Last week, opponents of the proposed Pebble Mine spoke to a joint meeting of the Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce. They highlighted concerns about the project’s potential impacts farther away from the actual mine and closer to the planned shipping operations in southwest Cook Inlet, where instead of salmon, opponents are worried about bears and a growing bear viewing industry. This week brought Pebble’s rebuttal.
On Wednesday, the chambers offered the floor to one of Pebble’s lead spokespeople and former president of the state’s university system, Mark Hamilton. He discounted the latest opposition to the mine from the bear viewing industry. The main worry there is that a 38 mile long haul road will disrupt the usual travel patterns of bears around the McNeil river.
“Pebble mine is not going to impact the bears. Do they migrate? They probably do. Can they cross the road? Probably. It’s just the flavor of the week, been investigated upside down and backwards from the beginning. At this stage of the game, the probability of someone going well what about the (blank) that hasn’t been studied before...highly unlikely.”
He noted certain areas nearby that allow bear hunting and said there wouldn’t be any hunting on the private property of the mine operations, but didn’t mention anything about the potential for increased bear encounters with workers or possible shootings in defense of life or property.
Supplying energy to the proposed site will be a huge undertaking in itself, with the mine alone planning on a 270 megawatt electric plant, to be supplied by Cook Inlet natural gas. That’s raised concerns about what it could mean for utility customers in Southcentral who rely on that same energy supply.
“Both Donlin and Pebble will be what really amount to anchor tenants and they are very excited about it, see no problem in providing that gas...I’m not a gas economist, but...the concept of having an anchor tenant that would smooth out the seasonal flow (of gas from Cook Inlet), I tend to think that they’re probably saying the right thing.”
Hilcorp is the major player for gas production from the Inlet, and even though CINGSA is working on expanding storage capacity in Kenai to continue to meet high winter demand, other companies aren’t finding gas supplies so easy to come by. Nutrien is still looking for steady gas supplies for its long-shuttered fertilizer plant and Marathon has applied to import gas to meet its demands at the Andeavor refinery in Nikiski. Hamilton wouldn’t say what company they’re working with to secure those gas supplies.
“Let’s just say this; we have talked to the people who have the capability of discerning whether or not there’s enough gas and whether or not they can deliver the quantities of gas that we and Donlin would expect and they’re comfortable. But those are business discussions.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released its draft environmental impact statement on the proposed mine and is accepting public comments until the end of June.