Armenia’s journey towards responsible mining
Mining raises many issues for communities. What minerals are being developed? Where are the mines? Who owns these mines? What kinds of ore are produced? In what form and to which countries are they exported? Armenia’s accession to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) helped bring the answer to these kinds of questions and more public and transparent, the World Bank said in an article entitled “Armenia’s Journey Towards Responsible Mining”.
As in many countries, mining can be a sensitive topic in Armenia, the article says. It notes that civil society follows mining developments closely to demand better protection of the environment.
The World Bank says that the Armenian government hoped to improve the management of natural resources by making it more transparent, accountable, and participatory. It grew interested in the EITI and, in 2015, announced its intention to join. “Within a year, Armenia met all the preconditions for joining the EITI, and its membership application was approved in 2017”, it says.
The WB says that the country’s legislation did not ensure full transparency and accountability from the sector. The National Assembly made legislative changes to require the publication of large amounts of financial information, such as tax payment data by companies as well as data on extraction and exports, charitable activities, and socio-economic support projects in communities — reporting this information annually became legally required. This information is reflected in the EITI annual national reports.
According to the article, in 2019, Armenia took on responsibilities beyond the scope of mandatory requirements, which ensured even greater transparency.
“Armenia made remarkable achievements in its implementation of the Standard. At the 2019 EITI Global Conference in Paris, Armenia received the EITI Chair’s Award for implementing the Standard in an innovative and resolute manner, as well as for effective multi-stakeholder governance”, the article says.
“I have personally followed the process with great interest. Armenia has achieved remarkable progress. Out of the 54 countries, Armenia is among the nine that have received the highest possible assessment, and it has only been three and a half years since Armenia began implementing the EITI; in that regard, its accomplishments are really commendable”, Mark Robinson – Director of the EITI International Secretariat, said.
For civil society representatives and journalists, the new requirement to disclose the beneficial owners of metal extracting companies was a unique opportunity, the WB said. In Armenia, it had often been quite difficult to obtain information regarding beneficial ownership, it added.
“Armenia`s success story is ongoing and there is still more that can be done. Future reforms are going to be geared at mitigating environmental impact. The Government is continuing to develop a strategy for the sector by engaging all interested parties”, Armenpress writes.
Start of Ariana Resources’ Eastern European exploration
Through its interest in Western Tethyan Resources Ltd (WTR), Ariana Resources has announced the commencement of exploration activities in Eastern Europe. Ariana Resources plc is an AIM-listed exploration and development company operating in Europe.
Dr Kerim Sener, Managing Director, commented: “As part of our long-term diversification strategy, involving investments in focused regional mineral exploration opportunities, Ariana has formally commenced exploration activities in Eastern Europe through its investee company, Western Tethyan Resources Ltd. We know the team at Western Tethyan very well, having worked with them all previously in Turkey and other jurisdictions. Western Tethyan operates out of its office in Pristina, in the Republic of Kosovo, and represents an ideal, centrally-located operational base for our interests across this region, with all national capitals within the easy reach of about 250 km.
“We are very pleased to be working with a very strong local exploration team, led by Mentor Demi, an accomplished exploration and resource geologist who has been involved in several successful exploration and development programmes across the region, including 7 years with Lydian International Limited based in Kosovo and Armenia. Our own exploration team, based in Turkey, is providing support to the activities of Western Tethyan, specifically in the areas of project generation, database management and sample preparation and analysis.
“As part of the project generative work being undertaken by our in-house specialists, we have already commenced an extensive remote-sensing study utilising ASTER and Sentinel-2 multispectral satellite datasets initially across Kosovo and North Macedonia. This work utilises various image processing algorithms to target key alteration minerals associated with mineral deposits. In addition, geophysical datasets are being acquired and reprocessed, which, when coupled with the remote-sensing studies, will improve exploration targeting.
“We look forward to updating the market on our progress regarding the licence applications in Kosovo and the other Eastern European project opportunities that we are currently reviewing in due course.”
Mentor Demi, Managing Director of Western Tethyan Resources Ltd, added: “We are absolutely delighted to have Ariana Resources as our strategic partner. Ariana is a highly respected company with a substantial track-record in the successful exploration and development of projects within the Tethyan Metallogenic Belt, with the advantage of having significant financial strength.
“With Ariana’s investment, Western Tethyan Resources aims to complete the acquisition of three tenements in Kosovo (Cecelia, Hertica, and Terpeza covering 151 km2 in total), conduct detailed surface sampling and mapping of those projects, as well as conduct country-wide and other regional reconnaissance and project generative work.
“The benefit of our partnership with Ariana goes well beyond Kosovo and our goal is to build a successful regionally focused mineral exploration and development company.”
Mineco on mining projects in Serbia at meeting with Serbian minister
– We are proud that in a short time, in cooperation with our international partners and the private sector, we have prepared and adopted four modern laws that represent the basis for many more investments in sectors that have slept for years – said Serbian Minister of Mining and Energy Zorana Mihajlovic.
