Mining Decisions: Developing New Perspectives on Mineral Extraction

Katie Chenu, Seattle Central Community College
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Summary

This activity is intended for students in an introductory earth science class. Students view perspectives from various stakeholders with respect to a local mining project. Debate and discussion, based on lecture, reading, watching the film Red Gold, reflection and research will highlight social justice issues, environmental impacts and resource potential and monetary gain regarding one resource.

Learning Goals

Learning goals include:

  • understanding the economic, social and ecological value of resources;
  • realizing the role of a community in land use decisions;
  • understanding tradeoffs in local versus global sourcing;
  • mapping the complete life cycle of various mineral resources; and
  • recognizing the historical context of resource extraction.

Context for Use

This activity was written for a class size between 25-30, first- or second-year college students in an introductory earth science class such as Energy and Resources, Environmental Issues or Environmental Geology. The activity included is meant for several lecture and lab class sessions of 1.5-2 hours. Aside from the film Red Gold, no equipment is necessary for this activity. It will be fairly easy to modify this activity for other types of sustainability discussions and bioregions besides the Pacific Northwest.

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity includes:

Lecture: A lecture is provided before watching and reflecting on the documentary film Red Gold to explain the various perspectives on mining. Red Gold highlights the community struggle for and against a large copper, gold, and molybdenum mine at the headwaters of a prime sockeye salmon run in Alaska. The film highlights the perspectives of the mining company as well as the local commercial fishermen, sport fishermen, and subsistence fishermen. The lecture portion of the activity provides an explanation of the life cycle of salmon and the type of habitat they require. The lecture also highlights the current federal regulations in the United States for air and water quality as well as hazardous waste storage - all issues with large mining activities. The lecture also provides information on foreign copper mining activities, where no such environmental regulations, fair land acquisitions, or worker-rights exist.

Film: The film Red Gold is a 50 minute documentary highlighting the different viewpoints on the proposal for a copper mine (Pebble Mine) near Bristol Bay, Alaska. The film provides both viewpoints but is biased in favor of not proceeding with the mine.

Advertisements: Two advertisements can also be shown to help explain the pro-mining argument. One is from the nonprofit, Truth about Pebble, explaining what the project is and this organization's commitment to environmental protection (http://www.truthaboutpebble.org/). The other, from the Pebble Partnership, provides some propaganda for the coexistence of miners and fishermen in the same area (http://www.pebblepartnership.com/multimedia).

Scientific article: Many studies explore the relationship between mining wastes and impacts on fish. One such study explains the potential direct and indirect impacts of this particular copper mine. The study provides much needed background information on the habitat alteration proposed by the mine. In addition, the study discusses other mines and their failure to maintain water quality in surrounding watersheds. ("Potential Impacts of the Proposed Pebble Mine on Fish Habitat and Fishery Resources of Bristol Bay," William J. Hauser Fish Talk, Consulting September, 2007)

Reflection: After watching the film and advertisements, reading the article, and hearing the lecture, students are asked to write a reflection for the next class period. They are provided with additional background information, such as this bay being opened to oil drilling, the amount of money to be paid to Alaskans from the copper mine, etc., to prompt their responses. Students are asked to write between 1-2 pages in response to the following questions:

1. Do you think the mine should be allowed to open?

2. Do you think that certain voices in the Pebble Mine argument have more weight than others?

Discussion: In the following class, students meet in small groups for 20-30 minutes to discuss their reflection.

(Optional) Project: After these activities, students are assigned to research the life cycle of one mineral from a select list of minerals. This has been appropriate for an Environmental Geology class but could be modified for other classes as well. Students write a 3-4 page research paper on how their chosen mineral is mined, manufactured, consumed, and disposed of or recycled/reused. They are encouraged to include the perspectives, both local and foreign, on the environmental impact of these mines. They are also encouraged to consider when and where those minerals were mined in the United States and how much is now imported from abroad. They should consider if those minerals are arriving from countries with few environmental regulations or worker rights.

Presentations: Students present their research on mineral life cycles to groups of 4-5 other students and they are graded by their peers. Students are encouraged to bring up the sustainability aspects of mineral extraction and the ethical dilemma of "our environment or theirs."

Assessment

Students are graded on their written reflections, discussion participation, project papers and by their peers in the group presentations. The rubric for the group presentation is decided by the class based on their answer to the question, "What makes a good presentation?"

References and Resources

Paper: Potential Impacts of the Proposed Pebble Mine on Fish Habitat and Fishery Resources of Bristol Bay, William J. Hauser Fish Talk, Consulting September, 2007 (available on the web at: http://www.renewableresourcescoalition.org/sites/www.renewableresourcescoalition.org/files/HauserSep07.pdf)

Website: Injury Trends in Mining, United States Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration, http://www.msha.gov/mshainfo/factsheets/mshafct2.htm

Film: Red Gold, Felt Soul Media, 2008, http://www.redgoldfilm.com/. A 50 minute documentary showing various perspectives on the Pebble Mine project.

Bristol Bay Alliance, http://www.bristolbayalliance.com/. The Bristol Bay Alliance is a "group of fishermen, business owners and local citizens working to help ensure that the people who live, work, and play in the Bristol Bay region have the most influential voice of any group regarding the future of our land and waters." The website provides mining facts, links and several documents (including maps) about the negative impacts of irresponsible mines on the environment.

Pebble Mine Alaska, http://www.pebbleminealaska.com/. Pebble Mine Alaska is a website that "contains a quick breakdown of what is being proposed to the people, some alternative that should be considered, an active forum and a huge volume of information about protecting Bristol Bay from any conceivable future disasters from the mining operations."

Pebble Limited Partnership, http://www.pebblepartnership.com/. The site provides information on the state of the mine and information about the project, a joint venture between Anglo American and Northern Dynasty.

Truth About Pebble, http://www.truthaboutpebble.org/. Truth About Pebble is a "nonprofit citizens' organization that supports the proposed Pebble Project in Southwest Alaska."

Mines and Communities, http://www.minesandcommunities.org/list.php?f=9. This website contains stories and news headlines from around to the world in order to "expose the social, economic, and environmental impacts of mining, particularly as they affect Indigenous and land-based peoples. Global in scope, the site was set up in 2001 by organisations and individuals from seven different countries who met in London to demand far greater accountability and transparency on the part of the minerals' industry." It is useful for making the argument for mining locally, despite the environmental costs. Washington

Department of Ecology, The Salmon Life Cycle, http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/sea/pugetsound/species/salmon_cyc.html. This website demonstrates the habitat needs of salmon throughout their life cycle.

Pebble Mine Project Map, Pebble Partnership, http://www.pebblepartnership.com/documents/regional-map.


Evergreen State College