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Understanding Pebble is essential: Keystone process is independent, useful

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Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 11:54 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

Community perspective

Development of a mine at the Pebble deposit represents a significant opportunity for Alaska. It has also garnered a fair amount of concern — some warranted and some exacerbated by paid opponents and inflammatory television ads. As part of Pebble’s planning process, we undertook a significant study program to ensure we knew more about the local environment than any mine in our state’s history. It is also why we committed to release our environmental research for comment and critique before we set forth to finalize a mine plan and in advance of permitting for this project.

To date, that has meant more than eight years of research, involving thousands of man hours at the cost of more than $120 million, and the public release earlier this year of our initial five-year study program with more than 27,000 pages of scientific information. While a wide range of environmental studies continue, this first data phase is available for review at www.pebbleresearch.com.

During six days in early October, The Keystone Center, a respected firm engaged by the Pebble Partnership, brought together an independent, all-volunteer panel of scientists to review and critique our environmental work from 2004 through 2008. These well-credentialed scientists received no compensation as they dedicated hours of their professional time to undertake this task.

The Keystone-led science review process was not a comfortable endeavor, as it opened up our work to public review and comment before we have finalized our approach for Pebble or applied for permits. The science panels recognized the significance of the work conducted and offered critiques and recommendations for us to consider as we move forward that will help us improve the scientific underpinning of our project. On behalf of the Pebble team, I commend their efforts and thank them for their time.

The independence of this process was clearly on display for those who tuned in to the proceedings. For those who missed it, 360 North recorded all six days of discussion, available via DVD or on The Keystone Center’s website.

This research and transparency represents an unprecedented step for openness for a mining company and has all taken place prior to finalizing a mine plan or a permit application being filed. This process was not about approvals — it was about sharing our work.

It is interesting to note that while we have taken the unusual step to open our studies to public comments and critique, we are being criticized because we paid for the research.

Well, of course we paid for the research. This approach is common practice for resource development projects across Alaska. We sought experts in many environmental and social science fields to undertake this work. They brought tremendous experience and technical expertise to conduct these baseline studies, which will help us create a responsible plan.

It is ironic that many of those opposed to Pebble who are highly critical of our research, conducted in the field over the past five years, have widely applauded an extremely rushed process conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency in advance of a permit application.

Many continue to ignore the fact that the rushed EPA study was not based upon any real mine plan, or any plan that would ever be submitted for review. Instead the EPA evaluation was based upon a theoretical mine plan, antiquated and pre-EPA standards, with no mitigation measures — a mine plan that we would never submit and no agency in our state or nation would ever accept.

That’s not the way to conduct any fair study. These two processes were vastly different.

We have taken an important step in attempting to create an open process, and we ask those attacking it to join us in a more productive and constructive manner.

Pebble represents a substantial opportunity for Alaskans, as it is a significant asset owned by the people of Alaska, and we must all carefully consider this vast body of science as we move to the next phase for Pebble.

John Shively is CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership. He has lived in Alaska since 1965, when he first arrived as a VISTA volunteer. He worked at NANA Regional Corp. on development of the Red Dog Mine and served as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources under former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles.

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