ANCHORAGE — The chief executive of a company pursuing the Pebble copper and gold mine prospect in southwest Alaska said Thursday that mining and fishing can co-exist.
Cynthia Carroll of London-based Anglo American PLC told the Resource Development Council that the Pebble Mine can be developed without polluting the watershed for the massive Bristol Bay salmon fishery. Similar developments have proven it elsewhere, she said, including a copper mine near British Columbia’s Fraser River, which last year saw record salmon runs.
Anglo American three years ago pledged to listen to concerns and to apply the world’s most advanced science to Pebble, Carroll said.
“I don’t think anyone can accuse Pebble of rushing to development,” she said.
The project is bitterly opposed by environmental, fishing and some Alaska Native groups who say a massive open pit mine and the toxic waste it will generate should be nowhere close to a headwaters that lead to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.
If developed, Pebble would be Alaska’s largest mine. Anglo American’s partner in the proposal, Northern Dynasty Minerals of Vancouver, British Columbia, told investors last month that Pebble would return billions of dollars in profits over 45 years of operation. The company said developers could recoup the estimated $4.7 billion cost of building the mine in roughly six years.
The companies are conducting studies and don’t plan to apply for permits until later this year or next. They have continually stressed it’s premature to make judgments on its environmental effects.
Carroll said Pebble representatives have consulted extensively with Alaska leaders and interest groups. The message they’ve taken is that a large part of state lacks basic transportation and communication services and affordable necessities such as diesel fuel and milk.
A Pebble mine, she said, could provide jobs and spur construction of infrastructure, helping to preserve villages that might otherwise disappear.
“Pebble can help spur the construction of modern transportation, communication and energy infrastructure that places like southwest Alaska desperately need to reduce their costs of living,” she said.
Carroll said it’s easy to take mining companies and minerals for granted. The average car, she said, carries 40 pounds of copper and hybrids nearly double that. Copper’s essential properties make it irreplaceable for energy efficiency and copper for wind turbines is growing all the time, she said.
“Copper is helping drive the green evolution,” she said.
Carroll took a shot at national campaigns that oppose the project.
“I do not accept that campaigning environmental groups from outside of Alaska, with strong vested interests in raising funds for opposing our project, have any legitimacy in the debate,” she said.
Some have tried to paint Pebble gold as “dirty.” That term should apply to gold from jurisdictions that do not ensure respect for workers’ rights, support armed conflict or do not support investment in sustainable communities, she said. That’s not the case in Alaska by Anglo American, she said.
Carroll received a friendly reception at a regular breakfast meeting of the group that promotes Alaska resource development but also was greeted by a full-page advertisement in Thursday’s Anchorage Daily News that called on the Pebble partners to pull out.
In capital letters and red ink, the ad said, “Anglo American’s CEO promised, ‘I will not go where people don’t want us.’ We say: ‘Time to keep your promise.’”
The ad cited market research in a report prepared on behalf of a mine opponent that claims 80 percent of Bristol Bay residents do not want the mine. The ad was sponsored by the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, the Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association and Nunamta Aulukestai, a group of eight Bristol Bay area village corporations.