The Gold Rush and the High Environmental and Social Impact of Open Pit Mining

The Gold Rush and the High Environmental and Social Impact of Open Pit Mining

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By Bernardita Bielsa

Open pit mining is an industrial activity with high environmental, social and cultural impact. It is also an unsustainable industrial activity by definition, to the extent that the exploitation of the resource implies its depletion.

A few months ago while I was at my home, a 20 or 22-year-old boy showed up one afternoon, claiming to come from the San Juan Bosco National University - Esquel Headquarters. He himself carried an identifying credential with his name, which also read ‘ASSISTANCE UNIT ON ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES - UNSJB’. The supposed apprentice had a folder in hand, and when questioned about his presence in the neighborhood, he told me that "he was conducting an opinion survey regarding the impact of the development of Minera El Desquite SA that would be installed in the outskirts of Esquel for the purpose of extracting gold, and that he needed to be able to interview men in their 50s and 60s in order to finish his job. "

As it was evident that he could not satisfy his demand, we began to talk, taking advantage of asking him several questions. From the dialogue held, I was able to know that he and several colleagues had come with a professor from the University, and that the technical coordinator of the interviews was Lic. Carlos Baroli. After a few minutes of talking, the car that was transferring them passed in front of my house, which produced a quick reaction from the boy, and in fear that they would leave him because they had not seen him, he excused himself and ran off telling me that he would return, and just like that it disappeared.

La Minera El Desquite S.A.

"Open pit mining is an industrial activity with high environmental, social and cultural impact. It is also an unsustainable industrial activity by definition, insofar as the exploitation of the resource implies its depletion. It uses, intensively, large quantities of cyanide, a very toxic substance, which allows the recovery of gold from the rest of the removed material. To carry out this entire process, the deposit must cover large areas and be close to the surface, resulting in gigantic craters, which can reach to have more than 150 hectares of extension and more than 500 meters of depth. The consequences are: The production of large quantities of solid and liquid waste, the impacts on the surrounding populations, and the complete transformation of the environment together with a severe modification of the morphology of the terrain ".

"It does not escape warning that in this matter, we are in the presence of the old conflict between economic needs vs. protection of the environment," warned Dr. Cristian C. E. Hendrickse in the middle of last year. "As soon as it is argued that current technology allows to give the assurance that there will be no contamination. Apparently, there are no certainties on this issue. In the first world, where technology is not spared and regulations are not only strict, but also In addition, there are organizations with sufficient budget to fulfill their control mission, major catastrophes have occurred recently. But the issue would not only end in the cyanide risk; the El Desquite mining company has entered into a joint-venture to exploit the Los Huemules area. In this area, there was already a gold mining and, if I remember correctly, it was stopped because it had reached a depth, where radioactive minerals were found with a high risk of radioactive contamination.

Desquite S.A., together with Leleque S.A., are subsidiaries of Brancote Holdings PLC based in London. For this reason, due to the fact that they are foreign investments, in case of conflict (and if the company is not bankrupt) because said investment is protected by the Agreement approved by Law No. 24,184, in case of environmental damage the company could withdraw from the jurisdiction of the Argentine courts, as already occurred in our country with another foreign capital company in the precedent of the Aguas del Aconquija case in the Province of Tucumán.

Hendrickse also points out that the largest shareholder of Bracote Holdings PLC is the Australian billionaire Kerry Packer, a character who is widely questioned in his own country regarding compliance with the payment of taxes to the Australian State, and apparently he chose the appropriate place. Few assurances of control of a State that reduces budgets of its organisms, few guarantees of technological security and in the event of risks, possibilities of avoiding local justice to resolve conflicts; in short, too many dangers to change our health, that of our children, and that of our descendants, by the expectation of obtaining a job for a few years. "

Events that occurred in Argentina

According to an article published by Daniel Blanco, in Catamarca the Minera Alumbrera brought misery. "The mining exploitation of Bajo La Alumbrera, the most important undertaking in Argentina and one of the most important in Latin America, was said to bring unlimited progress to the towns of the interior of the province, and to eliminate unemployment. None of this has happened ". It is stated that "1,000 workers from Catamarca were employed in the construction of the mine and that, of them, only 200 were left with permanent employment, some work in the operation and the rest hired by companies that have some connection with Minera Alumbrera." The provincial secretary of the UOCRA pointed out that "the octopus builder of the mine applied the same regime that applied to Chilean workers, that is, the working days were not paid to workers who were ill, nor was license granted for birth or child or marriage, as well as death or to pay wages in case of national holidays. The initial salary for an apprentice was 450 pesos per month. The work regime was 12 hours a day, 14 consecutive days and 7 days off. "

