Spend even a short while in Alaska, and you’ll begin to see them. They adorn water bottles and truck caps, laptops and storefronts, boats and banjos. Eventually, you notice them cropping up outside the state too, and soon, even in the shimmering heat of the Utah desert, you can’t escape the white circular stickers slashed with red and printed with two words: Pebble Mine.
The proposed Pebble Mine in the headwaters of Southwest Alaska’s Kvichak and Nushagak rivers has become a rallying cry around which an unlikely coalition has formed: Native tribes, commercial fishermen, conservative politicians and treehugging backpackers from “outside” (many of whom probably couldn’t point to the Kvichak river on a map if you paid them), all united against what could become the largest open-pit mine in North America. Such unified opposition against resource extraction is rare in Alaska, but salmon are a big deal here. Many people fear that pollution from Pebble Mine could affect one of the world’s last great salmon runs, as well as the cultures and jobs that depend on it.
Despite one of the most prolific sticker-distributing campaigns in recent memory, the fight against Pebble Mine has more recently been been shaped by simple market forces. The prices of gold and copper – both of which would be mined there – dropped sharply this summer. Mining experts predict a rise in copper demand, but a continued drop in gold’s value.
Then, on Sept. 16, one of two mining companies invested in the project, Anglo American, announced it would withdraw to pursue lower risk ventures, leaving Canadian company Northern Dynasty as sole owner. Northern Dynasty’s stock immediately fell 38 percent. In a conference call with the press, Northern Dynasty officials said that while they’re not giving up, they’ve been searching for new financial partners for years without luck. Whether they’ll find any depends mostly on cold, hard numbers. Here’s a breakdown:
- $300 billion: Projected value of copper, gold and molybdenum beneath the surface of the proposed Pebble Mine site, located above Bristol Bay in Southwest Alaska.
- $1 billion: Projected economic activity that could be generated by Pebble Mine annually.
- $480 million: Economic activity generated by Bristol Bay’s natural resources, mostly salmon.
- $2.4 million: Amount spent by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to study the impact of Pebble Mine on Bristol Bay watersheds, at the behest of Native tribes. The EPA’s preliminary report released in May 2012 largely supported concerns that mine pollution could affect salmon runs.
- 220,000: Estimated number of anti-Pebble Mine stickers distributed by the Renewable Resources Coalition and Save Bristol Bay.
- 4,490: Direct jobs that could be created in Alaska over 30 years by Pebble Mine.
- 11,500: Workers employed by the Bristol Bay salmon industry at the peak of the season.
- 25 - 100 years: Potential life span of Pebble Mine.
- 4,000: Years that Yupik Eskimo, Aleut and Athabaskan tribes have been fishing for salmon in Bristol Bay.
- 52: Percent of above tribes’ diet made up of salmon.
- 46: Percent of the world’s sockeye salmon that spawn in Bristol Bay.
- 37.5 million: Average number of salmon that spawn in the region each year.
- 27.5 million: Number of those salmon caught by commercial fishermen.
- 85: Percent of Bristol Bay fishermen who oppose the mine, according to a 2011 non-partisan poll.
- 50: Percent share of Pebble Mine investment owned by British mining company Anglo American before it dropped out of the project on Sept. 16.
- $541 million: Amount that Anglo American had already invested in Pebble Mine.
- 100: Percent share of Pebble Mine now owned by Northern Dynasty. (Roughly 20 percent of Northern Dynasty is owned by global mining company Rio Tinto.)
- $21: Price per share of Northern Dynasty stock on the New York Stock Exchange in February 2011.
- $1.35: Price per share of Northern Dynasty stock on the morning of Sept. 16.
- $80.10: Price per share on Sept. 16 of Tiffany & Co., which has pledged not to buy gold from Pebble Mine.
- $1,921: Price per ounce of gold in Sept. 2011.
- $840: Predicted price per ounce of gold in 2015 by ABN Amro Group Nevada.
- $0: Assets of Northern Dynasty without Pebble Mine minerals, according to Alaska mining economist Paul Metz.
Krista Langlois is an editorial intern at High Country News. Follow @KristaLanglois2.