Civil society organizations in North Macedonia have been fighting against the opening of new copper and gold mines for years

Since 2017, civil society organisations from the south-eastern part of North Macedonia have been trying to prove that opening copper and gold mines in their region will harm the environment.

The revolt of the citizens is so wide that several environmental associations were formed, such as Zdrava Kotlina from Strumica, Eco Dolina from Novo Selo, and the civil initiative “Save the Strumica Kotlina – stop the mine of death” from Strumica.

From 2004 to 2012, the American-Bulgarian company examined a location one kilometre from the Strumica villages of Ilovica and Shtuka. Then, the mining was handed over to a larger British-Canadian corporation based in London, with the announcement that hundreds of millions of dollars would be invested in Ilovica for the next three decades to exploit gold and copper.

The corporation received the concession to start digging a mine in 2012 and a period of four years according to the Law on Mineral Resources to meet the conditions for exploitation. That did not happen, but the state took away the concession only in 2019.

Meanwhile, in January 2016, the company received another concession from the state. But even though the same conditions applied, by 2020 conditions were not met. Although the deadlines have passed, civil society organisations are constantly warning through the local media that the competent Ministry of Economy and the government have not yet revoked the concession. In the past few years, civil society organisations have also held public protests announcing that they will not allow a mine to be built in order to prevent an environmental disaster in this area. The referenda had a turnout of 40% of the total registered population, but 99% voted against the opening of the mines.

“Our resistance is from 2017. We started publishing documents that we received from Canada, because there the company was transparent, but here it was not. They tried to talk on televised debates but they didn’t know how much we know and how well we prepared because we analysed the elements well. We pointed out many negative consequences and damage to the environment and the unprofitability of investing in mines”, Gjorgi Tanushev, representative of the environmental organisation Zdrava Kotlina, told OBCT.

The purification of ores with water will cause groundwater pollution and a dam will be built where the tailings will be stored (the materials that remain after the process of separating the valuable ore fraction). The artificial lake which irrigates the field and provides drinking water to the surrounding villages will be polluted. The lake is approximately halfway from the mine to the villages.

The Euromax Resources company believes that, as a direct foreign investment, the mine will have a strong impact on the national economy. It claims that around 1,000 people will be employed in the first two years of construction, and then another 500 during the period of operation of the mine. An additional 2,700 people will be hired through collaborators and suppliers. So far, more than 50 million Euros have been invested in the project, and about 340 are planned for the first phase of construction. The investment project is expected to contribute to the increase of the gross domestic product by 3% annually and to qualify in the top 3 export chapters from the Republic of North Macedonia.

“The project for the mining complex Ilovica-Stuka was developed based on multi-year research on the impact on the environment, applying the highest European and world standards. It will not pollute the soil, water, and air, nor will it pose a danger to human health. Working together, we will all prove that in the new era sustainable mining and agriculture can successfully coexist”, the company told local media.

Yet, organisations will continue to demand that state officials and institutions revoke the second concession, as the 4-year period in which the corporation failed to meet the conditions for the start of exploitation has already passed.

Environmental activists remind that officials are under oath to fulfill their core function – to work for the benefit and protection of all citizens of the Republic – but also point out that the government has failed to respect the clearly expressed will of citizens. They remind that whenever gold and copper mines have been opened in Serbia, Romania, and Turkey there were incidents of water and soil pollution.

In 2019, except for Ilovica-Stuka, the government terminated the contract for the construction of a mine in the neighbouring municipality of Valandovo, Kazandol, due to failure to meet the conditions requiring to build a plant for the exploitation of cathode copper with the capacity to process at least 50% of the exploited ore within two years, Balcanicaucaso writes.

