Secret recordings of Pebble Mine executives reveal plans for larger mine than proposed
Two executives with the company seeking to develop an open-pit gold and copper mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, said they expect the project to grow much larger in size than the proposal currently under final review by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Northern Dynasty Minerals CEO Ronald Thiessen and Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier told members of an environmental advocacy group posing as potential investors that the mine could operate for much longer than currently proposed, and could expand to other areas where the partnership owns mineral rights.
“Once you have something like this in production, why would you want to stop?” Thiessen said. Referring to locals receiving tax money from the project, Thiessen said, “It’s USD 10,000 [EUR 8,500] per man, woman and child. They want that to go away? No.”
Thiessen admitted the partnership had scaled down the original proposal for the mine at the start of the permitting process, reducing the project’s footprint to about five square miles and its operating life to 20 years.
“We said, ‘Now how do we improve our chances of getting a permit?’ Because people always have anxiety about resource development, especially mines,” he said. “But during that 20 years, you’re going to make the application to continue for another 20.”
The Environmental Investigation Agency, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group, conducted the undercover operation and posted the video recordings on its website on Monday, 21 September. Environmental Investigation Agency Executive Director Alexander von Bismarck told The New York Times the picture painted by the Pebble Mine project backers in private was much different than has been depicted in its public presentations, including in testimony given to Congress.
“In private, they explained to our investigators how, once an initial permit gets past regulators, their plans for massive expansion will be unstoppable,” von Bismarck said. “We think the public deserves to hear that.”
Collier also detailed his close relationship with Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy and officials in the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, and said Alaska’s two U.S. senators, Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, both Republicans, backed the mine, even though Murkowski has issued public comments critical of the project in the past.
“The way that Senator Murkowski has done that is that when she’s asked a question she says things that don’t sound supportive of Pebble, OK?” Collier said. “But when it comes time to vote, when it comes time to do something, she never does anything to hurt Pebble. Never.”
Thiessen said that the senators’ relative lack of public comment on the mine is “perfect for permitting.”
Of Sullivan, Collier said: “He's off in a corner being quiet.”
Both senators issued comments after the videos became public backing the Army Corps of Engineers’ request for revisions to the mine’s practices for adhering to Clean Water Act regulations, including wetlands mitigation, according to Alaska Public Radio.
Rachel James, Bristol Bay campaign coordinator for SalmonState, said her organization was shocked and angered by the statements made in the videos.
“From their manipulation of the Alaska governor’s office, to the truth of their plan for a massive 200-year mine, to cozy relationships with the Army Corps and EPA political appointees, it’s clear they will stop at nothing in their plans to build a toxic mega-mine at the headwaters of the greatest sockeye salmon run left on the planet,” James said in a press release.
In the recordings, Thiessen said his was confident the project would eventually be approved.
“We’re in pretty good shape,” Thiessen said.
Photo courtesy of Environmental Investigation Agency