Feature: Drilling down

Pebble Mine assessment based on shaky science, lack of information, say fisheries researchers

When Dr. Daniel Schindler and his students at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences took a deep dive into the Pebble Mine draft environmental impact statement, they found some barbaric details. In one subsection, for example, the document spins fuel spills as a positive because their cleanup could create local jobs. And while a layman can take issue with such a claim, it takes more expertise to uncover some of the shaky science in the statement, a nearly 1,500-page document released in February this year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
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Schindler and around 10 university students, including Professor Emeritus Frieda Taub, picked apart sections from the document that lined up with their areas of expertise.

“The reality is that no one is paid to sit around and critique these things. If (a scientist) writes a paper that we want to publish, it goes out to peer review, and unless you can get a handful of scientists to say that it’s legitimate, it never gets published.
In the case of an environmental impact statement, there’s no formal peer review,” said Schindler, who spends his summers researching in Bristol Bay, not far from the proposed Pebble Mine.
He pointed out that the University of Washington’s Alaska Salmon Program was in part created to monitor Bristol Bay salmon runs, and has been sending researchers to count fish and study salmon ecosystems there since 1946.
“Obviously, our specific information about Bristol Bay provides insight while we read this, and then some of it is just general knowledge of how salmon ecosystems work,” Schindler said.
One of the main sticking points of the Corps’ EIS is that it examines a scaled-back Pebble Mine that would have a 50-year life span, with only around 20 years of actual mining.
Meanwhile, the mining company, Pebble Partnership Ltd., still seems to be focused in the long term on a mine that would be active for closer to 75 years. Many of the features of the mine, such as a the toxic tailings and an earthen dam to retain them, would exist in perpetuity.
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About the author


Brian Hagenbuch is National Fisherman's products editor, a contributing editor to SeafoodSource and a Bristol Bay fisherman. He is based in Seattle.

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