North Macedonia, Central Asia Metals has provided a Q4 and full year 2022 operations update

Central Asia Metals has provided a Q4 and full year 2022 operations update for the Kounrad dump leach, solvent extraction and SX-EW copper recovery plant in Kazakhstan and the Sasa zinc-lead mine in North Macedonia.In 2022 summary there were zero lost time injuries (LTIs) at Kounrad and two LTIs at Sasa. There was record copper production at Kounrad, above guidance range at 14,254 t of copper produced. Zinc and lead production at Sasa was within guidance range with zinc in concentrate production of 21,473 t and lead in concentrate production of 27,354 t. For 2023 production guidance for Kounrad is 13,000 to 14,000 t. At Sasa, zinc in concentrate is expected to be 19,000 to 21,000 t and lead in concentrate, 27,000 to 29,000 t.

Nigel Robinson, Chief Executive Officer, commented: “I am delighted to report strong production from both of our operations during 2022. At Kounrad, we had a record year and exceeded our guidance, producing over 14,000 t of copper cathode into a broadly strong pricing environment. At Sasa, I am proud of our team’s hard work and efforts throughout the year to ensure that we met our guidance and began progressing the Cut and Fill Project. Two LTIs at Sasa were disappointing, and we have adapted training to mitigate against further similar incidents.”

He continued: “As part of the Cut and Fill Project, construction of the paste backfill plant has begun with good progress and therefore remains on schedule for H1 2023. Additionally, work on the Central Decline continues to progress towards the Svinja Reka ore body, with 1,051 m being developed during the year bringing the total advanced to 1,554 m. At Kounrad, earthworks undertaken by our own team have begun for the construction of the Solar Power Project, which is on schedule for completion during H2 2023. We enter 2023 in a debt-free position and look forward to delivering another year of strong base metal production and beginning the transition to the cut and fill mining method at Sasa. Our 2022 annual results are scheduled to be released on 29 March 2023, when our final dividend for 2022 will also be announced.”In more detail, Kounrad delivered Q4 2022 copper production of 3,569 t, bringing output for 2022 to 14,254 t, a production record for CAML.Copper sales during Q4 2022 were 3,843 t, bringing the total for 2022 to 14,342 t. Earthworks for the Solar Power Project began in Q4 2022 at a 10 ha site close to the SX-EW plant. Project construction being undertaken by Kounrad’s in-house engineering team is expected to be complete in the latter part of H2 2023.At Sasa in Q4 2022, mined and processed ore were 203,483 t and 202,175 t respectively, bringing the total for 2022 to 806,069 t of ore mined and 806,653 t of ore processed. The average head grades for the quarter were 3.11% zinc and 3.54% lead, and for the year were 3.15% and 3.63% respectively. The average 2022 metallurgical recoveries were 84.6% for zinc and 93.4% for lead. Sasa produces a zinc concentrate and a separate lead concentrate. In Q4 2022, 10,500 t of concentrate containing 50.1% zinc and 9,268 tonnes of concentrate containing 71.5% lead were produced. Total production for 2022 was 42,824 t of zinc concentrate at an average grade of 50.1% and 38,439 t of lead concentrate at an average grade of 71.2%.

Sasa typically receives from smelters approximately 84% of the value of its zinc in concentrate and approximately 95% of the value of its lead in concentrate. Accordingly, Q4 2022 payable production of zinc was 4,423 t and of lead was 6,297 t, bringing total 2022 payable production to 18,048 t of zinc and 25,987 t of lead. Payable base metal in concentrate sales from Sasa in Q4 2022 were 4,323 t of zinc and 6,219 t of lead and for 2022 were 17,862 t of zinc and 25,689 t of lead.

The Sasa Cut and Fill Project, which comprises the construction of a paste backfill plant and associated reticulation, a dry stack tailings plant and associated landform, and development of a new decline, will ensure maximum extraction of Sasa’s resources, in the safest way, with minimal water usage and improved tailings management. At Sasa, 2023 will be a year of transition from the current sub-level caving mining method to cut and fill stoping. Therefore, CAML maintains its ore mined guidance year on year of 790,000 to 810,000 t.

