Report Says Donlin Mine Breach Would Threaten Fish, Communities

The following press release is courtesy of Mother Kuskokwim:

REPORT: Dam breach at Donlin Gold mine would pose significant threats to Alaskan communities

Tribal leaders call on Biden Administration for new EIS  

Bethel, AK – A new report released today by a team of scientists and engineers found that a failure or breach of the dam designed to hold toxic mine waste at the proposed Donlin Gold Mine would pose significant threats to downstream communities and create long-term, devastating ecological impacts along the Kuskokwim River watershed. The Mother Kuskokwim Tribal Coalition will travel with Tribal Government leaders to hand deliver the report next week to permitting officials and members of congress in Washington DC next week.

Donlin Gold LLC has plans to develop the world’s largest gold mine in Southwestern Alaska’s Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, one of the world’s largest river deltas and a critical ecosystem rich in fish, wildlife and plants that sustains Alaska Native people and their ways of life throughout the region.

The final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the Trump Administration looked only at a minimal scenario of a dam breach — a spill of just 0.5 percent of the tailings dam capacity. In contrast, recent mine disasters like the Mount Polley spill in 2014 and the Fundão spill in 2015 released more than 30 percent and 80 percent of the tailings volume, respectively. Alaska Native tribes and organizations have called on the Biden Administration to take a closer look at the potential effects of the Donlin gold mine on the communities and habitat of the region.

“The report released today reflects the work the Corps should have conducted before approving permits for the Donlin mine,” said Sophie Swope, executive director of the Mother Kuskokwim Tribal Coalition, an organization supporting the Alaska Native tribes opposed to the Donlin Gold Mine development. “The U.S. Army Corps must conduct a more thorough EIS that accounts for a much larger failure of the tailings storage facility. Without this analysis, governments at all levels will be unable to adequately plan to prevent loss of life, contamination of the river systems, and habitat loss.”

According to the report, the Army Corps failed to “evaluate a complete and catastrophic failure scenario consistent with recent tailings dam failures, such as Mount Polley in British Columbia, Canada, or Brumadinho in Minas Gerais, Brazil.” The analysis conducted by Lynker Intel modeled for a 5%, 10% and 90% failure of the TSF at Donlin gold mine.

The Lynker report was commissioned by Native Movement and Mother Kuskokwim, and is similar to an analysis commissioned by Bristol Bay fishers in 2020 to develop a hydrologic model of a tailings dam failure in Bristol Bay to communicate the risks posed by the Pebble Mine project to the Bristol Bay watershed. Like that report, this analysis models the effects from a hypothetical spill or failure of the tailings storage facility along with examining other environmental impacts posed by the mine.

“Both Mount Polley and Brumadinho have smaller tailings storage facilities to Donlin, yet the administration failed to conduct a model for dam breaching aligned with these two known storage failures,” said Swope. “The Biden Administration must conduct a thorough EIS that looks at the potential risks. Lives are on the line; we can’t afford to cut corners.”