This page serves to:
- Illuminate the DEIS inaccuracies and inadequacies to include in your comment. Click on the sections below to expand the findings.
- Act as a forum. Many sections of the DEIS are hosted on Quality Comment's DEIS page. With the document more accessible, you are encouraged to read what you can and share your findings. Digging into it is surprisingly easy - it doesn't take long to find something egregious.
This page will continue to be added to throughout the comment period. If you would like to add your own expertise or DEIS finding, you are encouraged to send it to firstname.lastname@example.org with your citations included.
Inappropriate time frame
The draft assumes an inappropriate time frame of about 50 years from development to production to close, and expresses the risks that play out strictly in that 50 year period.
The concern is that the most major risks occur outside of that period. All of the copper and gold is within iron sulfites, making it largely a sulfur mine. Sulfites oxidize to create sulfiric acid (battery acid), making metals soluble. This means that the metals that Pebble won't be extracting will become solublized in acid drainage. Most of this will not happen in the first 20 years, but it will happen, and continue for centuries, and even millenia. The ecological effects will therefore be impacted for centuries and millenia.
The draft does not address this risk, which gives way to many inaccuracies, including risks of seismic activity and tailings facility failure risks.
Fish habitat risk The draft assumes the fish habitat risk by making productivity synonymous with size, with populations based on the last 1-2 year averages. The draft says that .1% of fish habitat will be destroyed, and claims that they can remediate that. The concern it that this is based on the 1-2 year average of that area, but doesn't take into account the long term potential of that habitat to produce fish. The University of Washington has been studying Bristol Bay habitat since the 1940s, and their studies show that areas which 70 years ago produced only 1,000 fish have, for the last twenty years produced around 75,000 fish. Just because it's small doesn't mean it's not important. Bristol Bay as an ecosystem depends on each river system supporting the other and takes turns on periods of ebbs and flows. The Nushagak River is healthy due to ecosystem complexities, and the buffers of different ebbs and flows. The year it was studied, the Koktuli ebbed. But the odiliths in salmon show that the Koktuli will likely produce large numbers of salmon in the future. The current EIS does not take this into account.
The draft assumes the fish habitat risk by making productivity synonymous with size, with populations based on the last 1-2 year averages. The draft says that .1% of fish habitat will be destroyed, and claims that they can remediate that.
The concern it that this is based on the 1-2 year average of that area, but doesn't take into account the long term potential of that habitat to produce fish. The University of Washington has been studying Bristol Bay habitat since the 1940s, and their studies show that areas which 70 years ago produced only 1,000 fish have, for the last twenty years produced around 75,000 fish. Just because it's small doesn't mean it's not important.
Bristol Bay as an ecosystem depends on each river system supporting the other and takes turns on periods of ebbs and flows. The Nushagak River is healthy due to ecosystem complexities, and the buffers of different ebbs and flows.
The year it was studied, the Koktuli ebbed. But the odiliths in salmon show that the Koktuli will likely produce large numbers of salmon in the future. The current EIS does not take this into account.
Cumulative Effects NEPA defines cumulative effects as how combinations of stressors interact and compound to cause cumulative damage. (Table 1-2 Principles of cumulative effects analysis, Considering Cumulative Effects Under NEPA, pg. 8) The concern is this draft EIS includes the term "cumulative effects," but the term is misused. In this draft, "cumulative effects: are defined on page 4.1-3 as one stressor's effects over time (which is already an inappropriate timeframe). The result is that all risks are wildly understated and underestimated, and in many cases assumed to be zero.
NEPA defines cumulative effects as how combinations of stressors interact and compound to cause cumulative damage. (Table 1-2 Principles of cumulative effects analysis, Considering Cumulative Effects Under NEPA, pg. 8)
The concern is this draft EIS includes the term "cumulative effects," but the term is misused. In this draft, "cumulative effects: are defined on page 4.1-3 as one stressor's effects over time (which is already an inappropriate timeframe). The result is that all risks are wildly understated and underestimated, and in many cases assumed to be zero.
The concern is that though Alaska is one of the most effected areas in the world, Climate Change is hardly mentioned in the draft.
The University of Washington has been studying the Bristol Bay region since the 1940s, and has a wealth of data and published studies about the habitat.
