Last month, the long-awaited draft environmental report for the Ambler Road was released to the public by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Now that the report is public, Alaskans have an opportunity to weigh in on the road through public meetings or submitting comments through the BLM website. As a company that is committed to responsibly developing resources in the Ambler mining region, Ambler Metals has carefully reviewed this extensive document. What follows are areas of the report that I believe have either been overlooked in news reports or deserve additional scrutiny.
First and foremost, the report raises the possibility that the road could eventually be open to the public, raising unwarranted fears from local communities. It’s important to reiterate that the road will be a private industrial-access-only road. This is a top priority for the local communities and one Ambler Metals takes very seriously. Contrary to the report, there is substantial precedent in Alaska for strict industrial-private access roads that have operated for decades without significant unauthorized use, such as the Red Dog Road and Pogo Mine Road. Further, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) has committed to working with local communities to establish long-term rules for use of the road after it is no longer used for industrial purposes.
Far from posing a threat, the Ambler Road would bring numerous benefits for local Native communities, creating good-paying jobs and attracting economic investment. These communities need these jobs particularly as the Red Dog mine prepares to close over the next decade. I raise this because the report doesn’t give enough attention to the importance of the economic benefits and the direct and indirect jobs that the project will create. Critically, the road will also deliver more affordable access to goods and fuel in places where a gallon of gas can cost as much as $18. However, the report does point out that emergency and law enforcement services will be able to better access these rural communities, while also easing access to the internet and telemedicine care.
Activists who are opposed to the road often overstate the environmental impact, and it’s disappointing to see this report make similar exaggerated claims. Suggesting this project will damage fish habitat and caribou herds is simply not accurate, plus it contradicts other areas of the report. For example, the report points out there will be culverts that will allow fish passage without any interruption. There should also be recognition that the conservation efforts led by the Red Dog mine have actually improved the health of local streams and restored fish populations. Alaska has demonstrated that mining, road construction and conservation can go hand in hand.
The report also cites multiple studies stating that the migration routes of caribou herds along the Dalton Highway, for example, have not changed. The fact is caribou herd populations have natural, cyclical changes, and there is no scientific consensus on what leads to population increases or decreases. Responsible resource development shouldn’t be scapegoated, particularly when the minerals are needed for technologies to fight climate change — which is the greatest threat to caribou and all wildlife.
To that point, while the report points to some impact from carbon emissions resulting from road use, it does not take into account the emissions reductions resulting from clean energy technologies that will be made from critical minerals produced in the region. These minerals are crucial to reaching climate goals without relying on adversarial nations like China and would be produced under some of the most stringent environmental regulations anywhere in the world. Those critical minerals will be stranded without the Ambler Road.
Alaska has a very strong track record of responsible resource development while protecting the surrounding landscape and wildlife, and it’s my hope that BLM, with the support of Alaskans, will move this project forward.
Ramzi Fawaz is president and CEO of Ambler Metals. Prior to joining Ambler Metals, Fawaz worked for Newmont Corp/ as Senior Vice President of Projects from February 2011 to October 2019, where he was responsible for the development and execution of Newmont’s global major gold and copper projects.
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