2012 was a busy year for scientists working on issues related to Pebble Mine. I’m one of those scientists. I received my PhD studying tsunamis and learned a bit about earthquakes along the way. Given that PLP hopes to build giant dams that need to stand forever, earthquakes are a fairly important question. Between completing my own geologic fieldwork and critiquing the work of PLP and the EPA, there’s been plenty to keep me busy – so much so that I neglected to post anything on our blog about it all year, despite a number of interesting developments.
Backstory: Is Pebble Mine really safe from earthquakes?
If developed, Pebble Mine would tap the largest gold deposit on the planet, and the copper in that deposit would likely be worth even more than all that gold. Its footprint would sit on the headwaters of some of the world’s greatest salmon rivers. It would leave behind towering tailings dams that would pose catastrophic risk for millennia, long after the boom of the mine has been forgotten.
The mine company’s perspective is simple and hasn’t changed since at least 2006: The threat of earthquakes is low because there are no active faults nearby.
This optimistic view of seismic hazard is based on ignorance. Existing scientific studies tell us almost nothing about faults in the area.
This is not just a local issue. If you like wild Alaskan salmon and care about the arctic environment, this is a very serious matter. Imagine the largest gold/copper mine on the face of the earth at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, one of the last remaining pristine wild salmon spawning grounds on the planet, with millions of tons of toxic waste being held back by an earthen dam taller than Hoover.