Alaska's earthquakes: Another reason to stop Pebble

The Bristol Bay region of Alaska is wet, wild and full of fish. Photo by Fly Out Media

By Jenny Weis

A 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck southcentral Alaska’s population center in Anchorage on Friday, Nov. 30 at 8:29 am.

While the earth and my house thundered and moved around me, I could hear bowls flying off shelves, pictures falling from the walls, and drawers rocking open. Despite this, my house fared well compared to other homes, roads and buildings around the city and neighboring communities, which were totally lost due to unstable ground or the amount of damage. A number of schools will not reopen the rest of the year, and the full extent of the damage is still being assessed.

In fact, it was recently reported by the Alaska Earthquake Center that 2018 marks the first year we have ever recorded 50,000 earthquakes in Alaska. Obviously, Alaska is a big place, but seismic activity in southcentral and southwest regions of the state are persistent, and immensely powerful.

As a part of the team working to protect the incredible Bristol Bay fishery from Pebble mine, I couldn’t help but immediately think of the proposed mine soon after the earth stopped shaking so violently. If built, Pebble would need to store billions of gallons of toxic sludge created in the mining process behind an earthen dam taller than the Hoover Dam… forever. Without accident.

A magnitude 5.7 earthquake struck just east of Lake Iliamna (the Pebble deposit’s southern neighbor) less than 10 days prior to the 7.0 near Anchorage. As Pebble’s phase-one permit advances as I type this, I can’t help but think nature is trying to chime in on this one — warning Alaskans about the incredible power of the land upon which we reside.

An Alaska geologist who has done significant work at the Pebble deposit recently wrote an opinion article that had me worried my fears aren’t far off. Essentially, if the agency reviewing Pebble’s current permit application, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the State of Alaska let Pebble get away with their current incomplete studies, their dams might be designed to fail in future earthquakes. And even if they plan for identified faults, that may not be enough — the fault that produced the Anchorage quake was unknown to science. Apparently, that’s not uncommon.

In short, Alaska's seismic potential is another strong indicator of why storing billions of gallons of mine waste behind a human-made, earthen dam is a terrible idea anywhere, not to mention in the headwaters of the most productive remaining wild salmon fishery on the planet.

It’s hard to explain the ferocity of an earthquake that large until you feel one — it’s like the earth is trying to buck you off, and the one I just experienced was scales of magnitude smaller than quakes that have hit southern Alaska in many residents’ lifetime. Even in areas without seismic risk, the mining industry has a long history of accidents. Worse, Pebble really has no reason to look out for the people of Bristol Bay, Alaska, or anything other than their bottom line. No human institution can guarantee “no accidents,” and the fact that even a small spill would spell disaster is concerning, to say the least.

There are so many reasons Pebble is the wrong mine proposed in the wrong place. Now I know first-hand why the earthquake potential is yet another one of the major reasons to say, “No” to Pebble mine.

Please stick with us as we enter 2019. All hands are needed on deck to stop Pebble’s phase-one mining permit in its tracks. Stay tuned at and our Facebook page.

Jenny is the Alaska communications director. She lives in Anchorage.


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