Public comment is due soon on a Miscellaneous Land Use Permit (MLUP) application that Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) has submitted to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The permit would allow PLP to continue operations on state-owned land at the Pebble deposit area in Bristol Bay. The current MLUP expires on December 31, 2016.
Exploratory and drilling activities that have been conducted since 1989 at the Pebble site have been possible under a series of MLUPs, which PLP has to renew regularly.
This time, PLP is requesting a two-year permit to conduct maintenance and reclamation activities in an area covering 2,402 mining claims totaling 266,356 acres of state land (claims in orange).
What activities have been conducted in this area under previous MLUP permits?
- Drilling: 1,355 drill holes totaling 1,042,218 feet (more than 190 miles)
- Construction and maintenance of temporary facilities such as buildings, platforms and helipads
- Storage of equipment, including fuel tanks, water tanks, rig platforms, lumber, power tools and other equipment
- Reclamation: plugging drill holes and re-vegetating areas that have been disturbed
What does PLP say it will do under a renewed permit?
PLP’s application states that the company plans to operate Pebble under “care and maintenance” status, with no ground-disturbance or water usage planned. Additionally:
- No further exploration activity is planned at this time.
- Staff will conduct periodic visual inspections of each location.
- Staff will complete minor repairs and routine maintenance as required.
What documentation will PLP provide the State about its activities?
By December 31, 2016, PLP will provide these documents to the State:
- Site maintenance work plan
- Annual reclamation report
- Drill site inspection plan for 2017
What if PLP plans change during the two-year period?
According to its 2017-2018 Narrative of Operations, PLP states there will be limited activity at the Pebble deposit site over the next two years. If those plans change, PLP says it will work with DNR. According to a DNR spokesperson, if PLP plans additional activity or expands the scope of activity, it will need to amend its permit application. In that case, DNR will issue another courtesy public notice, to include opportunity for public comment. The
|Change||PLP action as stated in its application||Public notice required?|
|If significant repairs are necessary…||PLP will coordinate with DNR and other oversight agencies as appropriate.||No|
|If operating plans change to include ground-disturbing exploration activities…||PLP will amend the MLUP application and secure all necessary permits before proceeding||No, but if amended, DNR states it will issue a courtesy public notice with public comment period (either 14- or 30-day period depending on the type of activity)|
|Less than 50 gallons of fuel remains at field installations. If it intends to store large quantities of fuel at field locations for extended periods…||PLP will notify DNR.||No|
If no activity is planned and PLP has reclaimed sites, why are some groups concerned about the MLUP renewal?
In accordance with State requirements, PLP files annual reports describing its reclamation efforts. DNR inspects a limited number of the drill sites. Its latest field monitoring report finds that PLP “identifies and addresses maintenance and repair issues on site and is consistent to industry best management practices.”
However, United Tribes of Bristol Bay (UTBB), a consortium of 14 tribes in Bristol Bay, contends that PLP has not adequately reclaimed some of its drilling sites, and that there could be environmental impacts from improperly plugged drill holes and drill waste on the tundra. In 2016, it commissioned the Center for Science in Public Participation (CSP2) to independently survey and review conditions at dozens of drill sites. CSP2 identified several concerns.
Additionally, the State has not required PLP to provide reclamation bonding with its MLUP application, so neglected repairs could fall to the State in the future. CSP2’s report notes that, “Until all the drill holes are fully reclaimed they pose a financial risk to the State if the mining operator were to go bankrupt.”
PLP reclamation reports (2009-2015)
DNR Field Monitoring Report, September 2016
Center for Science in Public Participation Report, August 2016
What kind of conditions have been put on previous PLP activities under MLUPs?
PLP’s current MLUP (which expires December 31, 2016) details terms and conditions, including guidelines for reclamation, surface use, and handling/containment of fuel and hazardous substances. The permit is revocable at any time upon violation of terms and conditions. (In 2010 DNR did fine PLP and temporarily rescinded its water and land use permits when it discovered the company had unpermitted water withdrawals at 45 sites.)
Why should I submit comments?
While several permits necessary to develop Pebble mine require a public comment period (see our Guide to Permitting), the MLUP currently does not. Groups such as Nunamta Aulukestai have fought for the public to have more input into the permitting process, since an MLUP does allow significant activity: deep drilling, dynamite blasting, pumping of stream water, helicopter landings, fuel storage, and more.
The State will take public comments on PLP’s current MLUP application until close of business on November 30. DNR is not required by law to notify the public or ask for comments, since the proposed activity “does not include the disposal of a state interest and the authorization is revocable at will by the department.” However, it has stated that public comments will be taken into consideration before any permits are issued.
What other state permits does PLP hold in this area?
DNR Temporary Water Use Authorization – a five-year permit that expires June 20, 2018
How can I submit comments?
Hollie Chalup, Natural Resource Specialist II
Phone: (907) 269-8647
Fax: (907) 269-8949
Mail: 550 W. 7th Ave., Suite 900B, Anchorage, AK 99501
Read the PLP application in full:
Supporting document detailing PLP inventory on-site and specific mining claims