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article imageEnvironmentalists watching Mt. Polley and Pebble Mine Project

By Karen Graham     Aug 7, 2014 in Environment
On August 4, a 580 acre tailing pond owned by Imperial Metals in British Columbia breached, dumping 1.3 billion gallons of toxic mine waste into the environment. On August 5, a Landsat 8 acquired an image of the area showing the extent of the damage.
Pictures clearly show the sludge from the tailings pond had entered Polley Lake, continuing on down the entire length of Hazeltine Creek and on into Quesnel Lake over five miles down from the breached tailings pond. The spill prompted an immediate ban on drinking any water from the surrounding area.
BEFORE: Mt. Polley Mine and Quesnel Lake  British Columbia  Canada: A Landsat 8 satellite image acqu...
BEFORE: Mt. Polley Mine and Quesnel Lake, British Columbia, Canada: A Landsat 8 satellite image acquired July 29 shows the pond intact and Hazeltine Creek barely visible. Source: USGS/Landsat
USGS via Sky Truth
The slurry in the tailings pond contained a mixture of arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium and other toxic chemicals, all with important health risks. Brian Kynoch, the president of Imperial Metals apologized on his company's behalf for contaminating everyone's water, but was quick to say the water in the tailings pond was “near drinking water quality.” (See the story by Walter McDaniel, Digital Journal).
AFTER. The pond has breached and grey mine waste can be seen entering Quesnel Lake over five miles a...
AFTER. The pond has breached and grey mine waste can be seen entering Quesnel Lake over five miles away. Credit: USGS via SkyTruth
USGS via Sky Truth
There were fears expressed by locals over the yearly salmon run in Queznel Lake, and those concerns may bear watching because dead fish are now turning up. The spill could create an environmental disaster, not only damaging the animals and aquatic life in the lake, but local tourism as well. This is one reason why environmental groups across North America are watching this story so closely. It has many similarities to the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed off Alaska.
Bristol Bay Watershed
Bristol Bay is at the eastern arm of the Bering Sea. In its upper reaches, it has some of the highest tides in the world, with extremes of tides reaching as much as 30 feet. It is also the shallowest part of the Bering sea, making it especially dangerous to ships.
The bay is home to the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, as well as big runs of chum salmon, silver salmon and king salmon, all occurring annually. As is expected, commercial fishing and its associated canneries are a major business enterprise, but sport-fishing, hunting and tourism in the nearby Katmai National Park and Preserve are also a big source of income for the people in the surrounding area.
The Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve - Bristol Bay  AK   -- Mining claims inside the reserve are highli...
The Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve - Bristol Bay, AK -- Mining claims inside the reserve are highlighted in orange.
Environmental groups have been closely watching what the Bureau of Land Management has been attempting to do in this beautiful and so far, pristine area of the north. There has been a huge interest in oil and mineral development the past few years, with the most talked-about being the proposed Pebble mine on the northern shore of Iliamna Lake.
The auctioning off of leases on large tracts in the southern Bristol Bay area, known as the North Aleutians Basin was a big money-maker, if it had gone through. There has been a moratorium on offshore oil and gas development since 1998. But on March 31, 2010, President Obama withdrew the North Aleutians Basin leases from consideration.
The Pebble Mine Project
Call it controversial, and you would be right. The Pebble Mine Project has been investigating large deposits of porphyry copper deposit, gold, and molybdenum mineral deposits in the Bristol Bay region of Southwest Alaska, very near Lake Iliamna and Lake Clark. The plans include a large-scale operation and infrastructure, and that has everyone a little worried.
Of course, proponents argue that the mine would create jobs, increase the local economy, give the state a big chunk of money in tax revenues and reduce the country's dependence on foreign sources of raw minerals. We have heard all this before, including the promises to respect the environment in the process of tearing minerals out of the earth.
An exploration camp sits on top of the Pebble deposit  one of the largest undeveloped copper  gold a...
An exploration camp sits on top of the Pebble deposit, one of the largest undeveloped copper, gold and molybdenum deposits in the world.
Opponents present the argument that the entire Bristol Bay Watershed area would be put at risk, and the escape of effluents from mining operations is just too great a risk to the fish populations. This argument is based on plans to contain large amounts of water, waste rock and mine tailings behind a number of earthen dams, just like the one belonging to Imperial Metals in British Columbia.
At the present time, the Pebble Mine Project is subject to public opinion until September 19, 2014. On Friday, July 18, the EPA issued a proposal, using the Clean Water Act that would limit mining activity in the Bristol Bay Watershed. If the mine is allowed to be finished, it will be the largest open-pit copper and gold mine in the world. If you ask the local Native American tribes and commercial fisheries about the project, they will tell you no, they don't want it.
Now this is a good reason to be concerned over the outcome of the Mt. Polley environmental mess in British Columbia, and a very good reason to be concerned about the Pebble Mine Project.
More about Mt polley mine, Toxic chemicals, bristol bay, Alaska, Canada
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