Association mining

Alaska mining operations severely underestimated dangerous spills National Parks Conservation Association

A new analysis compares predicted impacts described in permitting documents to actual spill records from five major operating hard rock mines.


Decline in the Western Arctic caribou herd over the past 2 years. The industrial access road would cut off the caribou migration route.

Alaska has a long history of mining — and of underestimating the risks the industry poses to the environment.

Hard rock mines are large industrial facilities that use large volumes of hazardous and toxic materials, which may include processing chemicals, such as cyanide solution; ore concentrate, including zinc and lead; diesel fuels; blasting agents; water treatment chemicals; and other harmful substances.

The NPCA was part of a diverse coalition of tribal and conservation partners that commissioned environmental statistician Susan Lubetkin, PhD, to investigate the matter. Lubetkin reviewed decades of federal and state government records for the five major hard rock mining operations in Alaska and discovered a huge discrepancy between the number of spills predicted by companies and the actual number of incidents releasing chemicals. harmful in the environment.

The analysis found that environmental reviews had failed to adequately predict risk and that the five mines had been responsible for more than 8,150 spills in total since 1995, an average of about 300 per year. These spills released over 2,360,000 gallons and 1,930,000 pounds of hazardous materials into the environment.

The five companies did not anticipate the range of risks involved in addition to the total number of spills. None of the environmental review documents for these five mines predicted the number of possible spills for anything other than transportation-related spills, and truck accidents alone caused 23 times more actual spills than the companies did. had planned it.

Lubetkin offers comprehensive data and numerous recommendations to protect Alaska’s beloved lands and waters from further harm, urging the State of Alaska to strengthen its permitting processes, update its spill database and to better track the environmental consequences of hazardous spills.

“I hope I can inspire the State of Alaska and others to increase their demands for scientific rigor by pointing out an area where previous licensing documents were lacking and their predicted impacts were flawed.” — Dr. Susan Lubetkin

Dangerous Spills from Mining in Alaska