The concern is that although the University of Washington has been studying the region for nearly 70 years and published over fifty papers, the draft EIS only cites a couple of them. Given the supposed breadth of this study, it is concerning that it ignores a very large amount of important data.
Factors of Analysis, pg. 4.1-1
The Draft EIS lists the Factors of Analysis for Environmental Consequences on pg. 4.1-1 as Magnitude or Intensity, Duration, Geographical Extent and Potential to Occur. But these factors cannot be accurately assessed based on the draft's basic general oversights of time frame and cumulative effects.
Types of Effects Considered, pg. 4.1-3
The DEIS states in the "Types of Effects Considered" on page 4.1-3 that the requirements by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of laying out the direct, indirect and cumulative effects.
NEPA lays out that cumulative effects are caused by the aggregate of past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future of actions. The effects of a proposed action on a given resource, ecoystem, and human community include the present and future effects added to the effects that have taken place in the past. Such cumulative effects must also be added to the effects (past, present, and future) caused by all other actions that affect the same resource. NEPA also states that cumulative effects are the total effect, including both direct and indirect effects, on a given resource, ecosystem, and human community of all actions taken, no matter who (federal, nonfederal, or private) has taken the actions. Individual effects from disparate activities may add up or interact to cause additional effects not apparent when looking at the individual effects one at a time. The effects contributed by actions unrelated to the proposed action must be included in the analysis of cumulative effects. (NEPA, Ch.1, Table 1-2 Principles of cumulative effects analysis pg. 8)
"The combined, incremental effects of human activity, referred to as cumulative impacts, pose a serious threat to the environment. While they may be insignificant by themselves, cumulative impacts accumulate over time, from one or more sources, and can result in the degredation of important resources. Because federal projects cause or are affected by cumulative impacts, this type of impact must be assessed in documents prepared under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)." (Consideration of Cumulative Impacts in EPA Review of NEPA Documents, EPA, Office of Federal Activites 2252A)
While the DEIS looks at each individual impact over time, the cumulative impacts of the mine operations are not assessed combined, from all sources.
This is concerning because Bristol Bay is a complex ecosystem, and the health of it depends on the health of many factors
Commercial and Subsistence Harvest of Fish and Wildlife, Cumulative Effects pg. 4.1-3
The DEIS states in the Cumulative Impacts section on page 4.1-3 that the recreational and commercial harvest of salmon in Bristol Bay fisheries districts over the last 20 years has fluctuated significantly; in 2018, Bristol Bay saw record returns, even though Cook Inlet and others areas of the state saw declining returns. Factors influencing returns are complex, and there are no clear long-term trends with commercial harvests.
However, Fall et al. 2009 noted that subsistence harvest of salmon in the Kvichak and Nushagak rivers declined from long-term averages, even though the number of Bristol Bay subsistence salmon permits has been stable. Similarly, local and non-local residents have historically harvested fish and wildlife in pursuit of traditional subsistence activities, and may affect such resources. For example, the subsistence harvest of Cook Inlet beluga whale is thought to have depleted its population, and contributed to its listing as an endangered species. There have been natural variability and changes in the historic distribution of some species harvested for subsistence and recreational purposes, such as returning salmon and caribou, although there is no clear agreement as to why. (DEIS pg. 4.1-4)
There is no argument that commercial and subsistence harvest should be considered as a cumulative impact. (It should be noted, however, that there has been mining exploration in the last 30 years (DEIS pg. 4.1-5), and it has been speculated that mining exploration disturbances have effected these disturbed migration patterns and long-term fish averages.)
However, the current resource use (subsistence, sport and commercial fishing; subsistence and sport hunting) in the Bristol Bay region has agencies in place to manage those impacts. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) and federal agencies work to maintain sustainable populations, and to optimize public uses and economic benefits (ADF&G 2018p). Managers use management tools such as harvest limits and areas open and closed to sport and commercial harvest of fish and wildlife to maintain sustainable resources and allocate harvest. (DEIS pg. 4.1-3)
This brings up the point that while ADF&G and other federal agencies can control the impacts on fish populations from year to year, there is no plan to assess and react to mining impacts year to year to ensure sustainable yield.
