Mining and indigenous communities across the world
While in recent decades’ great progress has been made in terms of securing minority rights across the globe, many companies worldwide continue to overlook the needs of indigenous communities. In particular, the geological and environmental negative externalities produced as a result of intensive mining are “a major cause of displacement for minorities and indigenous people across the world, with many unable to secure compensation and protections due to discrimination”, according to Jasmin Qureshi from Minority Rights Group International.
In 1990, the United Nations Global Consultation on the Right to Development stated that “the most destructive and prevalent abuses of indigenous rights are the direct consequences of development strategies that fail to respect their fundamental right of self-determination”. Ever since technology began increasing the demand for what can often be scarce raw materials, mining companies have been pushed to adopt more land- and capital-intensive approaches to extraction, in many case at the expense of indigenous communities residing in resource- and mineral-rich areas.
Multiple recent events corroborate Jasmin Qureshi’s statement. In Morocco, ever since Africa’s biggest silver mine was set up in the country’s Imider region, the Amazigh community residing in the area has witnessed significant difficulty in accessing water. Available water has been either diverted to mining activities or, when it does eventually reach the Amazigh community, presents high levels of pollution. Consequentially, agricultural activity been seriously affected, with far lower crop yields making the lives of the Amazigh incredibly hard.
For eight years, from 2011-19, Amazigh activists occupied the Aleppan Mountain above the silver mine, cutting off a pipeline delivering water to it. The protests quickly became tied into a global socio-economic and environmental consciousness about indigenous rights. The occupation came to an end last year when protesters decided to switch to more peaceful means of protest against the mine’s major shareholder, the Société Nationale d’Investissement (SNI), a private holding company owned by Morocco’s royal family, but not before achieving some positive change in terms of infrastructure investment and social services for the community. The plight of the Amazigh is similar to that of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people in Western Australia, where the mining giant Rio Tinto destroyed two rock shelters – both Aboriginal sites of major historical and archeological importance – with two controlled blasts in order to have access to what it termed “higher volumes of grade-one ore”. The company completely neglected the desires of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura, who repeatedly presented Rio Tinto with the urgency of preserving the sites right up until the blasts.
In a recent submission to an Australian Senate inquiry into the destruction of the rock shelters, Rio Tinto acknowledged that “various opportunities were missed to re-evaluate the mine plan in light of this material new information” on the significance of one of the sites. It also repeated earlier public comments that the destruction of the rock shelters, dubbed Juukan 1 and Juukan 2, “should not have occurred”. Although the Moroccan and Australian cases are far from unique, there is growing evidence that mining companies – and, perhaps more importantly, their investors – do appear to be realising that only by working with and not against indigenous communities can they achieve both profit and peaceful coexistence.
According to a report from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), whose own independent accountability mechanism was in 2015 forced to investigate the bank’s compliance with its environmental and social standards at a mine it financed in the Gobi-Altai region of Mongolia, “the importance of involving local communities in mining projects is today recognised as best practice for maximising the benefits for affected communities”. Forward-looking investors have embraced this principle on the basis that mining initiatives should be viewed as opportunities for indigenous peoples rather than human-rights violations.
As the EBRD report points out, “Offsetting adverse impacts has in the past tended to take the form of philanthropic investment for local projects and initiatives such as the construction of a new hospital or support to the local school football team. However, a more strategic approach to community investment has emerged over the past decade, particularly among the major global mining companies. This focuses on careful engagement, from the earliest stages of the mine project cycle, with local community stakeholders to help identify common long- term strategic socio-economic development aims for the local communities as well as gaps in the existing market”.
One mining giant that took on this commitment is Cameco, operating in the Saskatchewan region in Canada. For more than 25 years now, Cameco has been operating in cooperation with local indigenous communities, with the company committed to providing native people with “sustainable benefits through employment, education and training” through “robust community engagement and strategic community investments with a long term positive outcome”. This funding, which amounts to 14 million Canadian dollars in donations to northern aboriginal groups over the past decade, and active engagement through information sessions and ad-hoc projects, is seen by Cameco “both as a practical necessity and the right thing to do”.
This conscious approach to mining in indigenous-inhabited lands surely has long-term impacts on the indigenous social fabric. In the Strategic Assessment of Development of the Arctic report, requested by the European Commission, experts highlight how environmental, social and economic outcomes are “inherently intertwined”. This entails that, in order for mining companies to effectively tackle the issue of preserving the rights of indigenous people, all three have to be addressed jointly. This interrelation is particularly relevant when it comes to mining sites in the Arctic region, where indigenous communities base their lifestyle on a delicate equilibrium of coexistence with an already endangered ecosystem.
The degree of complexity raised by this interrelation poses a significant challenge to companies operating in the north-eastern part of Russia. Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel), the world’s largest producer of palladium and high-grade nickel, has experienced first-hand how complex it is to tackle corporate social responsibility commitments from different angles at once.
Albeit committed to providing support to the local fauna, Nornickel can’t hide from a history of ecological damage to the Artic ecosystem. Nonetheless, the mining giant’s recent statements and actions leave scope for reassessing its role as a company aiming to set a whole new standard. In addition to supporting Arctic researches and nature reserves, it has recently started a more closely-monitored cooperation with indigenous populations residing in the Taymir Peninsula.
