The economic benefits of the massive copper, gold, and molybdenum Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, seem incontrovertible. According to IHS Global Insight, it will create some 4,700 jobs in Alaska during its construction phase, another 2,900 over a 30-year production cycle, and an additional 2,750 through various subsequent development phases.
In the lower 48 states, it will create another 37,000 jobs during the same periods for a total of some 47,500 jobs producing some $2.4 billion annually to the economy and $9 billion in new state and federal tax revenues.
Pebble is the largest undeveloped copper-gold-molybdenum deposit in the world, according to Northern Dynasty Minerals (NYSEMKT: NAK ) , Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO ) , and Anglo American, the project's joint owners, with the potential to produce as much as 55 billion pounds of copper, 67 million ounces of gold, and 3.3 billion pounds of molybdenum over its near-80-year life.
Yet left unstated has been the toll it would take on the environment. Bristol Bay is at the headwaters of a major spawning ground that sees 40 million salmon swim in every year and a report by the EPA contends if the project is approved it would create catastrophic environmental damage. Of course, the regulatory agency jumped the gun a bit since permitting hasn't been sought yet so its having spent an exorbitant $2.4 million studying an issue that hasn't even come before it has the agency facing charges of being biased and using flawed data and methodologies to reach its conclusions.
Since July 2007, the joint venture has spent about $680 million on developing the project, which could be worth about half a trillion dollars if approved. Northern Dynasty expects to initiate permitting before the end of the year and the partners will release a national economic impact study along with workforce development plans and project planning updates.
But the U.K.'s BBC will be broadcasting a video today calling into question the harm the project would cause to both the environment and the salmon industry already existing there and wondering whether some resources are best left untapped.
That's the same conclusion reached previously by jewelry maker Tiffany (NYSE: TIF ) , which surprisingly weighed in on the issue through a joint statement with Trout Unlimited opposing moving forward with the plan:
For Tiffany & Co. -- and we believe for many of our fellow retail jewelers -- this means we must look to other places to responsibly source our gold."
Other jewelers including Zale (NYSE: ZLC ) and Helzberg Diamonds joined the so-called "No Dirty Gold" campaign several years ago to oppose Pebble. Other unlikely opponents coming together include gunslingers Sturm, Ruger (NYSE: RGR ) and Savage Arms through the Sportsman's Alliance for Alaska.
While the jewelers have said they'll boycott the precious metals mined from the project, it raises the question of why such practices in other environmentally sensitive but resource-rich countries like Africa aren't similarly opposed.
Mining is coming under attack all around the globe as practices are called into question that have for too long ignored environmental concerns and the lives of indigenous peoples who live in the region. With disparate groups coalescing around opposition to Pebble Mine, it may become yet another victim of a global uprising against mining, regardless of the economic benefits that will be derived.