Mining Exploration Activities, Cumulative Effects, pg. 4.1-4
The Cumulative Effects of Mining Exploration Actiities on pg. 4.1-4 states that various types of mining exploration activities have occurred, but do not describe a single impact of the disturbances.
However, the draft states previously from a Tribal Consultation on page K3.1.4 of the Introduction to Affected Environment that "there have been changes in caribou and moose migration patterns due to disturbances associated with Pebble mine exploratory activities conducted over the last decade." It is irresponsible to list the general trends of unknown causes under other cumulative effects while omitting these trends under the impacts of Mining Exploration, especially when Mining Exploration is explicitly expressed as a speculative cause.
Reasonably Foreseeable Future Actions, pg. 4.1-4
Table 4.1-1 "Potential Reasonably Foreseeable Future Actions Evaluated for Cumulative Effects" lists the Pebble Project Expansion project to develop 55% of delineated resources as reasonably foreseeable for both continued exploration and development. It briefly describes that it would require an additional tailings storage, water storage, new waste rock storage, additional processing facilities, a concentrate pipeline and a deepwater loading facility. The chart states that if The Pebble Project was permitted, Pebble expansion could use and expand on the project site and transportation infrastructure, much like what has happened with other Alaskan mines where adjacent reserves are commonly owned.
Though this section contains the most detail on future projects, it does not (nor anywhere in the Draft EIS) provide or describe the effects of this future development, nor the other six projects listed as foreseeable for further exploration.
Fugitive Dust Constituents of Concern, p. 4.14-7
Fugitive Dust Constituents of Concern p. 4.14 displays "Table 4.14-1: Calculated Mine Site Post-Dust Deposition Metal Concentrations in Soil" on page 4.14-7. The table does not mention copper, which the mine would be excavating and which has proven to be toxic to the olfactory system of salmon (important for identifying predators, prey, mates, kin, and importantly, returning to their natal streams). Increases in copper concentrations of just 220 parts per billion have been shown to impact the critical sense of smell to salmon.
The concern is that thugh this is one of the most threatening, obvious, and worrisome metals, the draft has neglected to address the presence and risks of copper altogether.
North Fork Koktulli, pg. 4.24-3
North Fork Koktulli pg. 4.24-3 says, "Adult coho salmon have been documented in 4.3 miles of Tributary 1.190, although only during one aerial survey, and in low numbers (27 fish) compared to other NFK tributaries (1,746 fish) (Owl Ridge et al. 2019). Spawning has not been documented in Tributary 1.190 for any other salmon species. The majority of adult fish and spawning observations for all adult salmon occurred downstream of waters that would be directly affected by mine facilities. Within the NFK River, the majority of salmon adults and spawners were observed in the lower portions of the rivers (R2 et al. 2011), suggesting the presence of higher-quality habitat, or simply adequate quantities of suitable habitat are readily available to accommodate the numbers of salmon entering the streams without the need to distribute further upstream."
There are a few concerns here, including that one aerial survey would not supply nearly enough data, considering the wide ranging patterns of salmon during a summer season as well as from year to year. There needs to be at least a few more data points here.
In addition, the fact that "the majority of adult fish and spawning observations occurred downstream of waters that would be directly affected by mining facilities" is deeply concerning. This would put the suitable habitat directly in harms way.
Lastly, there is no citation for the suggestion that "adequate quantities of suitable habitat are readily available to accommodate the numbers of salmon entering the streams without the need to distribute further upstream." Even if this is true, this is based on numbers from one aerial count, and we do not know if this is indicative of the average, maximum, or potential numbers of returning salmon.
Untreated Contact Water Releases, Bulk and Pyritic Tailings, p. 4.27- 2
The DEIS intro to Affected Area Analysis for the Bulk and Pyritic Tailings, and Untreated Contact Water Releases, p. 4.27-2 says, "A bulk tailings release and an untreated contact water release would both follow the North Fork Koktuli (NFK) into the mainstem Koktuli, while a pyritic tailings release would follow the South Fork Koktuli (SFK) into the mainstem Koktuli. The affected environment of the NFK and SFK are fully described in Section 3.16, Surface Water Hydrology. This additional analysis area for the spill scenarios extends from the mainstem Koktuli (where the NFK and the SFK meet), into the Mulchatna River, and finally into the Nushagak River Estuary, which feeds into Nushagak Bay, part of greater Bristol Bay."