So far, Nornickel has signed agreements with three organisations representing indigenous people. These agreements include a five-year programme of financial and strategic support totalling two billion roubles (around 22 million euros) which will be devoted to the preservation of indigenous traditional activities, as well as to improving infrastructure, housing, and education. One of the signatories of the agreement was Grigory Ledkov, president of the Association of Indigenous Minorities of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation, who is extremely confident that these agreements will usher in a new phase of cooperation between Nornickel and indigenous communities.
“This can serve as an example for other companies, as it emphasises the importance of preserving the habitat of indigenous people and protecting our values and traditions,” he says.
These agreements could also provide a push for more effective implementation of several federal laws covering indigenous rights, already present in Russian Legislation.
Professor Bill Bowring, who teaches human rights and international law at Birkbeck College at the University of London, says it could “protect the traditional living habitat and traditional way of life of indigenous small peoples, to preserve and promote their cultural identity and to ensure biological diversity in the territories of traditional environmental management”.
The Murmansk region in northwest Russia is the land where the Sami people have lived for thousands of years. Niikko Sommer, an expert in Sami culture at the University of Texas, says: “a timeless theme for the Sami has been their exploitation. They have been consistently taken advantage of by outsiders for their land and resources.”
In 2020, 19 Sami communities (out of 37) received funds from Nornickel, which also tried to amplify the voice of the community by financing the publication of an almanac including the oeuvre of 26 Sami authors in 2019. A more conscious approach to collaboration could therefore significantly improve lifestyles in terms of environmental, social and economic conditions after centuries of such exploitation. According to Sommer, “modern legislation and environmental policies may give a glimmer of hope to the Sámi and environmentalists worldwide.” With its recent commitments, Nornickel could thus pave the way for a more proactive approach to the actualisation of such norms, as well as ensuring that indigenous people rights in the Taymir peninsula and the Murmansk region are respected.
Grigory Ledkov affirms that: “”We live in Russia and we see the whole situation,” suggesting perhaps that well-meaning but not always well-informed outsiders sometimes miss the bigger picture.
A similar attitude towards what were viewed as “interfering outsiders” was also for many years present among the people of the Romanian town of Roșia Montana. There, the Roşia Montană Gold Corporation (RMGC, majority-owned by a Canadian company, Gabriel Resources) was close to building Europe’s largest gold mine, before protests across the country eventually forced the Romanian government to halt the construction of the mine, which some locals had hoped would create thousands of jobs in one of Romania’s most deprived areas.
Many of those who protested, complained locals, enjoyed comfortable lives in Romania’s cities. A film was even made to put the case for the project: Mine Your Own Business. With the mine now in eternal limbo and unlikely to ever be constructed, RMGC is asking the Romanian state for 4.4 billion US dollars in compensation, while locals – both those who were in favour of the project and those who were against – are still uncertain of their future. It is an example of how everyone can lose out when no common ground can be reached. It is cases such as Roșia Montana that make Nornickel’s agreements with the indigenous people of the Arctic Circle of paramount importance, as they may serve as a test case for future best practice.
Across the world, not least in Morocco, Western Australia, and Romania, others will be monitoring the outcome closely.
Protests against Rio Tinto’s future lithium mine in Serbia
Protest was organized in front of the Rio Tinto’s premises in Serbian city Loznica. The citizens of Loznica demanded an urgent suspension of all activities related to the construction of the jadarite/lithium mine and the abandonment of the lithium exploitation project near their city.
Citizens are protesting because they do not know what the ore flotation will look like, how and where the tailings from the mine will be deposited and what impact it will have on the environment, and they express fear that it will be harmful to the environment and health. The protest was organized by the informal citizens’ association for the protection of Gornji Jadra and the Podrinje Anti-Corruption Team (PAKT). Miroslav Mijatović from PAKT told Sputnik that this is only the first protest that there will be more of them, because the health of their children is more important than any “artificial economic progress”.
He states that Rio Tinto came to Serbia with a “long tradition of violating human rights and violating the environment.” He estimates that the opening of the mine will close life in Gornji Jadar, that low-skilled jobs will be created, and fertile land will be lost.
According to him, the potential danger of an environmental accident is much greater than the local one, and the consequences can be felt within a radius of 150 kilometers, which means that not only Loznica is endangered, but also Šabac and Belgrade.
He states that in the past few years, the Faculty of Mining and Geology has earned 100 million and 500 thousand dinars from Rio Tinto, the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering 12 million, the Faculty of Civil Engineering 10, and the Institute of Public Health Belgrade 13.1 million dinars, institutions are auditing all the studies done so far, because the people cannot trust the institutions paid for by Rio Tinto.
The most important request of the protest organizers is the holding of a referendum of the citizens on whether they are for or against the mine.
“Citizens must be asked whether or not they want a mine and under what conditions,” said Mijatović.
Rio Tinto invested half a billion
The mining company, Rio Tinto, whose headquarters are in London, has been present in Serbia since 2007.
In July 2017, Rio Tinto signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Serbia on the project for the development of lithium and pine deposits “Jadar”, and in the middle of last year it announced that it would start exploiting lithium in four years. According to the plan, a feasibility study for the project should be completed by the end of this year.
