The debate–or is it a battle—over the Pebble Mine is becoming so intense that real wounds are being inflicted. Reviewers are resigning and being fired. The Pebble partnership is pressuring Jeremy Haile and his fellows at Knight Piesold into publishing tomes on past tailings failures. Politicians demand full reports on secret deliberations. And the EPA experts are, no doubt, still polishing the prose of their findings. Leaving bloggers to blog.
In all this debate, I notice a vast misconception that colors the propaganda of both sides. The battle has been drawn, simplistically, as a fight between science and politics. Kind of echoing the fight between science and religion.
I beg to differ: this is a fight between engineering and politics. Or maybe between technology and religion. Not between science and politics.
The reasons for this perspective: opening, operating, and closing a mine involves no science—BUT IT DOES INVOLVE LOTS OF ENGINEERING.
See this link for a copy of Jeremy’s latest called Mitigating Risk in the Design and Construction of Tailings Dams in Alaska.
There is lots of engineering in this document. There is no science to speak of. This is not to put down the document, it is rather to explain it. For there is precious little science associated with the design, construction, operation, and closure of a tailings facility. There is a huge amount of engineering involved in such activities. And Jeremy does a fine job of explaining the engineering–as one would expect and anticipate.
My old professor use to say that engineering is the art of applying science. He said that engineering is an exercise of human judgement founded on a scientific understanding. But at basics, he always steadfastly maintained that engineering is an art, not a science.
Thus the battle over Pebble may be seen as a battle between Art and Politics. Where politics is the battle for access to resources.
Now I admits that you may need some science to predict what impact an engineering works like a tailings dam will have on the environment. Although to judge by recent events involving so-called experts, personal opinions (religion) color all pronouncements and there is no such thing as a truly objective scientific pronouncement.
Which leaves us with the interesting conclusion: when art, engineering, technology, religion, and opinion failed to agree, all we are left with is politics. For politics, when well done, is ultimately the only way for people to live and prosper together.
And a final word on Jeremy’s latest document. It is rather dull, being a mere repeat of old stuff long since published in many other places. In my opinion, the sad thing is that he fails to deal with the only issue that is, I submit, important: the long-term, post-closure performance of the new geomorphic forms he rightly says can be built.
I mean, Anglo American long ago abandoned most of its old slimes dams in South Africa. Or am I mistaken and they are deep involved for the long-term care of their many old tailings dams. If they are I am sure we would appreciate another Haile on this topic.