Scientists present Pebble information at Dillingham WAISC conference

The Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Science Conference, held last week in Dillingham, featured a special session with scientists who had contributed to Pebble Limited Partnership’s (PLP) Environmental Baseline Document (EBD), and independent scientists who had conducted their own research in the Pebble deposit area. About 50 people were present throughout the day-long event, including presenters, conference attendees, and members of the public.

PLP presentation

PLP presentations covered those sections of the EBD that fit best with the conference theme, noted Ken Taylor, PLP’s vice president of environment. Morning and early afternoon sessions focused on water and fish. Scientists referenced each others’ work repeatedly, illustrating a strong connection between topics. For example,  salmon habitat is linked to the availability of groundwater, in part because its warmer temperature helps salmon overwinter. In turn, studying the hydrogeology of the area tells where groundwater is located within fractured bedrock and other permeable material, such as gravel.

Jane Whitsett, Environmental Studies Manager, also gave a brief overview of the document, how it is structured, and how to access it at the Pebble web site.

Presenters included:

  • Jaime Cathcart (Knight Piesold) – Surface Water Hydrology
  • Hugh McCredie (Piteau Associates) – Hydrogeology and Water Balance, Surface and Groundwater Quality
  • Stephen Day, (SRK Consulting) – Geochemistry
  • MaryLou Keefe (R2 Resources) – Fish Resources
  • Dudley Reiser (R2 Resources) – Instream Flow Habitat Modeling.

Pebble Limited Partnership staff and contracted scientists waiting at the Dillingham airport after the WASIC conference. Front, l. to r.: Jane Whitsett (PLP), Laura Tesch (PLP), Dr. Jaime Cathcart (Knight Piesold). Back, l. to r.: Dr. MaryLou Keefe (R2 Resources), Dr. Dudley Reiser (R2 Resources), Dr. Stephen Day (SRK Consulting)

Independent scientific research

Tim Troll, who works with the Nature Conservancy and the Nushagak-Mulchatna Wood-Tikchik Land Trust, began afternoon presentations by emphasizing that Pebble scientists have not been the only researchers studying the Pebble deposit area. Independent scientists have been conducting their own studies, funded by individual tribes, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Center for Science in Public Participation, among others.

Presenters included:

  • Kendra Zamzow (Center for Science in Public Participation) – Surface Water Quality
  • Sarah O’Neal (Fisheries Research and Consulting) – Fish Density and Distribution
  • Carol Ann Woody (Fisheries Research and Consulting) – Fish Resources, Groundwater and Salmon
  • Molly Welker (Bristol Environmental Remediation Services) – Water Quality at Drill Rig #6 South
  • Bretwood Higman, Seismology, Earthquake Risk at Pebble Mine.

Fact sheets and reports complementing some of these presentations are available at and the Center for Science in Public Participation.

Top: Molly Welker (left, Bristol Environmental Remediation Services) and Sarah O’Neal (third from left, Fisheries Research and Consulting) are among a group of scientists who have conducted independent research in the Pebble deposit area. Bottom: Dr. Bretwood Higmann (Ground Truth Trekking) and Dr. Carol Ann Woody (Fisheries Research and Consulting) were also among the presenters.

Points of interest

Raw data – One point of disagreement between PLP and the independent science group regarded the availability of raw data. When asked whether raw data from the studies would become available for independent scientists to review, Taylor said, “I get this question a lot, so I’m going to answer it one more time. We have no plans at this time to distribute the information in an electronic form that can easily be manipulated. It’s not a standard industry practice to release this information.” Taylor said that data may become available as needed by regulators during the permitting process. During the afternoon session, Troll stated that PLP’s “unwillingness to share data raises doubt about its accuracy.”

Preliminary mining plan – When asked about a preliminary mining plan, PLP representatives told Pebble Watch that the goal had been to complete a plan by the end of May 2012. However, if it is not ready then, it will be delayed to Fall 2012 due to the timing of fishing season in Bristol Bay. (Subsistence fishing obligations would preclude many Bristol Bay residents from participating in public meetings regarding the plan.)

Open to questions – PLP Communication Manager Nance Larsen noted that questions are welcome, whether from supporters or those opposed to the project. Pebble has created a web site where questions or comments can be submitted.

Q & A period – At the end of the presentations, there was an opportunity for the public to submit written questions, which were answered by Taylor and scientists contracted by PLP. A sampling of the questions and responses:

Q: How does this project protect the integrity of the water?

A: Any water released has to meet water quality standards for aquatic life. There are different standards for surface water, ground water, and marine water. Surface water standards are the most restrictive. Because surface water and ground water interact so much, PLP will need to apply surface water standards to all water.

Q: Has PLP considered a rise in precipitation due to climate change in this analysis?

A: There is uncertainty in predicting effects of climate change, but PLP will definitely be considering it.

Q: What kind of structures might be built at the mine site?

A: There will likely be an open pit mine, road, mill, and a tailings facility. Waste rock that doesn’t go through the mill will be placed in piles on the surface.

Q: What did you learn from Local Ecological Knowledge or Traditional Ecological Knowledge? Did you take that into account? Has it influenced you?

A. Yes. There is an entire chapter in the Environmental Baseline Document on local knowledge. PLP was just told recently about a natural fish barrier on the Kokhanok River and would like to hear other examples like that.

Q: Is this year’s snow data included?

A: No, but it will be included later. PLP plans annual reports as supplements to the Environmental Baseline Document.