The concern is that the Nushagak River Estuary is extremely important to fish rearing. Referring to the Nushagak and Kvichak River Estuaries, "in this instance, although estuarine habitat composes only about 6% of the available juvenile habitat, the estuary appears to be the source of approximately half of the adult fish collected in the region." (Biological Characterization: An Overview of Bristol, Nushagak, and Kvichak Bays; Essential Fish Habitat, Processes, and Species Assemblages, National Marine Fisheries Service. December 2013, p. 14)
Cook Inlet Beluga Whale, Endangered Species, Diesel Spill p. 4.27- 26
DEIS Spill Plan 4.27 - Endangered Species, Cook Inlet Beluga Whale, p.4.27-26 says: The magnitude of potential impacts from the proposed diesel scenario on the Cook Inlet beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) is high, because the stock and its critical habitat are only found in Cook Inlet (NMFS 2016b).
The concern is that hough the catastrophic events such as high volume petroleum-based spills are infrequent, they may have effects on Cook Inlet beluga whale prey, whether through changes to spawning or migration patterns, direct mortality, or potential long-term sub-lethal impacts (Murphy et al 1998). On contacting spilled oil, Cook Inlet beluga whales may experience inhalation, ingestion, and skin and conjunctive tissue irritation. Injury and mortality due to physical contact, inhalation, and ingestion is possible to beluga whales, especially calves of the year and juveniles (NMFS 2016b). (DEIS 4.27-26)
Northern Sea Otter, Endangered Species, Diesel Spill, p. 4.27- 27
DEIS Spill Plan 4.27 Endangered Species, Northern Sea Otter, p.4.27- 27 says: The magnitude of potential impacts from a diesel spill on the southwestern stock of the Northern sea otter is high. The 2013 Southwest Stock of the Northern Sea Otter Recovery Plan lists oil spills and oiling as a threat and impediment to recovery.
Concern: Sea otters are particularly vulnerable to contamination by oil (Williams and Randall 1995), as they oil reduces the insulative value of their fur by 70%, resulting in hypothermia. Once the fur is fouled, the otters ingest the oil as they groom themselves. Their food source of benthic inverebrates also accumlate toxic hydrocarbons, which they in turn ingest. And because sea otters often aggregate by the hundreds many sea otters would be affected at once. Additionally, sea otters spend the majority of their time on the water’s surface, increasing exposure and direct contact with a diesel spill. (USFWS 2013)
QC addition: Sea otters are an important component of healthy nearshore environments. They are what ecologists call
a “keystone species,” exerting a strong and balancing influence on their ecosystem by driving the diversity and abundance of their prey species. (Estes, J. et al. 1978. “Sea Otter Predation and Community Organization in the Western Aleutian Islands, Alaska.” Ecology 59:822-833.)
Stellar Sea Lions, Endangered Species, Diesel Spill, p. 4.27-28
DEIS Spill Risk 4.27, Endangered Species, Stellar Sea Lions p. 4.27-28 says: Although the density of Steller sea lions in Cook Inlet is low, a spill under this scenario has a greater chance of reaching Steller sea lion critical habitat features such as rookeries, major haulouts (and their surrounding aquatic zones), and foraging areas (i.e., Elizabeth and Shaw islands to the south of the analysis area, described in further detail in Section 3.25, Threatened and Endangered Species).
The concern is that sea lions that contact diesel may become contaminated with hydrocarbons internally through inhalation, contact, and absorption through the skin; or ingestion, either directly or by consuming contaminated prey (Engelhardt 1987). If animals were to come into direct contact with the diesel, there could be longer-term, chronic impacts to the exposed animals resulting from toxicity affects.
