We all know about Kinross Gold Corporation’s ill-conceived five-year plan to allow giant 95-foot-long 80-ton ore-trains to travel Alaskan roads between Tok and Fairbanks 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. What we don’t know is when the first innocent Alaskan(s) will be maimed, crippled, or killed by this plan.

Whether caused by local drivers or Kinross’s chosen subcontractor Black Gold Transport, minor and major accidents are inevitable.

When such a tragedy takes place, can we count on Kinross and their corporate partners to take responsibility and do the right thing? Will they step up? Perhaps we can get some idea from one of their previous operations in Ghana.

On January 20, 2022 a tanker truck, operated by Kinross subcontractor Maxam, hauling explosive ammonium nitrate and fuel oil (ANFO) to Kinross’ Chirano gold-mine was involved in a traffic accident while travelling through the small community of Appiatse, Ghana. The tanker caught fire, and the commotion attracted a crowd of curious locals to the accident site.

The results were ghastly. The truck exploded, killing 13 people in the blast. Four more died of their injuries, while scores more were hospitalized with serious injuries including burns, broken bones, and missing limbs. The explosion left a massive crater in the highway and flattened hundreds of homes, businesses, schools and churches, leaving five hundred people homeless and devastating the local economy. According to the European Commission, the explosion ultimately affected around 3300 people. https://reliefweb.int/report/ghana/european-union-funds-humanitarian-assistance-after-explosions-ghana

Did Kinross, acting as a responsible multi-national corporation, swiftly come to the assistance of these poor people who had just been so wronged by their operations? Not exactly.

On January 22, 2022, two days following the explosion, Toronto-based news agency The Canadian Press reported:

“Kinross spokesman Louie Diaz says the company extends its deepest condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident, adding it is providing support to the response efforts and relief items to those affected. He says the truck involved was under the supervision of Maxam Corp Holding, S.L., a Spanish-based explosives company with operations across the globe”. https://www.thestar.com/business/2022/01/22/kinross-distances-itself-from-deadly-ghana-explosion-says-its-supporting-victims.html
Kinross put the blame solely on their subcontractor Maxam.

Maxam, meanwhile, denied “all responsibility for the explosion,” stating their own subcontractor, Arthanns Logistics of Ghana, “should bear all responsibility for code violations”

In spite of this denial Maxam was fined (and paid) $1 million dollars for code violations in improperly transporting the ANFO, plus an additional $5.25 million dollars for damages.

One year later how are victims of the disaster that occurred enroute to the Kinross Chirano gold-mine doing? Not always well. Take the case of Joseph Kwabena Arhin. Joseph’s left leg was badly mangled in the explosion rendering him bedridden. Speaking with GhanaWeb News January 21, 2023 he said: “I’m now a prisoner in my house. I have spent my life savings… if I’m not able to go through the reconstruction process, I will not be able to walk and take care of my family again.” https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/I-called-my-wife-to-bid-her-good-bye-Apiate-disaster-survivor-recounts-ordeal-1699028

Joseph’s story is not unique. Much is needed to make this community whole again. It is clear the poor people of Ghana have suffered tremendously at the decisions made by Kinross and their subcontractors.

Kinross didn’t stick around to see how things have unfolded in Appiaste. On April 25, 2022, they announced an agreement to sell their stake in the Chirano Gold Mine. They quietly exited on August 10 when the sale closed, netting $225 million in the process. https://www.kinross.com/news-and-investors/news-releases/press-release-details/2022/Kinross-completes-sale-of-Chirano-mine-in-Ghana/default.aspx

During 2022 Kinross posted 33 news releases to their website. Not one referenced the devastating explosion caused by their subcontractor hauling explosives to the Kinross Chirano Gold Mine in Ghana. https://www.kinross.com/news-and-investors/news-releases/2022/default.aspx

So, what are the similarities to the current proposal in Interior Alaska? The current plan doesn’t call for the trucks to carry explosives, of course, but:

  • The transportation route relies on public roads and travels through populated areas.
  • The proposed 95-foot-long 80-ton ore-trains are inherently dangerous.
  • Kinross won’t be doing the transportation, their chosen subcontractor will.

Anyone who’s ever driven an Alaska highway on a dark, snowy, icy, and windy night during Nov/Dec/Jan/Feb knows how that heart-pounding experience feels. Throw in the occasional unexpected: moose, caribou, bison, fox, stranded car, snowmachine, pedestrian, trash bag or a myriad of other debris that end up in the road to surprise even the most alert of drivers, things can go from dangerous to worse in an instant.

Now add 95-foot-long 80-ton ore-trains hurtling past every 7-8 minutes. With loose or blowing snow on the road, several seconds of white-out conditions will occur each time one passes. During a two-hour drive between Fairbanks and Delta Junction, drivers can expect that no fewer than 14 times. The result will be excruciating.

So, who will be the first to pay this terrible price? Perhaps an elderly driver (clearly at fault) will misjudge the 50 miles-per-hour speed of an approaching 95-foot-long 80-ton ore-train, and turn onto the Richardson Highway from the Knotty Shop only to be obliterated.

Perhaps a school bus carrying an exuberant high school hockey team from Fairbanks to a game in Delta Junction. As the bus drives up Tenderfoot hill, the driver of one of the ore-trains starting down the hill has a front tire blowout, or, hits a moose, or, has a medical emergency, or, engine failure, or simply loses control. The runaway sliding 95-foot-long 80-ton behemoth lays waste to anything, everything, and everyone in its path.

We’ll only know the names, and number of those lost loved-ones after the fact and, after their next-of-kin have been notified. Sadly, it will happen.

Kinross assures us this will never happen. Not even when 95-foot-long 80-ton ore-trains travel between Tok and Fairbanks 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

After all, according to the Kinross group their subcontractors will utilize: “New purpose-built highway tractor and trailer equipment…purchased and maintained for this operation to maximize safety and efficiency.”

Before 95-foot 80-ton ore-trains hurtle down our icy Alaskan highways during the dark winter days, before the string of accidents, Kinross needs to answer some questions to guarantee no Alaskans suffer a fate like the unfortunate citizens of Appiatse, Ghana, and that they have done right by those individuals:

  • Prior to February 2023, how exactly has Kinross provided “support to the response efforts and relief items to those affected” by the Ghana explosion?
  • What are Kinross’ continuing plans to assist the people of Ghana in their ongoing recovery?

In Alaska, when a 95-foot-long 80-ton ore-train is at fault in an accident, will Kinross take responsibility for the wreck, or pass the buck to their subcontractor Black Gold Transport? Will Kinross commit to compensating individuals and families for injuries or deaths when their 95-foot-long 80-ton ore-trains are found to be at fault in accidents?

These are reasonable questions that deserve an answer. Alaskans need assurance that the neglect Kinross has shown in Ghana won’t take place here. Because let’s not fool ourselves: With accidents, it’s not IF, but WHEN.

[This Community Perspective was written by Dirk Tordoff of Fairbanks, Alaska. It appeared in the March 5, 2023 edition of the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer. It is reprinted with his permission. Photo: macdeedle/Pixabay]