By Rich Seifert (reprinted with permission)
The trouble is, it’s all trouble, and no benefit for most of us. Here is a list of very negative factors which make the Manh Choh /Kinross deal one of the worst developments we’ve ever been confronted with. It is not a complete list.
1. It is very dangerous. The traffic, the size of the trucks, the winter conditions for hauling, and the element of school bus stops are all risks. How many ways will this decrease our safety and increase risks? And that’s in addition to road degradation. If we lose a bridge on the highway, then what? Early in the project discussion when road damage was recognized as a problem, it was actually suggested by supporters of the project that the state raise the gasoline tax to pay for the road damage. Really? We’re supposed to fix the damage and they take all the profit and benefits?
2. The road repair has now been estimated (The Kinney Engineering report), and the estimate is $6 million [per year] of damage will occur. How that accumulates and how fast the roads degrade is an unknown. Repairs can only be made mostly in summer.
3. The only non-corporate benefits accrue to the Tetlin tribe and its workers, and yet they will see much damage to their lives as well. Virtually no benefits accrue to the state and us citizens, as was intended in our constitution for resource extraction. That is because the mine and land leased for it is not state land and thus mining will lead to no benefits for the state for this once-only extraction of resources and the whole mining development. It will leave poisonous acid mine drainage not only to the mine site and Tetlin Lake and surrounds, but the ore dumped at the Fort Knox site will be different from past mine waste in that it contains sulfur and will lead to acid mine drainage in the impoundment pond. Every day of operation the tailing/waste will be dumped, and most of the haul is waste. And I mean most. Of the eighty ton loads, all but a few ounces of extracted gold for each truckload will be waste and accumulate at the mill site in our Chena River Drainage. I am purposely leaving out job creation because that is implicit and doesn’t accrue any fiscal benefit to the state. If we had an income tax it would matter more.
4. Let’s run a real-life scenario depicting very accurately what gold mining really does to the earth and us. Much of what follows here is from the “Wickersham’s Conscience” blog: “At Bald Mountain Mine, in northern Nevada, they are extracting 0.011 ounce of gold from a ton of ore. That means they are mining 91.375 tons of ore to get an ounce of gold. Put another way, extracting an ounce of gold creates more than 91 tons of waste, called “gangue” in the trade. That doesn’t count the tens of thousands of tons of “overburden” that has to be removed to get to the ore.
The spoil is a source of all kinds of problems, but the gangue is even worse. To extract that minuscule amount of gold, the ore has to be ground to dust. Then chemicals – most commonly cyanide – are leached through the fine-ground ore to extract the gold. The then-worthless waste, the gangue, is stored in immense, valley-filling piles behind dams, covered in a layer of water to prevent it from drying out and blowing away.
The scale of the gold mines beggars the imagination. At Bald Mountain, Kinross Gold, the mine’s operator, produced 1,347,000 ounces of gold in 2018. That means more than 122 million tons of waste*. All of which has to be securely stored in perpetuity. It’s no secret that the gold mining industry does a poor job of managing dangerous, hazardous waste. And, of course, this problem is only going to get worse as the industry chases increasingly thin reserves with lower and lower yields.
The environmental cost of gold mining doesn’t end with the spoil and gangue. Extracting that much rock, grinding it to powder and hauling off the waste is an incredibly energy-intensive business. Some studies report an average of energy used for each ounce of gold. That amount is roughly 2.3 megawatt hours of energy, most of it from fossil fuels, to produce each ounce of gold.”
This amount of energy use stated above may not count the trucking fuel, which in the Manh Choh case is an enormous additional amount of energy use as proposed. It will also lead to more air pollution and bad air quality throughout the Fairbanks airshed. It can’t help but be so.
5. Then there are the social costs of mines and man-camps, where employees are housed for the operation. Across Canada where remote mining is similar to Alaska (and Kinross is a Canadian company, so it knows this, or should), man-camps not surprisingly often lead to increased abuse of women and children. Research in Canada has confirmed this many times. This mining will change the character of the nearby communities in eastern Interior Alaska, and they are and should be worried and concerned. These costs will not be visible at first but will accumulate gradually and degrade life in these communities. How much that becomes real will depend on whether they can protect themselves from this impact.
6. As has been pointed out many times in news articles, most of the ownership of this mining development is not domestic, save for a fraction of the partnership. Most of it is foreign-owned, so of course a major fraction of the profits will leave the country, and no royalties or income will accrue to the State or other local entities, save for the Tetlin community, which holds title to their own land. This is not to condemn them for that, but the benefits all accrue to them and the corporations with no responsibility to counter the impacts which most other citizens of Interior Alaska will feel in all sorts of ways: social, physical, noise, air pollution, road damage, traffic safety (unsafety), and consequent quality of life.
7. Where are our senators and representatives on this? I have heard very little except a sort of “look at their shoes and mumble” some vague acceptance of this nightmare I have just outlined. Why is this? Who do they represent? The corporations or the voters?
8. This is not an Alyeska Pipeline! It is a lose-lose-lose proposition we’ll all suffer under. Legislature: wake up! We can obviously expect nothing from our sell-out governor. That is obvious. I can only hope you read this and take it seriously. We are either going to accept this as our future or not. It is up to you citizens.
* “Wickersham’s Conscience” blog states the amount to be 24 million tons, but this appears to be a typo and the number has been adjusted to reflect 91 tons of waste per ounce of gold.