information.

But Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, voiced concerns that a lack of information about the project’s financials could impact investors’ decisions as well as permitting.

“When people don’t have all of the pieces to put it together to understand how real it is, and if the financing is truly there, and be able to assess the cost-benefit analysis, whether there are potential environmental threats and that kind of thing. I think it’s under those circumstances where the lack of information could have undue influence in both ways,” Tarr said.

In response, Collier referenced a published analysis of the project’s economic impact. He added that Pebble will eventually release its financial standing, although he did not say when.

Pebble’s application to the Army Corps and the draft EIS are available online. The public can comment online or by mail, or in person at hearings in communities around Bristol Bay and in Anchorage and Homer.

Watch the latest legislative coverage from Gavel Alaska:

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