The proposed Pebble mine, headed by Northern Dynasty Minerals (TSX: $NDM NYSE: $NAK) and situated near Bristol Bay Alaska has been a contentious topic of discussion for many years. Now with a global shift occurring in political power and economics, the project which was beginning to be thought dead has once again risen from the ashes, stirring up a heated debate between mining advocates and environmental groups.
First things first:
Before we get into the meat and potatoes, I would like to disclose a few things.
- This article was written with an open mind, and I hope you are reading it with an open mind.
- This article is an opinion piece, nothing more.
- I consider myself to be environmentally conscious. I recycle and support companies that practice sustainability, I am very much in favor of the Electric Revolution and my next car will most likely be a Tesla. I do not support offshore drilling.
- There are a lot of emotions swirling around this mine, which is unfortunately the case nearly any time politics and a bitter decades-long legal battle are involved. This article aims to be as apolitical and factual as possible
- If you feel yourself getting upset reading this, then I welcome you to leave a comment at the bottom stating facts and why you feel that way, and I’ll be happy to discuss it with you. Please do not bombard my email or think you can get away with harassment or threats. I won’t tolerate it or even respond to it, period.
- I am not affiliated with any financial institutions in any way, shape or form. I am an independent investor operating with my own hard-earned money.
- I am long NAK / NDM
So without further ado, let’s jump straight ahead into why I am in favor of the controversial Pebble Mine.
Other countries don’t have the same regulations that we do
Why we don’t talk about China more often is beyond me. As one of the most polluted countries in the world, China ranks among the worst offenders when it comes to unregulated mining practices.
To their credit, the country has committed to cleaning up its act during the Paris Climate Accord, and they have made some strides towards better mining practices. But these things take time, and in spite of President Trump’s controversial withdrawal from the Paris Accord, the United States (Alaska in particular) already has some of the strictest mining regulations in the world.
Without getting into the fiercely political issue of whether or not the hatred towards Trump and Pruitt is justified, it’s worth considering that even in the wake of Pruitt’s so-called “muzzling” of the EPA,** the US still requires any and all mines to go through a rigorous permitting process spearheaded by the US Army Corps of Engineers.**
Now I don’t know about you, but personally I trust the Army Corps to conduct a fair and balanced assessment.
Human rights abuses are rampant in the third world
The DR Congo sits atop one of the largest copper belts in the world. But it’s not without problems; the Congo has long had a reputation for being a violent and unregulated country in Africa, where abuse happens frequently and bloodshed is all too common.
To paraphrase Amnesty International:
"Much of the mining in the DRC is done by artisanal miners, who work using hand-held tools. Artisanal miners often receive very little for the minerals they extract and face systemic exploitation in the DRC where mine sites are controlled by powerful individuals, including political figures and armed groups. They work in extremely dangerous conditions, usually without any safety equipment. Serious and fatal accidents on mine sites are regularly reported by media and NGOs. Artisanal miners have also been subjected to threats, physical assault and ill-treatment on mine sites at the hands of the mine police, or private security guards working for those who control the sites."
Large companies in the mining and tech industries have known about these exploits for a long time. Violence has been happening in the Congo for decades; it’s not a new thing. But in spite of this, many companies in Canada, the United States and China continue to operate on African soil.
At the risk of sounding political again, I also need to point out (because it’s important) that it’s happened under the eye of every government for as long as I can remember. So with that said, here’s a wake-up call for everyone:
The people of the DR Congo don’t care whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican or an environmentalist. They don’t care if you’re conservative, liberal or libertarian, or whether you’re a proponent of social justice or anything in between.
They don’t care because they’re dying, and their children are dying so that companies in Canada, China and the USA can continue to profit.
Stop and think about that one for a minute. It’s tough to imagine, but we need to think about it in order to stay balanced – these people don’t deserve to suffer, yet we endorse this suffering by continuing to buy copper and other conflict minerals from the Congo.
Now some of you might think “well there’s an easy solution to this problem. We should just stop mining altogether, since it’s so bad for people and the environment.” That’s a very narrow-minded approach, and I’ll explain why in just a moment (keep on reading!)
Why mining isn’t going away: it’s in everything, including electric cars
Mining is a fundamental part of our daily lives. Copper is in many of the things we take for granted: Cars, buses, computers, buildings, televisions, smartphones and zippers to name a few.
But one of the largest uses of copper by far is how we transmit electricity – that’s right, copper is highly conductive and nearly all power cables (even the ones you don’t see) are made from the shiny brownish orange metal.
Some of the more “electrically astute” folks might point out how a lot of high voltage transmission lines are now using aluminum, however copper is still the dominant metal used in lower voltage applications. Houses, commercial buildings and Tesla Superchargers all use some form of copper either for keeping the lights on or powering your EV.
In addition, the cars themselves (and the charging cables) contain copper. Think about how much copper is needed to put 4 million electric cars on the road – a whole lot! And that’s not even counting the race between GM, Toyota and Volkswagen to catch Tesla. Now that Tesla has gotten a head start, even Dyson is getting involved!
Alaskans need jobs more than ever
Having grown up in small-town Northern British Columbia, I lived fairly close to the Alaska border throughout most of my childhood and teen years. Northern BC and Alaska have a lot of things in common – cold winters, short summers and beautiful lakes and mountains to name a few.