Rio Tinto has so far invested almost half a million dollars in research. According to “Bloomberg”, the estimated reserves of lithium in Serbia are the largest in Europe, and preliminary research suggests that it could be 200 million tons. The American Geological Institute speculates that it is as much as a million tons of lithium.
Revaluation of Romania’s enormous mineral wealth
At the level of the National Agency for Mineral Resources (NAMR) a quantitative, qualitative and value revaluation action is in full swing, for over 700 deposits of solid minerals, then following to move to mineral waters and oil reserves. However, it is difficult to quantify the value of these deposits in money, but for specialists the value of a deposit is given by its size and quality. Within this action, carried out by NAMR, about 60 deposits of ore, coal, building materials etc. have been revalued and tens of government decisions have been drawn up aiming at the registration of the real reserves at the current level of detail and knowledge. The new values of reserves are registered in the inventory of assets in the public domain of the state, in conditions in which there are deposits whose reserves have never been valued, having only an initial homologation thereof.
Romania is country rich in mineral resources, but the reality is that we no longer know how much this wealth hidden in thousands of deposits is worth. The last quantitative revaluation was made 15 years ago. Since then, the increasing demand for raw material has led to a massive exploitation of mineral resources, and new deposits have been discovered in parallel.
The first database, in 1925
In 1925, Romania made its first database on deposits. After more than 40 years, in 1968, geological data was introduced for the first time in a computer purchased from the U.S. Subsequently, in 1971, another computer was purchased, also from the U.S., for data storage. During 1997-1999, NAMR had made one of the most performing databases in the oil industry. Today, all data stored at the time with great effort is lost. Now, it must be re-uploaded.
Gold is no longer exploited
Gold and silver ore reserves are estimated at 760 tons, according to data available. But in Romania gold hasn’t been exploited since 2007, after all exploitations had been closed because they were no longer profitable due to outdated technologies and high production costs. In the years to follow, technologies have improved, new ones have emerged, but Romania no longer opened the gold mines. In a top of the largest untapped 50 gold mines and deposits in the world, published in 2012 by Natural Resources Holdings, the deposit in Rosia Montana ranked 17, being valued at 18.5 million ounces of gold. Another deposit, the one in Rovina, was estimated at 6.96 million ounces of gold and ranked 47 in the top. Now, the only gold exploited is the one that appears in association with polymetallic ores.
Non-ferrous processing industry, destroyed
Copper deposits are estimated at around 2 billion tons, and the state-owned company Cupru Min holds the rights of exploitation for the largest deposit in Romania, the one in Rosia Poieni, where 60% of the country’s reserves are located. Although Romania is the European country with the largest copper reserves, the manufacturing industry is missing. It existed, but was destroyed after 1990, and now the copper ore concentrate is exported and processed products are imported. In 1990 there were 3 plants where processing was made, but one by one they have all been destroyed by failed privatizations. While Sometra Copsa Mica, Apelum Zlatna and Phoenix Baia Mare (formerly Cuprom) became history, our neighbours, Bulgaria and Serbia, have developed over the past few years a strong non-ferrous metals manufacturing industry.
90 million tons of polymetallic ores
Another important resource is represented by polymetallic ores. According to the Economic Encyclopedia of Mineral Resources, there are 90 million tons of polymetallic ores in Romania. One ton of polymetallic ore contains 10 grams of molybdenum, 30 grams of nickel and cobalt, 50 grams of chromium, 300 grams of gallium, 1,000 grams of titanium, 2,500 grams of vanadium and 5,000 grams of grams of arsenic.
Yellow hydrogen can save coal
Romania’s coal reserves are large, but the new environmental policy of the European Union, known as the Green Deal, requires the abandonment of polluting technologies. The current data shows that Romania has hard coal reserves of about two billion tons, of which 600 million tons are in exploited perimeters. Also, Romania’s lignite resources are estimated at 690 million tons, of which exploitable in leased perimeters, 290 million tons. This vital resource for the Romanian energy system will have to be replaced with less polluting sources, but coal might not be removed completely, already having technologies that can transform it into syngas, synthetic diesel and hydrogen (yellow H2 – coming from fossil fuels). Hydrogen, as an energy alternative, hasn’t been only a topic of discussion in Europe for a long time. There are already many plants that produce green hydrogen (coming from biomass) and Germany has recently allocated EUR 9bn to develop the hydrogen industry. Romania is still contemplating the idea.
According to BP evaluations, Romania has proven oil reserves of around 100 million tons and gas reserves of 100 billion cubic meters, excluding the offshore area. NAMR has not evaluated the mineral resources of the country, highlighted in the inventory of assets in the public domain of the state, managed by the authority, so assets in the nature of petroleum resources were recorded on December 31, 2015 with a ‘zero’ inventory value, according to a report of the Court of Auditors issued last year.