Given that a major component of the backfill material will be tailings generated from the Sasa processing plant, it is estimated that over 40% of Svinja Reka’s life of mine tailings will be stored underground. Approximately 30% of tailings will be stored in the current TSF4, and the remainder are expected to be filter pressed to remove much of the moisture and then stacked on a dry stack tailings landform. This is seen as a more environmentally attractive waste storage approach to a traditional wet tailings storage facility. This, in combination with other site initiatives, has enabled CAML to set a target of a 75% reduction in Sasa’s fresh water abstraction by the end of 2026.Development of the Central Decline continues to progress well, with 1,051 metres developed during 2022, and 1,554 metres in total and is on schedule to complete phase 1 to connect surface with the 910 production level by the end of H1 2023. Construction of the Paste Backfill Plant on surface and the associated underground infrastructure remains on schedule to be completed in H1 2023. Additionally, orders have been placed for key items required for the Dry Stack Tailings plant, which will be constructed during H2 2023.Given the ongoing Sasa Cut and Fill Project, CAML expects group 2023 capital expenditure of between $28 million and $30 million, of which between $11 million and $13 million is expected to be committed to sustaining capex. The project capital expenditure also includes construction of the Kounrad Solar Power Project which is expected to cost between $4 million and $5 million, IM-Mining writes.

North Macedonia, Central Asia Metals increases copper production

Central Asia Metals today announced a Q3 2022 operations update for the Kounrad dump leach, solvent extraction and electro-winning copper recovery plant in Kazakhstan and the Sasa zinc-lead mine in North Macedonia.

The company said that Kounrad’s Q3 2022 copper production of 4,067 tonnes brings output for the first nine months of 2022 to 10,685 tonnes (9M 2021: 10,360 tonnes). Copper sales during Q3 2022 were 4,093 tonnes, bringing the total for the first nine months of the year to 10,499 tonnes.

CAML added that Sasa’s Q3 2022 payable production of zinc was 4,837 tonnes and of lead was 6,554 tonnes, bringing total payable production for the nine-month period to 13,625 tonnes of zinc and 19,690 tonnes of lead.

Importantly, the company noted it is on course to achieve increased 2022 guidance for Kounrad’s copper production (13,500 to 14,000 tonnes) and on track to meet Sasa’s 2022 production guidance (zinc in concentrate, 20,000-22,000 tonnes; lead in concentrate, 27,000-29,000 tonnes).

CEO Nigel Robinson commented, “I am pleased to report safe and strong production from both of our operations during Q3 2022, with zero LTIs. At Kounrad, we announced increased 2022 production guidance with our H1 2022 results, and we are on track to deliver this and meet our production targets at Sasa.”

Central Asia Metals, an AIM-listed UK company based in London, owns 100% of the Kounrad SX-EW copper project in central Kazakhstan and 100% of the Sasa zinc-lead mine in North Macedonia, Kitco reports.

Environmentalists oppose lignite mine projects in North Macedonia

The general manager of state-owned utility ESM said it would open two lignite mines, which was strongly condemned by environmentalist organization Eko-svest. The mine opening was announced in the context of new challenges with the energy crisis in North Macedonia and the next heating season, while the environmentalists claim that coal mines are unacceptable from environmental, energy and economic aspects.

Economy Minister Kreshnik Bekteshi said the government has so far helped government-controlled electricity producer Elektrani na Severna Makedonija (ESM) with EUR 171 million to cover the rise in electricity and heating costs that was caused by the energy crisis. General Manager Vasko Kovačevski announced at the same press conference that two lignite mines would be opened.

Kovačevski: Results come after a long time, and the effect of what is done in energy today will be seen in three to five years

“The crisis has prompted the need to use the mines for longer, so we are investing in our own new pits: the Živojno mine in REK Bitola and the Gušterica mine in REK Oslomej. But it must be acknowledged that results in the energy sector come after a long time, and the effect of what is done today in energy will be seen in three to five years. We have endured a great blow – we are preparing for the future. First and foremost, for the new challenges with the energy crisis and the next heating season,” ESM’s general manager said.