But there’s another side to living in such a rural area:
My father (and most of my uncles) worked at a sawmill for close to 25 years before everyone was laid off. Things were pretty good when I was a kid. We had toys, games, plenty of food, and we took vacations or camping trips about once a year. But now that they’ve gotten older, my parents are both struggling. I wouldn’t say they’re destitute – they do OK, and they make ends meet. But my dad has had to change careers in his fifties, and my mother endures a long commute back and forth on icy roads every winter.
Jobs in the North are few and far between – you can ask almost anyone who lives there what it’s like to try and look for work. The struggle is real, and it’s no different for Alaskans.
Alaskan unemployment is at an all-time high. The work that does exist is seasonal (including the salmon and fisheries industry and existing mining operations). Alaskans are struggling to make ends meet, and if you ask the majority of Alaskans what they think, then like the people of my hometown I don’t think there would be much doubt about that. Alaska may be a wild place, but not everyone lives off the land by choice.
The proposed Pebble mining project would create more than 2,000 jobs in Alaska alone. That doesn’t include jobs outside of Alaska, because I’m fairly certain more jobs would be created on US and Canadian soil too – for contractors, administrative staff and the like.
Alaska needs these jobs – where else are they going to get them? The salmon industry can’t support everyone, especially given how seasonal it is, and I certainly would rather see people working for the mine than for offshore drilling companies (if you recall in the beginning, I stated explicitly that I do not support offshore drilling).
Not all mining companies are the same
Who could forget the Mount Polley Quesnel Lake disaster? As I already mentioned, I actually grew up very close to the region where Mount Polley happened. The residents of Quesnel certainly haven’t forgotten, and they’re still battling continued opposition with Imperial Metals, who still hasn’t (and probably won’t) clean up their act unless the Canadian gov’t steps in.
Wait a minute – you’re probably wondering why would I be in favor of Northern Dynasty Minerals and the Pebble Project!? It probably seems a little hypocritical right?
Not so fast. To compare every company to Imperial Metals is akin to saying all mining companies are immoral and evil, and that’s a very unrealistic world view. In my opinion, comparing Northern Dynasty to Mount Polley is like to comparing apples to oranges, and here’s why:
Northern Dynasty has already made several concessions including:
-Scrapping the Upper Talarik Watershed operation – this not only eliminates the riskiest part of the proposal from the equation as far as water contamination, but it also greatly reduces the size and footprint of the mine.
-Forgoing destructive roads and culverts in favor of a ferry – one of the main concerns is the implications of building the supporting infrastructure for the mine. Northern Dynasty has offered to utilize a ferry for transportation instead, thus greatly reducing their footprint and minimizing the impact on natural habitats and indigenous lands.
-Eliminating cyanide from the recovery process – Doing so will actually reduce their yields on gold, but the environment is more important. Northern Dynasty clearly recognizes that (since they’re willing to sacrifice profit in order to appease these concerns).
-Investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a state of the art tailings containment and recovery system – which is designed to withstand a large earthquake, although it’s worth noting that Pebble is hundreds of miles from any recently measured seismic activity (and about 1,000 meters above sea level).
-NDM has drafted a new revenue sharing concept for Alaskans – this is important because it’s in direct contrast to Mount Polley, where British Columbians got nothing – zero, zilch, nada.
Imperial Metals basically footed taxpayers with the cleanup bill! They were also majority owned by a member of the previous provincial government.These practices are clearly unethical, and I was happy to hear that the current BC government is investigating.
In other words, comparing a company that is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on state of the art environmental protections and local enrichment programs to the latest headline-grabbing villain of mining seems unreasonable at best.
Shutting down mining isn’t the answer. But keeping an open dialogue is
Instead of refusing to talk about it, we need to have open conversations that will positively affect the outcome, whether you agree the mine should be built or not.
To ignore the problem, disseminate false or misleading information as fact and otherwise act belligerently by saying things like “NO MINE” and “over my DEAD BODY” only serves to damage the reputation of the scientific community and legitimate environmental studies. It certainly wouldn’t help if the mine got a permit and went ahead without everybody’s input.
Having followed the flurry of media articles and observed arguments of both proponents and opponents of the mine for a little over a year, here are a few bullet points that I find to be of particular concern:
-Laying in front of bulldozers doesn’t accomplish anything – but it does work to create a perception that you’re just plain crazy.
-Politicizing a mining application sets a dangerous precedent where we fight with each other over who should be in charge instead of focusing on the real issues at hand – CNN and Fox News are both being irresponsible in that regard
-We have an opportunity, and we should use it to call on Northern Dynasty to fund fish studies, preservation efforts, and even climate change prevention programs.
-Saying mines are harmful to the fish population is a dangerous distraction when the biggest threat to salmon in my mind is fish farms. It’s a fairly safe bet to say that they’ve done more damage to salmon over the past decade than drilling and mining combined. We should focus our efforts on ending fish farming practices before it’s too late.
-Salmon and mines can co-exist, and have for over 100 years. Environmental concerns are an engineering problem, not a mining one. The sensitivity surrounding this particular mine means that Northern Dynasty should set an example for every other mining company in the world (I would expect nothing less in order for the project to move forward).
-To allow other countries, or even other mining companies to continue to operate unethically is hypocritical at best. But it also poses a far greater threat to the environment and people vs working with a company who is seeking to operate safely.
Northern Dynasty will deliver jobs and resources that are critical to Alaskans well-being and a greener future for everyone in the form of EVs.
It’s time we stop fighting over politics and news sites, and start looking ahead as people for a solution on how we can utilize our natural resources while creating better and safer ways to extract them from the ground we walk on.
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