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Geologic and environmental characteristics of porphyry copper deposits with emphasis on potential future development in the Bristol Bay Watershed, Alaska

An assessment of potential mining impacts on salmon ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska

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Abstract

This report is prepared in cooperation with the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment being conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The goal of the assessment is to help understand how future large-scale development in this watershed may affect water quality and the salmon fishery. Mining has been identified as a potential source of future large scale development in the region, especially because of the advanced stage of activity at the Pebble prospect. The goal of this report is to summarize the geologic and environmental characteristics of porphyry copper deposits in general, largely on the basis of literature review. Data reported in the Pebble Project Environmental Baseline Document, released by the Pebble Limited Partnership in 2011, are used to enhance the relevance of this report to the Bristol Bay watershed. The geologic characteristics of mineral deposits are paramount to determining their geochemical signatures in the environment. The geologic characteristics of mineral deposits are reflected in the mineralogy of the mineralization and alteration assemblages; geochemical associations of elements, including the commodities being sought; the grade and tonnage of the deposit; the likely mining and ore-processing methods used; the environmental attributes of the deposit, such as acid-generating and acid-neutralizing potentials of geologic materials; and the susceptibility of the surrounding ecosystem to various stressors related to the deposit and its mining, among other features (Seal and Hammarstrom, 2003). Within the Bristol Bay watershed, or more specifically the Nushagak and Kvichak watersheds, the geologic setting is permissive for the occurrence of several mineral deposit types that are amenable for large-scale development. Of these deposit types, porphyry copper deposits (e.g., Pebble) and intrusion-related gold deposits (e.g., Shotgun) are the most important on the basis of the current maturity of exploration activities by the mining industry. The Pebble deposit sits astride the drainage divide between the Nushagak and Kvichak watersheds, whereas the Humble, Big Chunk, and Shotgun deposits are within the Nushagak watershed. The Humble and Big Chunk prospects are geophysical anomalies that exhibit some characteristics similar to those found at Pebble. Humble was drilled previously in 1958 and 1959 as an iron prospect on the basis of an airborne magnetic anomaly. Humble is approximately 85 miles (137 km) west of Pebble; Big Chunk is approximately 30 miles (48 km) north-northwest of Pebble; and Shotgun is approximately 110 miles (177 km) northwest of Pebble. The H and D Block prospects, west of Pebble, represent additional porphyry copper exploration targets in the watershed.

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Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Article
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Title:
Geologic and environmental characteristics of porphyry copper deposits with emphasis on potential future development in the Bristol Bay Watershed, Alaska
Series title:
An assessment of potential mining impacts on salmon ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska
Volume
3 - Appendices E-J
Year Published:
2012
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Publisher location:
Seattle, WA
Contributing office(s):
Eastern Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center
Description:
iv, 30
Larger Work Type:
Report
Larger Work Subtype:
Other Government Series
Larger Work Title:
An assessment of potential mining impacts on salmon ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska
Number of Pages:
37
Country:
United States
State:
Alaska
Other Geospatial:
Bristol Bay