Environmentalists say no to new lignite mines

Eko-svest pointed out coal mining projects are “unacceptable from environmental, energy and economic aspects” and that they are contrary to all strategies and declared commitments of North Macedonia.

After the Živojno lignite mine was included in the list of submitted projects for the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkansthe first assumption was that it was an unintentional mistake and a remnant of some old plans dating back to before the 2040 Energy Development Strategy,” the environmentalist group said.

Eko-svest: The first assumption was that it was an unintentional mistake and a remnant of some old plans dating back to before the 2040 Energy Development Strategy

Eko-svest added ESM has also conducted several tenders since 2019 for the preparation of documentation for the mines.

The environmentalists pointed out that such actions in the energy sector are unacceptable – regardless of whether the announcement is an independent initiative of ESM or coordinated with the government and the Ministry of Economy.

“It is one thing to turn to emergency imports of coal to tackle the energy crisis for a number of months, but quite another to completely undermine all attempts at energy transition and just transition. Opening a new mine will only worsen the situation,” said Nevena Smilevska from Eko-svest.

Contrary to plans

All this is occurring at a time when planning documents are being developed and adopted for an accelerated energy transformation and the reduction of fossil fuel use – which set the country as a leader within the Energy Community in terms of plans for transformation of the energy sector, environmentalists stressed.

Pehčevski: There is no justifiable reason to spend time, capacity, and finances on projects that will take the country many steps back.

“All investments in the energy sector that will be undertaken from today on must be in accordance with the obligations of the strategies and international agreements,” said Davor Pehčevski from Eko-svest. He added there is no justifiable reason to waste time, capacities, and finances on projects that would set the country many steps back and continue endangering the environment and the population.

It is necessary to work on a just transition and gradual reduction of personnel in lignite mines, not to open new mines, Eko-svest added, Balkan Green Energy News reports.

CAML announced that its Kounrad copper recovery plant in Kazakhstan produced 4,146 tonnes of copper in Q3 2021

Central Asia Metals (AIM: CAML) today announced that its Kounrad copper recovery plant in Kazakhstan produced 4,146 tonnes of copper in Q3 2021, which brings output for the first nine months of 2021 to 10,360 tonnes.

The company added that at its Sasa zinc-lead mine in North Macedonia, mined and processed ore in Q3 2021 were 200,820 tonnes and 203,043 tonnes respectively, bringing the total for the first nine months of 2021 to 614,807 tonnes of ore mined and 626,906 tonnes of ore processed.

The average head grades for the quarter were 3.30% zinc and 3.64% lead, and for the first nine months of the year were 3.19% and 3.54% respectively. The average metallurgical recoveries marginally increased during the period to 85.1% for zinc and 93.4% for lead.

Accordingly, the company noted that its Q3 2021 payable production of zinc was 4,827 tonnes and of lead was 6,580 tonnes, bringing total payable production for the nine-month period to 14,313 tonnes of zinc and 19,697 tonnes of lead.

The company also reported that during the first nine months of 2021, Sasa sold 238,535 ounces of payable silver to Osisko Gold Royalties, in accordance with its streaming agreement.

CEO Nigel Robinson commented, “I am pleased to report strong production from both of our operations during Q3 2021. At Kounrad, we remain on track to meet the top end of our production guidance, and at Sasa, we have reported improved zinc and lead grades for the period, which have resulted in higher metal production than the previous quarter. We expect this trend to continue into Q4, although 2021 production for lead may be in the order of 5% below our guidance”.

Central Asia Metals, an AIM-listed UK company based in London, owns 100% of the Kounrad SX-EW copper project in central Kazakhstan and 100% of the Sasa zinc-lead mine in North Macedonia.

Euromax’ exploitation permit for Ilovica 6 rejected in North Macedonia

In December 2019, the government of North Macedonia decided to unilaterally terminate the concession agreement with Euromax Resources, citing delays in the filing of the relevant permits.