Another concern is that the proximate role played by sea lions is that they are predators and consumers of fish and invertebrates. But they also play a dynamic and structural role within an ecosystem. The limited information available suggests that some pinnipeds perform a dynamic role by transferring nutrients and energy, or by regulating the abundance of other species. Others may play a structural role by influencing the physical complexity of their environment; or they may synthesize the marine environment and serve as indicators of ecosystem change. (Trites, A.W. 1997. The role of pinnipeds in the ecosystem. Marine Mammal Research Unit, Fisheries Centre, University of British
Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, pg. 1)
Commercial and Recreational Fishing, Diesel Spill p. 4.27-30
DEIS Spill Risk 4.27 Commercial and Recreational Fishing, p. 4.27-30 says that "depending on the timing of the spill, it could affect commercial salmon fisheries in Kamishak Bay, the health and viability of Weathervane scallop resources in the Bay, and the health and viability of the Pacific herring resource, which spawns in the Bay. Shuyak and Afognak islands are in ADF&G’s Kodiak Management Area, which hosts seasonal commercial and recreational fisheries.
The concern is that "[While] the harvest size of the Afognak District commercial fishery is quite limited ... a spill in July or August could result in commercial fishing restrictions in the area. Coho salmon and halibut are the primary targets of the area’s recreational fishery; anglers would likely avoid any areas with visible petroleum sheens on the water."
Anglers likely would not fish if there was an oil spill, costing the region money, reputation, and quality of life. There is no mention of how long the oil "sheen" to avoid would last.
Subsistence, Diesel Spill, p. 4.27-31
DEIS Spill Risk 4.27 Subsistence, p. 4.27-31 says:
The impact to subsistence resources from a diesel spill in lower Cook Inlet would vary
depending on the timing of the spill, the duration before cleanup activities, and the rate of natural weathering processes that would degrade the diesel.
The conern is that a diesel spill in lower Cook Inlet could lead to mortality and temporary displacement of marine and anadromous subsistence resources, including marine invertebrates, marine mammals, marine fish, and salmon. The release would impact subsistence resources in lower Cook Inlet, and impacts would last for a short period of time. The spill could result in concerns regarding contamination for lower Cook Inlet subsistence users, and could cause changes to harvest patterns as users avoid the area. Quick response times and communication with local communities would help mitigate these concerns. (DEIS p. 4.27-31)
Mortality of marine life is a permanent effect, and, using the Fish Values definitions of time on page 4.24-1, the consequences of those losses are more likely long-term than short.
Likelihood, Pipeline Rupture, p. 4.27-51
The DEIS Spill Risk 4.27 Scenario: Concentrate Slurry Pipeline Rupture, p. 4.27-51 says, "With consideration of the length of the proposed concentrate pipeline in Alternative 3 Concentrate Pipeline Variant, the 20-year operational life, and the heavy wall pipe or casing to be used, the resulting estimated annual failure rate for the proposed concentrate pipeline is 0.013. This equates to a probability of one or more pipeline failures of 1.3 percent in any given year; 23 percent in 20 years; or 64 percent in 78 years (AECOM 2019a). See AECOM 2019a for complete information on failure rate calculations.
The concern is that this mine would not be there for 1, 20, or 78 years. Pebble would be there in perpetuity, and a pipeline rupture would almost certainly occur.
Page 4.27-51 also states, "Recovery of the spilled slurry material would be difficult due to its fluid nature. By the time crews would be able to mobilize for a cleanup, much of the slurry could have already been flushed downstream."
The concern is that this is not an adequate response for something which is very likely to occur and which puts Bristol Bay communities, wildlife, and entire ecosystems at risk.
Commercial and Recreational Fishing, Pipeline Rupture, p. 4.27-56
The DEIS Spill Risk 4.27 Pipeline Rupture, Commercial and Recreational Fishing, p. 4.27-56 says, "...A spill into a river or stream environment could impact a fraction of the total eggs, alevin, and fry in a discrete reach of river. No immediate effect on commercial fisheries would occur, because the spill would take place outside the geographic area of commercial salmon harvests. A spill could affect the annual value of the commercial fishery to the extent that such a spill reduced the number of returning adult salmon—either in the short term via the smothering of eggs, or the longer term if the spill lowered the long-term productivity of the system by reducing the amount of spawning habitat. Any reduction in the value of the fishery is expected to be extremely limited under this scenario, given the presumption of cleanup or spill incorporation into the bedload.
The concern is that this narrows in on the geographic location of commercial harvest, and not the geographic location of a salmon's life cycle, which commercial harvesting depends on. Lake Iliamna is a crucial spawning area, (Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, Executive Summary p. 24)