We have rare metals, but we don’t exploit them
Romania is one of the few countries in Europe that holds rare metal resources. For example, before 1989, Romania was the sixth country in the world, after the U.S., USSR, China, Japan and France, to produce zirconium, from which the capsules in which the nuclear fuel for the Cernavoda plant is stored are manufactured. Titanium, which was used in the aerospace industry, was also mined. Another metal was vanadium, which is now included by the European Commission in the list of 30 critical raw materials for the EU. Vanadium is used to make special steels, and vanadium alloys are used in nuclear reactors, due to the poor interactivity of the element. Another ore passed on the U.S. list. is graphite, the raw material from which graphene is produced, a material up to 200 times stronger than steel and 1,000 times lighter than a sheet of paper. It is the best conductor of electricity, and the energy industry uses it more and more. The only graphite mine in Romania, located in Gorj County, produced about 40,000 tons per year in the 1990s, but is now closed. A lesser known element is tellurium, which in Europe is found only in Romania and Sweden, and globally China, USA, Canada and Australia still have reserves. It is a rare metal used in the manufacture of atomic bomb casings, in the aerospace and energy industries, but in Romania it is no longer extracted.
List of critical materials, extended to 30
The European Union’s reliance on imports of raw materials threatens key industries and exposes it to blockades by China and other resource-rich states, shows a report by the European Commission, according to international media. Thus, the lack of raw materials used to produce batteries and equipment used in the field of renewable energy could also jeopardize the objective of the EU to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. The European Union estimates that in order to reach the climate neutrality target, the EU bloc would need 18 times more lithium and five times more cobalt by 2030. Forecasts for 2050 show that the EU will need 60 times more lithium and 15 times more cobalt, according to international media. Under these conditions, the list of critical raw materials for the EU was expanded to 30 materials, from 27, with four metals being added, while helium gas was removed.
Mining companies and their relations to the local communities
The question is is it possible for the wealthy mining corporation to ever truly be a good neighbour – good neighbor agreements, or GNAs, aim to hold big firms accountable for their environmental conduct – but how does it work in practice?
Twenty years ago, a group of cattle ranchers, sheep herders and community members in rural Montana came together and struck a rare agreement with a mining company: be liable for community-set environmental standards in exchange for unobstructed use of the land. But today, Sibanye-Stillwater, the owners of two mines in Stillwater county and Sweet Grass county, seeks to expand. The contract negotiated 20 years ago doesn’t account for that. A delicate relationship – and the state’s natural beauty – hangs in the balance. Can they continue to tame a corporation?
The creators of the original document and new community advocates say they expect the mining company to hold up their end of the bargain and continue to negotiate future plans in good faith with the people who live and work there. Good neighbor agreements (GNAs) are legally binding contracts that are generally effective at holding corporations accountable for their environmental conduct – and while there are very few in place in the US, experts say they could be replicated in cities and towns across the country.
The story is instructive about the documents’ strengths and weaknesses: in 1999, three grassroots organizations – the Northern Plains Resource Council (NPRC), the Cottonwood Resource Council, and the Stillwater Protective Association (SPA) – sued to halt the construction of a mine. Going to court was expensive and timely, and ultimately ineffectual. Council members wanted a creative way of remaining on the inside of mine operations without being beholden to the mine’s operators, so they asked for a good neighbor agreement. Negotiation with the mine’s owner took over a year, but the result is considered the “Cadillac” of GNAs, because the contract applies directly to the mines themselves, regardless of who owns them. Still, the GNA isn’t a magic bullet. It “doesn’t provide for us [a way to] to stomp our foot and say ‘no more,’” said Betsy Baxter, a former rancher who lives on the edge of the East Boulder river, which runs near the East Boulder mine. “This is a commercial enterprise [we’re dealing with]. We have to do our best to mitigate and navigate the issues that come up with expansion.”
The situation that NPRC and the other councils face illuminates a central tension between environmentalists and extractive industries: Sibanye-Stillwater and other mining companies make money off a finite resource by degrading the environment, and moving into new land is how they remain relevant, even if those are areas the community seeks to preserve.
Smoothing over that tension is what the GNA has been historically good at. The contract has created a taskforce and an oversight committee which address other water and soil concerns. Sibanye-Stillwater is also obligated to fund an environmental audit, fish-monitoring program and groundwater study – as well as pay for a mining and water quality engineer handpicked by the councils. Abiding by the GNA means following “water, soil, air and traffic provisions that are above and beyond what current state and federal laws require,” said Charles Sangmeister, an SPA member who also sits on the taskforce.
Like many volunteers, Sangmeister spends hundreds of hours every year facilitating mine activity, either physically at the water’s edge, measuring pollution levels or at the meeting room table, talking about expansion plans.
These are some of the things GNAs are good at: creating a model for accountability that is rooted in public advocacy and a community’s unique environmental needs. For example, Sibanye-Stillwater is also responsible for busing workers to their mines – a provision the original council members introduced in order to reduce traffic and air pollution from cars.
But for all its upsides, the GNA is still a contract, and like any other, the community had to give something up in order to win such staunch environmental provisions. In this case, the councils gave up the right to sue the company extracting platinum and palladium ore from the two mines covered under the contract.
Members now say that their best leverage with dealing with Sibanye-Stillwater is the relationship they’ve facilitated over the last two decades, one they hope is based on mutual respect.
Most of the members of the council do not have backgrounds in engineering, geology, or environmental science, yet nevertheless attended hours-long planning meetings and studied blueprints in order to best represent the community’s needs to Sibanye-Stillwater leadership.
