More “expert” comments from the EPA Bristol Bay Peer Reviewers as culled from recent news reports. None are particularly insightful or grammatical. One even uses near-profanity: hogwash. Now that is a nice term, more common in Iowa than Alaska. Certainly, it is more acceptable in polite circles than the equivalent from Montana or other beef-producing places. Or even from urban areas plagued by increasing populations and decreasing funds to deal with the ultimate human wastes.
Before you wade into the mire of hogwash aka expert opinions, let me preface their perspectives by a note or two of my own.
First, they all seem to demand a full and complete mine plan before they feel able to evaluate the EPA report. It is fair to ask for this. But they forget that there is no such thing as a complete 70-year mine, mine plan. Dirk Van Zyl pretty much asceeds to that in his comment. Time, attitude, demand, and technology will change. As Mike Davies has pointed out, in bad times attention to the mine’s waste disposal facilities wanes and some years after a mining economic downturn, there is an upturn in tailings facility failures. Who can say what will happen if the demand for gold falls and Pebble is not the most profitable of Anglo’s operations.
Second, they seem to think that “modern” mine and mine waste disposal practices are perfect and will ensure no failure or at least that the potential negatives can be fully “mitigated.” Thus they seem to be demanding a full assurance that there is a zero probability of failure or escape of potentially deleterious constituents from the mine in seventy years. Now if that is indeed what they are demanding, they are the mines worst enemies, for no study, no professor, nor any consultant will ever be able to guarantee seventy years of mining and zero probability of failure or contaminant escape. And nobody in their right mind will give a guarantee of such performance for the long term, after closure.
Third, they seemed to equate sports fishermen with mining impacts. Quaint but misdirected. Fact is fishing in Bristol Bay by sportsmen had a negative impact many years ago and had to be curtailed, so our venerable professors once again err in their direction and affirm the harm that unbridled exploitation of the commons can wrought.
So here an extract from the report on their comments. I comment further below, so persist if you seek more opinion.
“We do have concerns of course with the fact that because this is theoretical, because you don’t know exactly how it’s being built, you really can’t evaluate with any degree of specificity what the potential effects are associated with that,” said Dr. William Stubblefield, a senior professor at Oregon State University and an expert in environmental toxicology. “It doesn’t contain a lot of detail about how mitigative strategies could and potentially will reduce exposures.”
University of British Columbia professor of mine engineering and noted expert on sustainable mineral development Dr. Dirk van Zyl agreed: “I don’t think as given that this scenario is – it’s neither realistic or sufficient.”
“Probably my biggest concern is the (EPA’s) idea of using good practice versus best practice. I cannot see looking the people in the eye and say ‘Sorry guys, I’ve used good practice, I don’t care about best practice.’ And to me that is really not the way that any mine in this scenario would be developed.”
Dr. John Stednick, a watershed science professor from the University of Colorado, said the draft BBWA report does not achieve a sufficient standard of scientific credibility or completeness for the EPA to consider a regulatory action under the Clean Water Act. “The document ostensibly was used or going to be used to determine if there would be a waiver under the 404c provision of the Clean Water Act,” he said. ”And it does not begin to address that, nor can we make a conclusion or an inference whether it does violate the 404c provisions.”
Stednick also said the speed with which the EPA developed the watershed assessment is a concern: “Many comments yesterday were on the timing of the document, and I think it would be advantageous for the credibility of the report for EPA to address it.”
Peer reviewers took exception to the EPA’s risk characterization of various ‘failure’ scenarios at a modern mine developed in southwest Alaska, as well as the draft BBWA report’s attempt to quantify the consequences of such hypothetical failures.
“I was unpersuaded by the statistical probabilities that were assigned to various scenarios, like the possibility of a TSF (tailings storage facility) failure,” said Dr. Charles Slaughter, an adjunct professor at the University of Idaho and expert in watershed management. “You know that was just hogwash.”
Similarly, Dr. Paul Whitney, a consultant from Portland, Oregon with an expertise in wildlife ecology and ecological risk assessments, said the environmental effects EPA predicted as a result of a potential TSF failure were not credible.
“How did they figure that out?” he said. “It’s just beyond me. How was that conclusion reached? And if such a conclusion was possible for subsistence resources on the data available, why couldn’t such a conclusion be reached for sports fisheries and commercial fisheries?”
Whitney and other reviewers also expressed concern about the many errors of fact, omission, calculation and citation in the draft BBWA report. “If I’m an ecologist and I can pick this stuff up, in errors in the papers that are cited, and then the inconsistencies from the appendix into the assessment, I just wonder how many more errors have been made.”
“So with this hypothetical mine, it strikes me that there’s a little bit of a lack of fairness,” said Dr. Phyllis Weber Scannell, a retired biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, “because it doesn’t give then an opportunity for a potential mining company or potential mine to come back with any sort of procedures that could be done that we – or someone, permitters, anybody – could evaluate and say that would lessen this risk.”
The sad fact is that this exercise of peer review has derailed the EPA. There is no doubt but that the EPA cannot now act on the basis of these comments. The EPA and it anti-Pebble project are now back to square one. Their premise, unstated, that they might get support from those chosen by a consulting company that incorrectly designated Dirk Van Zyl as a biogeochemist, is proven false.
The adversarial system that is public debate in the United States, demands a full hearing on the following issues:
The plan by Anglo and its partners to develop the mine and how they will ensure seventy and more years of mining with no mishaps.
The story told to substantiate the claim that in perpetuity, no natural process will lead to migration of constituents from an abandoned mine at rates that exceed the capacity of nature to receive them with zero harm or change.
How closure and post-closure will be funded at no expense to future generations.
The statistics of mine failure and tailings facility failure of so-called modern waste piles in civilized places. (This will involve more honesty that I believe is possible–but we can only hope.)
Millions have no doubt been spent by Anglo in studies and designs. They have employed many consultants and revised their work and reports often. That is their duty and right.
What I wonder is where we will find neutral experts able to impartially judge the results. For it is clear that impartial, expert review will be essential. And none of those thus far employed are candidates. I once listed in a posting on this blog the people whose opinion I would trust. Commenters on that posting accused me of seeking work for friends of mine. I did not reply to those accusation. The commentors were so blunt that I removed the names from the posting lest I offended them—now I cannot even recall whom I listed. But now let me say the accusations were wrong. Many of those I listed care not for me or my opinion. Many are competitors. But I stand by the list. Others can and will have to prepare their own lists. And get those on their lists to opine.
Or we can decide to proceed on the basis of public opinion and the attitudes and fears of those of the place of the mine. Not scientific, but equally as respectable an approach as a group of hesitating academics.
Or we could find experts. On which topic, I repeat that I belive there are no longer any neutral experts in this mine. All are prejudiced by their life stories and sources of income. And there are simply not enough bloggers to do the job.