Representatives of the mining company Mineco, Marko Bryant and Bojan Popovic met with the Minister of Mining and Energy, Zorana Mihajlovic. They talked about potential and current projects that this company is realizing in Serbia through its companies for geological research, the ministry announced.
Bryant pointed out that the company has good experiences with the new Ministry of Mining and Energy, and that it supports the adoption of new laws that will make investments safer, according to a statement from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Mining and Energy. Mihajlovic informed her interlocutors that Serbia has adopted four new laws in the field of mining and energy, as a basis for new investments and a favorable business environment in the energy and mining sector.
According to her, mining in Serbia has a lot of potential for investment and further development, while through the new strategic framework we are improving the business climate, but also security and predictability for investors. Investigative rights of investors were discussed at the meeting, and it was emphasized that the legal framework is clear and that all investors must act accordingly, Beta reports.
Emerita exploration project faces rejection from Spanish cities
La Romanera has been explored since the 1960s and, through the years, over 20,000 metres of drilling have been carried out on the property. Its historical resource has been estimated at 34Mt at moderate grades including 11.2Mt at high grades.
The Spanish cities of Paymogo and Puebla de Guzmán issued a directive stating that mining exploration activities are forbidden in an area known as La Romanera, which is a large sulphide deposit that Canada’s Emerita Resources is looking to develop. According to news agency EuropaPress, the cities’ technical departments said in their respective decisions that mining at La Romanera is not compatible with municipal planning regulations. The ruling states that a big portion of the terrain within the permit area is classified as “non-developable land under special protection” connected to the Paymogo agricultural landscape. The decision points out that the Province of Huelva’s Special Plan for Environmental Protection forbids extractive operations by mining companies and building any kind of infrastructure in the area where La Romanera is located. This means that obtaining an exploration permit for the area may be unlikely.
EuropaPress reports that a similar situation took place in 2017, when the Superior Justice Tribunal of Andalucía rejected an appeal by Trafigura Mining’s subsidiary, Minas de Aguas Teñidas, against the prohibition of extracting sand, conducting mining operations and building infrastructure in an exploration permit area known as Los Silos, which also extended through the Paymogo agricultural landscape.
Located in the southwestern province of Huelva, which is within the autonomous community of Andalucía, the Paymogo landscape is considered to be a unique environment of great social, economic and patrimonial importance. Within this area lie La Romanera and La Infanta deposits, which are part of the larger Iberian Belt West polymetallic project that Emerita plans to drill in Q1-2021. The project is underlain by rocks of the Iberian Pyrite Belt (IPB), which is a prolific VMS terrane with numerous current and past producers of base metals sulphides. Exploration at La infanta, on the other hand, started in 1975 but was halted shortly after, with the exploration licenses being returned to the state as ‘strategic resources’ in the later 1990s. During the short period when exploration was conducted, some 5,000 metres were drilled on the property with historical resources of 2Mt at very high grades.
Emerita’s initial drill program for Spain’s West Iberian Belt accepted
Initial drill program for the West Iberian Belt Project has been accepted, Emerita Resources Corp. announced. There are three mineralized areas on the West Iberian Belt Property; La Infanta, El Cura and Romanera from east to west. The initial drilling will focus on the Infanta deposit.
The exploration permit granted to Emerita is officially published on the Andalusia Mining portal on the Junta de Andalusia web site. This is a requirement of the permitting process by the Department of Mines of Huelva province, where the Project is located. The Department of Mines is responsible for consulting with the environmental department of Huelva province to secure the environmental permit and authorize the exploration activities.
The initial drilling will focus on the Infanta deposit. This is the zone with the highest grade mineralization on the Project to date and was only drilled to approximately 110 meters depth historically. The mineralized zone at Infanta remains open down dip and along strike. The first drill program will be comprised of approximately 5000 meters of drilling in 22 planned drill holes ranging from 100 meters to 300 meters in length. Planned collar locations are presented on Figure 3 and extend across approximately 2000 meters of strike. The program will be a combination of infill drilling and step out drilling both along strike and down dip to expand the mineralized zone and provide data necessary to complete a National Instrument 43-101 compliant mineral resource estimate. The core will be logged and sampled in the Company’s facilities in Puebla de Guzman, located 7kmfrom the Project. The samples will be shipped to ALS prep lab in Seville and assayed in ALS Canada, both labs are independent of Emerita.
Based on consultation with the Environmental Department of Huelva, the Infanta area has no environmental restrictions that would impact a mineral exploration program and therefore the authorization to commence the exploration work will be issued directly by the Department of Mines. The exploration work in the other two areas will commence after an environmental department review and issuing of the Autorizacion Ambiental unificada (AAU) (environmental impact studies) which have been submitted by the Company. Drilling will commence immediately following the required 30 day period during which the reclamation plan for the drill pads has been published for public review on the Government web site which is expected this week.
The municipality of Puebla de Guzman, where La Infanta is located, is actively collaborating with the Company in facilitating the access agreements with the land owners. The Company does not anticipate any issues with respect to accessing the drill sites based on discussions to date.