“I think the company respects that we have made it our business to be as knowledgeable about mining as we possibly can be,” said Teresa Erickson, the former staff director of the council.
For example, community members have strived to learn about the risks of tailing impoundments, permanent structures built into the physical landscape that hold waste from mining – and which Erickson says Sibanye-Stillwater wants to double in size. A representative from Sibanye-Stillwater confirmed that the company plans to double the size of its tailing facilities, but added that it also plans to double production, and that any new facility will take decades to fill up.
This type of community organizing is a virtuous circle: the more the council members have actively participated in the mines’ operations, the more experience and knowledge they’ve gained, making them better advocates for their community. Over the years, volunteers have helped avoid possible water pollution catastrophes; because of their oversight, “there hasn’t been a bad spill, there hasn’t been a fish kill, there haven’t been issues,” said Baxter.
And yet there are no guarantees that the council can meaningfully influence Sibanye-Stillwater’s plans for expansion. “It’s been tough. This has not been a happy little love story,” said Erickson. Baxter acknowledges that there’s some irony to their organizing – Sibanye-Stillwater mines platinum and palladium, minerals used for catalytic converters to manage car smog. But that doesn’t mean she and other Montanans simply have to accept the mining companies’ terms of business. “We have to sort of sit in that space and say, ‘OK, but we are going to hold you accountable and demand the highest level of responsiveness that we can,’” Baxter said.
Heather McDowell, who heads legal, environmental, and government affairs for Sibanye-Stillwater, said: “We believe the GNA feedback and the collaborative approach to addressing issues allows us to really get things right from an environmental and community standpoint.”
Members of the taskforce and oversight committees like Sangmeister and Baxter – like most civilians in the US – don’t have the power to unilaterally stop corporations, but for now, the lines of communication with this particular neighbor remain open. The work ahead of them is the same as it was 20 years ago: stay at the table, arm themselves with information, and keep the conversation going.
Velocity’s gold project in Bulgaria gets positive prefeasibility results
The results of the prefeasibility study further de-risks the project and provide opportunities for additional project enhancements as Velocity advances the project towards production, said Keith Henderson, Velocity president and CEO.
Canadian mineral exploration company Velocity Minerals said that it has received positive prefeasibility study results for the Rozino gold project located in southern Bulgaria. The study establishes the Rozino deposit as supporting an economic open pit mine operation with gold recovery by a combination of on-site concentration in a flotation plant and further processing to produce a gold-silver doré in the existing processing plant located in the Bulgarian town of Kardzhali, 85 km away from Rozino, where doré would be produced, Velocity said in a statement earlier.
The prefeasibility study financial model base case returns an after-tax net present value at a 5% discount rate of 163 million Canadian dollars ($124.3 million/105.2 million euro) and an after-tax internal rate of return of 27.4%, the mineral exploration company noted.
In addition to returning positive economic results, the study also outlines significant benefits, including shortened permitting timelines and capital cost efficiencies, as the existing processing plant in Kardzhali is currently operational, it has sufficient capacity to process concentrate from Rozino and its use reduces total capital cost requirements for the gold project.
Furthermore, on-site development at Rozino only requires permitting for mining, flotation concentration, and disposal of relatively benign waste rock and tailings. The area of disturbance has been kept relatively compact to facilitate reclamation and closure, Velocity noted.
“The prefeasibility study presents financial results for the Rozino gold deposit as currently defined. Exploration work is ongoing aiming to discover and define additional mineralization within the 145 sq m exploration licence and at Velocity’s other option properties in the region, which could potentially fit into a Hub and Spoke development model,” said Keith Henderson.
Velocity’s strategy envisages the development of a low cost “Hub and Spoke” operation in southeast Bulgaria whereby multiple gold projects produce gold concentrates for trucking to an existing, central processing plant for the production of doré. Other than Rozino, the projects referred to in the “Hub and Spoke” development model do not have defined resources nor is there is any guarantee that resources will be defined, the company’s statement read.
Over the next 12 months, Velocity will continue to aggressively explore the exploration properties in the surrounding area, aiming to discover and define mineral resources as part of its strategy, the CEO said.
Velocity Minerals completed the acquisition of 70% interest in Bulgaria’s Tintyava Property, which holds the Rozino gold deposit, from local company Gorubso-Kardzhali in 2019, through delivery of a PEA.
AzerGold runs geophysical and geological explorations of iron ore deposit in Armenia
Armenian Dashkasan iron ore deposit is the only iron ore deposit has proven reserves of 270 million tons. The iron content of the ore varies mainly between 35-45 per cent by deposits.
Azerbaijan’s gold mining company AzerGold CJSC has started geophysical and geological exploration in the country’s Dashkesan iron ore deposit with a proven reserve of 270 million tons, a source within the company has reported.
At the first stage of the geological exploration program, 32 geological wells will be drilled in four areas to confirm resources for the field’s reserves. As part of the initial studies, drilling work is expected to be carried out with a total depth of 21,000 meters, 6,500 of which are scheduled for completion this year. Moreover, the information obtained as a result of drilling operations will make it possible to form a database on primary resources. After analysis and study of this information it will be possible to draw up the following geological exploration programs aimed at specification, increase and full confirmation of the field resources.