The Ancasti newspaper (11/6) gives an account of what happened in a meeting of Minera Alumbrera executives with Catamarca businessmen. "The purchasing manager (of Minera Alumbrera) said he did not know who had put so many birds in our heads in relation to the miracle that mining would produce around him, he emphasized that it is a business and that in no part of the world it produced miracles for the natives of the region. "

In response to a complaint from a business representative from Belén about the damage to the houses due to the vibration produced by the huge trucks at the site, the answer was "the company cannot care that the passing of trucks makes Doña's teeth fall. Rosa and also the houses, which, if they have not already fallen, will fall shortly, when the new trucks arrive, twice as powerful as the current ones. They also confirmed that a huge hole would remain in the site of the deposit, and that The path that leads to the site and the environment would not be less damaged. "

Complaints about environmental destruction are increasing day by day. Based on complaints filed by residents of Vis Vis and Amanao (in the department of Andalgalá), the State Prosecutor's Office investigates the multinational company Minera Alumbrera for possible leaks in the tail dam, contamination of the Amanao river basin with chemical waste and damaged crops. Those affected by the activity also warned the provincial government that the company does not deliver potable water as it had agreed with official bodies. In addition, the pipe used to extract mineral tends to block rivers and causes cuts in the provincial route (Clarín, 7/2).

Other mining history in the world

Similar problems arise with mining companies, forests and people in Costa Rica, where the Canadian mining company tries to silence the opposition "Once again a foreign company is a source of conflict for the inhabitants of the Province of Puntarenas. The Río company Minerales, a subsidiary of the Canadian transnational mining company Wheaton River Minerals Ltda., Received environmental permits earlier this year to open an open-pit gold mine in Bellavista de Miramar to extract 60 thousand annual ounces of gold for 7 years using the technique of heap leaching using cyanide ".

Like Costa Rica, Peru's forests and people are threatened. "The murder of Godofredo García Baca, complicated the conflict with the mining companies in Piura. On Saturday, March 31, a hooded individual assassinated Godofredo Garcia Baca, 64, an environmental leader, president of the Mango Producers Association and advisor technician of the Tambogrande Interests Defense Front ".

"At the moment there is a strong controversy in Piura due to the presence of mining companies, which intend to exploit mineral deposits, destroying agricultural lands and displacing Peasants from their lands. As Isaias Rojas points out, there is no economic rationale for mining exploitation, since the San Ignacio Valley has a prosperous agricultural development assured for the future, as a result of extensive state and private investment. Mining is a limited extractive activity, which is not in a position to provide as much employment and development as agriculture " .

The controversy caused by Manhattan, which even intends to transfer the district capital, reached national coverage when their camp was attacked by a group of angry residents. The Church, the mayor of Tambogrande and the National Human Rights Coordinator have requested that Manhattan withdraw from the area due to the social consequences of their actions. Meanwhile, social organizations and the population of Tambogrande and Piura have taken to the streets to protest the death of Godofredo Garcia, defying what would be an attempt to frighten those who confront the mining companies. Other people linked to social organizations have also reported threats.

The New Pathfinders

Gold has meant many things throughout the history of man. The quest for gold collapsed entire civilizations; this is thousands and thousands of men, women and children killed by disease, fighting, malnutrition, hunger. The greed of man has no limits, and the new conquerors have learned their lesson, and they know how to use all these words from the dictionary: lie, deceive, deceive, deceive, pretend, pretend, disguise, falsify, promise. Profits, profits, revenues are always for them and their companies, but as has always been the case, people stay glued to the blazons of company success. REPSOL - YPF, for example, advertised saying "we are the company that grew the most"; there are others who say "the season is good" in Bariloche, or wherever, without asking "good" for whom, etc., and the same happens with gold. "There is" gold, or "we produce" gold, or "there are large investments" to extract gold, they belong to the same chain of nonsense.

The famous gold rush has begun to cause the first havoc among the population. Far from Wall Street, in my neighborhood of Villa del Lago, a municipal ejido in Lago Puelo (Chubut), a town that is 160 km from Esquel, the neighbors were visited, and surveyed on a subject about which we know little and nothing. It is logical to say that trying to understand the complicated technical explanations on the subject in question and then being able to issue an answer about the supposed impacts, would require us entire days of work, study and research, and that if one tracks only about 10 minutes on the Internet, find that there are tons of material against the miners.

The distance was not an impediment for this student, several of his classmates, and a professor from the University to visit us to find out our opinion regarding the development of Minera el Desquite S.A., and one can only wonder what they were looking for? What did they want? Because here?

* Bernadette Bielsa
Cuenca Del Puelo Ornithological Association
Lago Puelo, Chubut

Video: The environmental legacy of mercury, gold, and asbestos mining: Evaluation of long-term impacts (July 2022).


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