Mining and resource development projects in Alaska are facing increased scrutiny as environmental concerns remain a focal point for federal, state and local governments as well as the people that they serve. Pebble Mine and the Bristol Bay region are no exception as the Pebble Partnership moves toward the permitting process for its mine operations.
"Pebble Mine will be among the most scrutinized projects to go through permitting on a state and federal level based on the nature of the way the conversation has progressed so far," says Mike Heatwole, vice president of public affairs for the Pebble Partnership. "We recognize that the regulators involved in the process live in our state and that with the bombardment of information so far about the project, it will be an intensively scrutinized process."
Former ADEC Engineer Joins Team
Former Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation engineer, Dan Easton, joined the Pebble team as vice president of environmental affairs in the fall of 2012. In his 20 years with the ADEC, Easton dedicated his efforts to protecting the Alaska environment and plans to continue to do so with his work at Pebble Mine.
"When I interviewed for this job, I discussed at length with Pebble managers the extent that the environmental team would influence the design of the project," says Easton. "I wanted to make sure that the vision for Pebble and the environmental concerns were at the forefront of the team's mind and that it wasn't just something that was tacked on at the end."
According to Easton, it is an all too common practice for an environmental team to be handed a design and told to get the project permitted. However, this was not a business model he was comfortable with--and this was something that he and Pebble saw eye-to-eye on. "I think an evolution that we are seeing--not just for Pebble, but in other industries--is a more mature awareness toward environmental concerns," Heatwole says.
Eight Years of Research
Pebble Partnership has spent the last eight years conducting research to better understand the environment of Bristol Bay and how they can operate successful mine operations with minimal impact to Alaska's delicate ecosystem. "In order to design an environmentally responsible mine plan, you have to have a lot of solid environmental baseline data," Heatwole says.
"Before I came to work at Pebble, I didn't understand the level of effort to understand the environment that was being put forth by the Pebble...