Likewise, all researches will be carried out by a team of experienced professionals in accordance with modern approaches and requirements of international standards. Based on the results of geological exploration works, geological models of the field will be drawn up, existing resources and reserves will be recalculated in accordance with JORC international standards, economically viable resources will be re-evaluated.
The studies carried out to prepare the preliminary evaluation document are the necessary step in the implementation of mining projects. Thus, positive indicators from results, at this stage of exploration, will allow moving to the next stage of a more detailed study of the deposit. It should be noted that, exploration work is scheduled to be completed in the first half of 2021, and the preliminary evaluation report will be completed and submitted to the state in the second half of the same year.
Exploration is done within the framework of works on preparation of the document on preliminary evaluation of the deposit, in accordance with the decree of Azerbaijani President from August 6 on measures to put into operation the Dashkasan iron ore deposit.
The company has developed a program of geological exploration works for this purpose. At present, the existing information is being collected and digitized, work is being done to prepare a three-dimensional geological model of the deposit using special software. Earlier it was reported that, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has signed an order to put into operation the Dashkasan iron ore deposit. Under the order, initially $1.76 million (AZN 3 million) will be allocated to AzerGold mining company from the amount specified in the relevant paragraph of the “Distribution of funds for state capital investment (investment expenditures) in the state budget for 2020.
Rally for environmental threat of Amulsar Gold Mine in Armenia
Amulsar is a mountain in southern Armenia which is the source of two major rivers. It is also the source of a network of dams and tunnels designed to feed Lake Sevan, the largest freshwater source in Armenia. A British mining firm, Lydian International Limited, discovered gold in Amulsar in 2006 and has been trying construct a mine there since 2016. Though it has yet to open, the Amulsar gold mine’s presence has coincided with the emergence of severe environmental crises in the surrounding region. Efforts to open a gold mine in Amulsar have met with stubborn resistance from the local population. Residents of Vayotz Dzor province — where the mine is to be opened — have been blockading the area around the mine since May 2018, preventing construction vehicles from accessing the site. Furthermore, they accuse Lydian of skirting environmental regulations, using improper business practices, and conducting corporate extortion.
Opponents of the mine believe that Lydian’s project has and will cause profound and irreversible environmental damage to their region and the country. They have made it clear that the only acceptable solution to this crisis is the total closure of the mine and the withdrawal of Lydian’s mining operations from the country.
Scores of demonstrators from the Armenian Environmental Front (AEF) and the Save Amulsar movement assembled in front of the Armenian National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet. The rally was composed of Yerevan locals and a group of activists and concerned citizens from the southern resort town of Jermuk, who had travelled to Yerevan in a 200-car motorcade organized by Save Amulsar. The goal of the rally was simple: to raise awareness of the environmental threat to Amulsar, and to protest government inaction.
Over the course of the rally, demonstrators were shadowed by a veritable army of Special Unit police officers who surrounded the peaceful demonstrators and blockaded the entrances to government buildings. Speeches were routinely interrupted by loudspeaker announcements from police patrol cars, reminding demonstrators to maintain social distancing and to don masks in accordance with the law. Rally goers in turn tried to drown out the PA announcements with the chanting of slogans and the sound of drums. Demonstrators from Jermuk were photographed by police officers, and a few individuals were ticketed for not wearing masks. All of this combined to produce a frosty government reception for the environmental activists.
Cause for Concern
Lydian’s entry into Armenia predates the Velvet Revolution. Despite immediate local resistance, Lydian pushed on, safe in the knowledge that any resistance to its operations would immediately be suppressed by local authorities. Blockades were attempted prior to the revolution but were quickly dismantled by police forces. But by 2018, the situation had changed drastically.
Armenia’s Velvet Revolution caused significant shifts in the status quo, ushering in Nikol Pashinyan’s premiership and promising a new era of democratization and transparency. Additionally, an uncontrolled explosion at the gold mine led to contaminated black water flowing from local taps. This was just one incident in a chain of environmental crises which emerged in the years following the commencement of construction. Since Lydian’s arrival in the region, repeated explosions at the mine have coated surrounding communities in dust. To make matter worse, the mine’s presence has severely disrupted local industries such as dairy farming, fisheries, and agricultural activities. The threat posed by the project to Armenia’s fresh water supplies continues to be a major concern, as noted by Armen Saghatelyan, director of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia. Mining, Saghatelyan explains, can cause the release of acidic water and toxins, which can poison freshwater sources.
Catalyzed by the results of the peaceful revolution in Yerevan, local villagers began to organize resistance to Lydian. A round-the-clock blockade was put in place on the May 18, blocking roads leading to the mine. This time local police did not intervene, and the blockade continues to the present day and construction has halted. However, the crisis is far from resolved, as Lydian has now resorted to threats of arbitration. The mining company is considering litigation against Armenia in a $-billion investor state dispute settlement (ISDS). Such corporate court cases are often handled via a process of secret tribunals whose decision cannot be appealed. Since this means that Armenia – whose allotted government budget in 2020 was $4 billion— could face up to 2 billion dollars in fines, this threat has been quite a potent weapon for Lydian.