Canadian-based mining company Euromax Resources said that its application for an exploitation permit for the Ilovica 6 concession at the Ilovica-Shtuka copper-gold project in North Macedonia has been rejected by the relevant state commission, contrary to a recent court ruling. The company will appeal the commission’s decision in the country’s administration courts and any further ruling by the Administration Court is enforceable under the law upon government institutions, it said in a statement. However, the country’s Higher Administrative Court ruled against this government’s decision last month. The ruling confirmed that the government has an obligation to consider first the merger of Euromax’ two exploitation concessions, Ilovica 6 and Ilovica 11, both of which are integral to the overall project, before terminating the permit, Euromax Resources said at the time. The project would create nearly 3,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to the company.




Euromax in North Macedonia celebrates its legal win

Euromax announced a legal win in North Macedonia, which effectively reinstates its Ilovica 6 permit at its flagship Ilovica-Shtuka copper-gold project. Euromax Resources shares shot up almost 167% after announcement. The company said the Higher Administrative Court had ruled in its favour, against the initial decision by the Ministry of Economy to terminate the permit.

“The Higher Administrative Court’s ruling creates a new legal situation, as it is final and cannot be appealed by the government again,” Euromax said.

It said the ruling boded well for the company’s second court case, where it’s contesting the final decree to terminate the Ilovica 6 permit in December 2019, saying the decision created a strong legal precedent in the company’s favour.

“It further confirms that the government has an obligation to consider first the merger of the Ilovica 6 and Ilovica 11 concessions, both of which are integral to the overall project,” Euromax said.

It had requested merging the concessions in January 2016.

“We look forward to working together with the government to get the permitting process back on track and deliver the project’s enormous economic benefits,” executive chairman Tim Morgan-Wynne said.

Morgan-Wynne, previously the non-executive chairman, was appointed to the role as part of board changes in August following long-serving CEO and president Varshan Gokool’s resignation. Euromax said last month it was hoping to get Ilovica-Shtuka into production within two years once permitting and construction funding had been arranged. It said its fast-track development plan could see 600 jobs created for local people and local investment of €14 million (US$17 million) in the next 12 months. A 2016 feasibility study for Ilovica had outlined initial capex of US$474.3 million, an after-tax NPV5 of $440.1 million and IRR of 17.8%, for a project producing an average annual 83,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 tonnes of copper over a 20-year mine life. All-in costs were put at $372/oz, using a $1,220/oz gold price and $2.90/lb copper price. Euromax had reported an after-tax loss attributable to shareholders of C$1.2 million for the September quarter.




Central Asia Metals’ tailings spill in North Macedonia

On September 14th, a tailings dam at Central Asia Metals’ lead-zinc Sasa mine in Kamenicka Reka, Macedonia leaked about 8,000 cubic meters of mining waste into a local river. The exact reason for the spill still seems unclear, but Macedonian press is citing a defect in the right side of one of their tailings storage facilities.

Is there a connection between climate change and tailings dam failures? S&P Global looked into this question recently, and found that as water scarcity and flooding become more erratic and severe with climate change, tailings dams become more dangerous. As we noted in the article: “There are still thousands of risky dams out there that are susceptible to climate change, earthquakes and other types of failure. So we’re probably going to see more failures.”

Tailings were flowing down a local river, the Kamenicka, through the nearby town.  Environmental activists from the NGO Eko-Život pointed out that the Kamenicka river ultimately flows into the Vardar River, which affects the ecosystems of five municipalities. They contend that the damage from the tailings spill, “долг период ќе е присутна” (will be present for a long time). Professor Trajche Stafilov from the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje pointed out that if the tailings end up in the surrounding soil, they will dry out over time, and their components could form a fine, toxic dust able to travel long distances.

According to public disclosure data reported to investors at the Church of England, the failed facility is 61m tall and stores nearly three million cubic meters of waste. The disclosure data lists the dam as a “Very High” consequence of failure classification, meaning if the structure were to collapse entirely it could potentially kill up to 100 people and cause significant environmental damage.