David Gower, P.Geo., CEO of Emerita, notes, “the Infanta deposit is precious metals enriched. The mineralized intercepts at the Infanta deposit have historical assay values for silver ranging between 100 and 290 g/t that accompany high grade base metal values.’’
West Iberian Belt Project
The West Iberian Belt Project occurs within the Iberian Pyrite Belt, one of the most highly mineralized volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) terranes in the world. The Project is located in the western part of the belt, adjacent to the border with Portugal, approximately 70 km west of Seville and 50 km from the port city of Huelva. The Project extends along a strike length of approximately 18 km. Access is excellent via paved and all-weather gravel roads. Within the Project area, several base metal occurrences have been identified by previous exploration, the most significant of which are the Romanera and the La Infanta base metal deposits.
The Romanera deposit was drilled primarily by Minera Rio Tinto in the 1990s and is reported to contain 34 million tonnes grading 0.42% copper, 2.20% lead, 2.3% zinc 44.4g/t silver and 0.8 g/t gold within which there is a higher grade resource of 11.21 million tonnes grading 0.40% copper, 2.47% lead, 5.50% zinc, 64.0 g/t silver and 1.0 g/t gold. A qualified person, as defined in National Instrument 43-101, has not done sufficient work on behalf of Emerita to classify the historical estimate reported above as current mineral resources or mineral reserves and Emerita is not treating the historical estimate as current mineral resources or mineral reserves. The historical estimate should not be relied upon. The deposit extends from surface to approximately 350 meters depth based on historical drilling. The mineralization remains open for further expansion down dip beyond the limits of the existing drilling.
The La Infanta mineralized zone has been drilled from surface where it outcrops to a depth of approximately 100 meters. Numerous high-grade intercepts occur within the zone and it remains open for expansion at shallow depths. Drilling was completed by Phelps Dodge in the mid 1980s. La Infanta is located approximately 8 km to the east of the La Romanera deposit.
Hudson initial exploration of niobium and tantalum project in Greenland completed
The initial exploration program on the Sarfartoq niobium and tantalum project in Greenland is completed as Hudson Resources announced and added that it is expecting initial results from the sampling in the coming weeks.
In a press release, the Canadian miner said that 35 samples were collected from outcrop along 112 metres of exposed pyrochlore mineralization, which hosts the niobium resource. Three samples were also collected along the strike length for mineralogical work. A lab in Ontario will now conduct a head sample analysis for the samples including Nb, Ta, Zr, rare earth element scan, and whole-rock analysis.
“I am very pleased to have re-initiated work on this very exciting target. It has historically provided some of the highest-grade niobium assays in the industry and we plan to build on that foundation,” Jim Cambon, president of Hudson Resources, said in the media brief.
“We intend to carry out metallurgical testwork over the coming months and expect to drill the target in the first half of 2021.”
Cambon highlighted the fact that niobium and tantalum are vital to a wide range of products in the energy, infrastructure, transportation, medical and defence sectors, and that both the European Union and the United States have designated the transition elements as critical to their security and well being.
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.
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.
Dalradian Gold plans gold mine in Northen Ireland, community splits between pros and cons
The Sperrin Mountain range stretches from Strabane in Co Tyrone to the shores of Lough Neagh in the east and has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Canadian mining company Dalradian Gold has spent about $170m exploring the site since 2009. In 2017, the company submitted a planning application to build an underground mine and processing plant.
Locals in a Northern Ireland town are split over a proposed gold mine, which could create hundreds of jobs and bring money into the area. The small community of Greencastle, Co Tyrone, in the Sperrin Mountains, is thought to be sitting on about $3.8bn worth of gold.
Protesters, who want to preserve the area’s natural beauty, set up a caravan camp, called the Greencastle People’s Office, on the land two years ago.
“We are absolutely determined. There are people here who have said they are prepared to sacrifice their lives for the land and for the air and for the water here to keep it for their children and their grandchildren,” anti-mine protestor Fidelma O’Kane told Al Jazeera English. On June 29, Northern Ireland’s government announced a public inquiry into the application. It says it has received over 40,000 responses, and 37,000 of these were objections to the mine.
However, there are people in the community who welcome the mine and the jobs it would bring.
The company, whose local office is located in the village of Gortin, about 12km from Greencastle, says that the mine will create 350 direct jobs and will also foster indirect employment in the area.
Dalradian Gold Community Relations Manager Peter McKenna told The Irish Times last year: “I would be extremely confident that the majority of people in Gortin and Greencastle are in support of the mine, but those who support it tend to stay quiet.”
The protesters argue that the risks of the mine outweigh any potential benefit of additional employment in the area.
“What’s the cost of those jobs?” asked Sean Tracey. “They even state themselves that the lifespan of the mine is between 20-25 years, so best-case scenario you get those jobs for that length of time but it’s destroying the environment and leaving the consequences of the mine behind it for ever.” McKenna refuted this: “Once the working life of the mine is over, the site will be rehabilitated and the land reclaimed in a way that is in keeping with the landscape and the characteristics of the local area.”
However, protesters are adamant.
“We don’t want what Dalradian are offering here,” said Fidelma O’Kane.