Government Response/ Political Division
Following the 2018 Velvet Revolution, the government was generally uncooperative with Lydian. It refused to remove the blockade, and temporarily suspended Lydian’s rights to operate in Armenia, pending an environmental audit of the Amulsar mine by an international consultancy group. The consultancy group hired for this audit, Earth Link and Advanced Resources Development (ELARD), released its report to the public in a live teleconference in August of 2019. In summarizing its findings, ELARD found that the data collected by Lydian in surveys of Amulsar was insufficient for a mining project of the proposed size. Furthermore, it found that Lydian had used this incomplete data to make oversimplified and unsupported conclusions.
The report also found that the potential risks of water pollution were small and could be mitigated. In this vein, ELARD issued 16 recommendations for Lydian concerning mitigating measures. Following the release of the ELARD report, the Armenian government appeared to side with Lydian, as Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced his intention later in August to restore rights of operation. Pashinyan argued that the ELARD report proved conclusively that the risks of water contamination were minimal and could be mitigated. To bolster these claims, the incumbent government pointed to the environmental audit’s 16 recommendations, and the fact that Lydian claimed to be working towards compliance with them.
Incidentally, there are past connections between the current government and Lydian. Current President Armen Sarkissian previously served as director of Lydian International Ltd. Amidst rumors that he remained a Lydian shareholder, President Sarkissian categorically denied any connections to Lydian in a conversation with protestors in 2018.
On the Ground
When speaking to rally goers, the discord between the government and activists seemed palpable. Whereas Pashinyan’s government has argued that the ELARD report gives them no recourse to bar Lydian from operating in Armenia, the activists at the rally disagreed with that assertion. To them, the report was far from a glowing recommendation of Lydian’s operations, but was rather an indictment of their substandard practices. Activists also argued that the report indicated that Lydian had failed to enact necessary mitigating practices to reduce the risk of their mine causing environmental pollution. They saw no reason to trust that Lydian would now become compliant in its mining operations it hadn’t observed prior to the environmental audit.
Several people interviewed from both Jermuk and Yerevan said they wanted nothing less than the total cessation of the companies’ mining operations in the country. As Anna Nikoghosyan of AEF stated, “the government has all the necessary facts and reports to unconditionally close Lydian’s mine.” Nikoghosyan also pointed to Lydian’s dealings in Georgia and their lack of an established reputation as further red flags. Prime Minister Pashinyan at one point supported the mine by stating that booting Lydian out of the country would reduce the incentive for foreign investment in Armenia. But the rally-goers were not swayed by this angle either. Levon Galstyan, a coordinator who has been with AEF for a decade and is a postgraduate candidate of the National Academy of Sciences, balked at this argument. Galstyan retorted, “I will support any foreign investment that brings growth to Armenia and builds its future. I will never accept however an investment that would poison our water, destroy our nature, and destroy our future in the name of profit. To me that is akin to selling one of my kidneys for a buck.” Garik, a demonstrator from Jermuk chimed in, saying “We all know this mine is a real threat to people’s health and to nature. We must defend our land and our mountains, as we have lost so much [land], we cannot lose more.”
An interesting aspect of this rally was that it revealed a wide range of different causes finding common purpose in the Save Amulsar movement. Whilst the most prominent faction of demonstrators was environmentalists, the rally also included a significant number of LGBT+ activists. This issue resonates with other activist groups due to the common themes it shares. In their minds, the movement to save Amulsar is also a movement to preserve democracy, and to ensure the dignity and health of all human beings. In other words, the rally-goers seek more than just to save a mountain: they seek to normalize a narrative in Armenian society that values the lives of people over profit, that elevates the voices of the voiceless, and calls to account those that abuse their power. As one self-proclaimed queer activist named Artak explained, “this movement affects all vulnerable people, and all those who oppose a lack of privacy, and police brutality.”
In the eyes of demonstrators, the post-revolution government had squandered a great deal of good will on this issue, not only by siding with Lydian, but also by remaining generally silent. As Nikoghosyan, an AEF activist, explained, “We are very disappointed with our government, our MPs, and our PM Pashinyan. They have had time to see the truth, but they aren’t holding Lydian accountable. This is quite embarrassing, and it shows that real democracy lives in Amulsar, not in Yerevan”.
Adriatic’s Vares silver-led-zinc project in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Adriatic’s Vares silver-lead-zinc project is located in central Bosnia and Herzegovina some 50km north of the capital Sarajevo. It occupies a strategic position over the established Vares mining district, taking in a number of historical mines and prospects including the high-grade silver mines at Rupice and Veovaca.
After successfully identifying and drilling a number of extraordinary, multi-commodity mineral deposits in Bosnia, Adriatic Metals has moved to lock up the wider mineral province around its key project areas. The company has now more than quadrupled the size of its ground holdings in the region and locked up most of the 25km long metal rich terrane. Adriatic’s five concession areas now cover more than 4,000 hectares and take in the Veovaca and Rupice silver ore bodies in addition to eight other prospect areas.
By any measure Adriatic has seen a meteoric rise since listing on the ASX just a couple of years ago at 20c. Its 60 and 70m long drill intersections that are littered with almost every known commodity – at commercial grades – have propelled the company’s share price to around $2.80 since then.