This is not the first time this mine has had a tailings spill. In 2003, when the mine was state owned, two tailings dams, “collapsed and caused an intensive flow through the Kamenica River valley into Lake Kalimanci, with around 70,000 to 100,000 m3 of tailing material discharged into the surrounding ecosystem.” A 2011 geochemical investigation of the dam collapse called it an “environmental disaster.” The study found heavy metals from the tailings in Lake Kalimanci and attributed them to the collapse of the dam eight years earlier. There have also been significant environmental issues caused by blowing dust from tailings storage facilities.

After a review of the recent spill, the State Inspectorate of Environment fined Central Asian Metals € 65,000 and the company has estimated around clean-up and repairs will cost $1.5M.  Some investors have noted the spill could have negative implications for the company.  For it’s part, Central Asia Metals pushed full speed ahead to resume stalled production by initiating efforts to clean the spill and hiring tailings consultant heavy-hitter Knight Piesold to make the necessary adjustments, “со цел да се осигури дека вакво нешто нема да се повтори” (in order to ensure that this does not happen again.)

But this will happen again. It may not happen at the Sasa mine, but with 21,000 tailings dams across the world and an incomplete registry of their stability and potential dangers, there will be more tailings dam failures moving forward.  As we have seen time and time again, the mining industry cannot be left alone to regulate itself.  We need comprehensive global tailings management standards that include rigorous safety controls, require consent and engagement from affected communities, and hold mining companies accountable for their actions. In June, Earthworks along with 150 communities, organizations and experts, put for 16 guidelines for responsible tailings management.




CAML restarts its operations at Sasa mine in North Macedonia

Sasa mine, in North Macedonia owned by Base metals miner Central Asia Metals Limited (CAML) had a recent leakage at the tailings storage facility, or TSF4. The company has paid a €65 000 fine for the incident. Reporting on the clean-up activities, CAML said that it had already completed the clean-up of a high-priority 350-m section of the river.

The company has recently received approval to restart operations at the mine. The plant will initially operate at 50% capacity before ramping up to full production in about a week’s time. CEO Nigel Robinson said that the company should be able to meet its original 2020 guidance for zinc and lead in concentrate production.

In January, CAML gave 2020 Sasa ore production guidance of between 825 000 t and 850 000 t, resulting in zinc in concentrate of between 23 000 t and 25 000 t and lead in concentrate of between 30 000 t and 32 000 t.

While 2020 ore mined would remain within this guidance range, CAML said it would process between 800 000 t and 825 000 t, given the downtime from the incident. However, in-concentrate production would remain in its guidance.

Excluding production downtime, CAML reported that the total cost of the TSF4 incident, comprising dam repairs and engineering improvements to the facility as well as environmental aspects, would be below $1.5-million.

The miner expected to receive official go-ahead to start the rest of the clean-up work within the week. It is projected that the bulk of the tailings will be removed and disposed of in a secure and safe location on the Sasa mine site by the end of 2020.





Central Asia Metals’ Sasa mine in North Macedonia will pay the fine for leakage

Central Asia Metals has been the sole owner of the North Macedonian Sasa mine since 2017. Sasa is an underground zinc and lead mine located in north eastern North Macedonia that produces approximately 820,000 tonnes of ore per year.

UK-based Central Asia Metals plc (CAML), the owner of Sasa mine, reported on September 14 a short-term leakage of tailings from Sasa’s TSF4 facility into the local river. No person was harmed in the incident. The exact cause of the incident has not been confirmed.

North Macedonia’s environment ministry said that the Sasa zinc-lead mine has reached an agreement with the State Inspectorate for Environment to pay a total of 65,000 euro ($75,515) in fines and take sanitary measures over a tailings leakage incident that took place earlier this month.

The State Inspectorate for Environment imposed a 50,000 euro fine on the Sasa mine as a legal entity and a 15,000 euro fine on the responsible employee, the ministry said in a statement.

Under the agreement between the State Inspectorate for Environment and Sasa, the mine is also obliged to clean the part of Kamenica river and the nearby hydropower plant that were polluted, as well as take additional measures to avoid future similar incidents at the mining site, the ministry said.