Copper Mining Track Record in the Lower 48

Sep 16, 2012

For several years, EcoFlight has had the privilege to fly Alaskan tribal leaders over mining operations in Nevada and Utah, to enable those leaders to gain a better understanding of the impacts that large-scale mining can have on their natural resources, landscapes and communities, with particular reference to the proposed Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska. This year EcoFlight flew members of the Igiugig Village in Alaska, who would be affected by the proposed Pebble Mine.

A study that represents the federal government's first significant scientific assessment of the proposed Pebble mine site concludes that extracting billions of pounds of gold, copper and molybdenum from the region could result in the direct loss of up to 87 miles of streams and nearly seven square miles of wetlands. To fully understand the potential impacts that the proposed Pebble Mine could have on local resources, we might want to take a look at current copper mining operations in the lower 48. While proponents of the Pebble claim that it can be done without harming water quality, the track record of copper mining in the United States says otherwise.

Copper porphyry deposits are notorious for acid mine drainage and other water quality impacts On this recent series of flights we first flew over the Bingham Canyon Mine in Utah, the deepest open pit mine in the world. Dozens of pipeline spills, leaks, tailings and arsenic releases and stream and groundwater contamination have resulted in multiple legal actions against the operator for water collection and treatment failure.

We then flew over the Tyrone mine in New Mexico, where investigations have identified 14 different mine area sources that have affected water quality, including seepage from tailings impoundments, leach stockpiles and waste rock stockpiles. A 2012 groundwater assessment concluded that contaminated seepage from the mine will require water treatment in perpetuity.

We also saw the Chino Mine in New Mexico where millions of gallons of hazardous tailings and acidic mine waters have spilled into nearby streams on multiple occasions.

We hope these aerial shots help inform your perspective on mining and inspire you to continue your involvement in this important issue. While we all benefit from mining operations, it is important to understand the consequences that need to be taken into consideration.