“Our focus now will be to continue to identify the right structural, lithological and geo-chemical conditions that resulted in the high grade Rupice silver deposit and explore for possible repeats of that mineralisation in the new concession area.”
The Vares mineral field is an east-west trending sedimentary basin that covers around 25km of strike surrounding the regional centre of Vares. The region has a mining history that dates back to the 13th century and historically boasted the largest iron ore mine in Yugoslavia immediately adjacent to the town at Smreka, which in the 1980s, produced around 1Mta of siderite-limonite iron ores to feed the nearby foundry at Zenica.
The ore bodies scattered throughout the Vares mineral field are interpreted to be sedimentary-exhalative, or ‘SEDEX’ style deposits and produce a range of mineralisation styles from siderite-limonite iron ore deposits through to silver-lead-zinc deposits similar to the company’s Rupice discovery.
Globally SEDEX deposits are of considerable economic significance and include the massive Zambian Copperbelt deposits in Africa. They were also the precursors to the world-class Carlin-type gold deposits in the United States. SEDEX deposits typically occur in clusters and, with right structural architecture in place, can develop into ore systems of colossal proportions – a message that appears not to have been lost on Adriatic market followers who have already propelled the company to a market cap of over $400m.
Adriatic has recently finalised an application with the local regional Government approving a significant expansion of the company’s mining concessions. Adriatic’s new concession areas expand the company’s ground holdings in the region from 868 hectares to over 4,000 hectares, covering two key project areas – the Rupice-Semizova Ponikva area west of the town of Vares and the Brezik-Vares East project, east of the town. These new areas lie along strike from the company’s high-grade silver-lead-zinc deposits in the region and will become priority target areas as Adriatic works to complete its feasibility studies over the Rupice and Veovaca deposits and begin to expand its resource inventory in the region. The company’s regional exploration program over its expanded Vares ground holding is already underway, with the historical exploration and mining data currently being collated and airborne geophysics planned over the wider concessional area.
Several areas within the new tenure present as targets for immediate follow up including the Brezik concession east of Vares. Brezik hosts two historical iron ore mines at Brezik and Droskovac. Droskovac also hosts a residual lead-zinc deposit that weighs in at 900,000 tonnes at 3.9 per cent combined lead and zinc. This deposit was discovered in the 1980s and has yet to be followed up with modern exploration.
Historical exploration at Vares East, adjacent to the company’s Veovaca deposit area, has identified a host of copper and barite rich targets along strike from the deposit. The Barice target has returned some enticing rock chip samples at up to 23 per cent copper and 54 g/t silver, whilst sampling in trenches at the Grubanovici, Ljevaci and Debele Mede prospects has produced samples grading up to an incredible 89 per cent barite – interestingly, these projects have not been explored since the 1960s.
Work on Adriatic’s pre-feasibility for the Rupice and Veovaca silver-lead-zinc deposits continues in the wake of this week’s resource update for Rupice with results expected in the coming weeks.
With an expanded playing field, two potential mining operations moving through feasibility and a wealth of new targets, Adriatic looks well positioned to take full advantage of a booming metals market and its trail-blazing position in the Balkans.
Vast Resources got positive test results at Baita Play polymetallic project in Romania
In July, UK-based Vast Resources said it expects to start production of copper concentrate at Baita Plai in Romania in August, in preparation for sale to energy and commodity trading company Mercuria. Vast Resources recently announced that metallurgical tests at its Baita Plai polymetallic project have delivered positive results.
“The metallurgical results have provided excellent results with scope to further improve the copper and lead recoveries through a regrind process to improve the liberation of the chalcocite and galena and expose them to flotation,” Vast Resources said in a press release.
Thus, copper recoveries ranged between 88.2% and 93.8%, gold recoveries ranged between 72.7% – 78.2%, silver recoveries ranged between 69.3% – 83.0%, while zinc recoveries amounted to 51.1%. Tests also revealed a recovered molybedenum concentration of 65.3%, which will be included in the processing plant for an additional revenue stream.
Tests were carried out by Grinding Solutions, an UK-based company specializing in mineral liberation and separation
“The opportunity to further develop the mine and continue exploration at Baita Plai in order to increase the Resource and extend the life of mine is a continuing priority for the Company. These test results underpin both the near term and the future profitability of the company,” Vast CEO Andrew Prelea said.
Vast Resources Romanian portfolio includes an 80% interest in the Baita Plai polymetallic mine and the Manaila polymetallic mine, which was commissioned in 2015, currently on care and maintenance.
European Metals, drillings at lithium-tin project in Czech Republic
Drilling had commenced at the lithium-tin project Cinovec in the Czech Republic, said Mineral mining company European Metals. A total of 19 resource drill holes would be completed during this campaign for a total of 5,550 m, with the first hole ‘well advanced,’ the company said.
Drilling was aimed at converting a ‘sufficient portion of the existing Indicated Mineral Resource to the measured resource category and subsequently to a mineral reserve, to cover the first two years of the scheduled mining plan and obtaining a sufficient amount of ore samples for the next phase of metallurgical testing,’ the company said.
‘A further two hydro-geological drill holes and four geotechnical drill holes are planned once resource drilling has been completed. ‘ it added.