Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd.’s proposed Pebble copper and gold mine in Alaska may threaten the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency final assessment.
Depending on the project’s size and design, the mine might destroy as much as 94 miles (150 kilometers) of salmon streams and 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds and lakes in the Bristol Bay area, the agency said in a statement today. The project, which has been opposed by environmental groups, may also have an effect on native cultures in the region, the report found.
The region holds one of the world’s largest copper and gold deposits, with an estimated 80.6 billion pounds of copper and 107.4 million ounces of gold, according to the project’s website. Anglo American Plc withdrew from Pebble in September, saying it wanted to focus on high value and low risk projects. Rio Tinto Group, the largest shareholder in Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty, said last month it was reviewing a sale of its 19 percent stake.
Northern Dynasty, which called the assessment “flawed,” fell 0.7 percent to C$1.51 at the close in Toronto. The shares have declined 62 percent in the past year.
“Publication of the final watershed assessment is really the final chapter in a very sad story,” Northern Dynasty Chief Executive Officer Ron Thiessen said in a statement. “We look forward to defining a proposed development plan for Pebble and to having it reviewed by federal and state regulatory agencies under the National Environmental Policy Act in the months and years ahead.”
The company said the EPA didn’t follow its own guidelines and policies for watershed assessments, risk assessment and peer review, and violated the U.S. Information Quality Act. Northern Dynasty hasn’t announced a final development plan for the Pebble project, which also contains molybdenum and other metals, nor has it applied for permission to build the mine.
Annual commercial sockeye harvests averaged 25.7 million fish between 1990 and 2009, according to the study. Bristol Bay’s salmon population includes all five species found in North America.
Today’s report, which makes no recommendations on whether or not to allow the Pebble mine to go forward, follows drafts released in 2012 and 2013.
“There are some places where mining cannot be done without forever damaging landscapes, wildlife, businesses, and communities,” Michael J. Kowalski, chairman and CEO of Tiffany & Co. and an opponent of the project, said in a statement. “Bristol Bay is one such place.”