Search Baja California

Saturday, April 10, 2010

NEWS & POLITICS - Open Pit Gold Mine


Paredones Amarillos Open Pit Gold Mine Status
by Karri Moser
“Water is worth more than gold” is the rallying cry that has worked to halt, at least temporarily so, the Paredones Amarillos open pit gold mine project. The residents of Baja California Sur have opposed Vista Gold Corporation's plan to obtain the permits and rights to extract gold from the La Paz area. The proposed site is also close enough to the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve to be of cause for concern.

On February 22, 2010, Vista Gold Corporation was denied the application for a Change of Forest Land Use Permit. The Mexican Secretariat of Environmental and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) denied the application to the Vista Gold Corporation's Mexican subsidiary Minera Paredones Amarillos. The reason given by the agency for the denial cites insufficient information given as to the mines effect on biodiversity and erosion in the area, amongst other issues with the application. Vista Gold Corporation does not agree with the reasons for the dismissal and they plan to amend the application, address any of the specific concerns and re-apply for the permits to begin the process.
Vista Gold Corporation contends the Paredones Amarillos open pit gold mine site will meet all safety and environmental regulations. They state they will use environmentally sensitive mining techniques. They also say the mine will create many jobs for the area. Vista Gold Corporation cites the potential to create 400 construction jobs and 300 mining positions. They have also proclaimed plans to create a foundation for health care support and education in the Baja California Sur area if they do begin to mine the area.

Public opposition to any plan to mine gold in the Baja area has been growing steadily as the local population has become educated about open pit mining and the potential dangers to the area. There are several ways to mine gold from the earth. Open pit mines are commonly cited as one of the most environmentally destructive methods. It basically involves blasting away massive amounts of the earth and creating a large open pit. In fact, some of these open pits throughout the world can actually be seen from space due to their size and overall disturbance of the natural environment. The pits most resemble open sores or ulcers on the earth’s surface.
One particular open gold mining pit that can be seen from space is the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana. It was a working mine from 1955 to1982. The 1,780-foot pit now contains 900 feet of contaminated water. The water is contaminated with arsenic, sulfuric acid, cadmium, and other acids and minerals. The contaminated water is actually compared to the chemical makeup of battery acid. There is a real and undeniable possibility that this will eventually contaminate the surrounding waterways. Some of these mines are left open and contaminated forever after all the gold is gone.

Water contamination is not the only concern when it comes to open pit gold mining. The natural landscape is literally stripped and blasted away. This means everything, plant and animal life, is also stripped away. The water table, plant life and natural levels of biodiversity are altered entirely. Because of the amount of water that needs to be brought in for operation, desalination often accompanies the mining process. The amount of water needing desalination for the mine to operate has the potential to disrupt and negatively impact the sea turtle and whale habitat in the Baja area.
Any open pit mining operation in the area will also encroach on the buffer zone of the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve. This area provides a lot of the water supply for the Baja California Sur area, along with being a major source of pine and oak. This particular area is recognized by the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization as a world biosphere. Many local citizens understand the delicate balance that exist within the reserve and naturally want to take steps to ensure its protection.

The process of mining the actual gold also drudges up many harmful chemicals that contaminate the area. The process uses lead, arsenic and cyanide, which adversely affects ground water, livestock in the area and agricultural practices. For every 37 tons of actual gold taken out of an open pit mine, 3,700 tons of arsenic is unearthed and exposed. Any major storm, such as a hurricane, is capable of spreading the arsenic to where it can directly leach into important waterways.

Open pit gold mining has been a source of contention for many communities. Gold mining corporations are constantly looking for new sites to explore and extract gold from. Currently, 200 Canadian gold mining companies are investigating 400 locations in Mexico to possibly pursue gold mining operations. In the past, these pursuits have divided communities and caused civil unrest, with violent consequences at times. An anti-mining organizer in Chiapas, Mariano Abarca, was shot in November after being the target of many threats and assaults for his opposition to mines in his community.

Local organizers and environmental groups have been very outspoken about their opposition to plans for the Paredones Amarillos open pit gold mine; www.vistagoldno.com has been putting the word out to keep citizens aware of the process and has also provided information letting Baja citizens know how they can show their opposition. Opposition groups informed Baja California Sur Governor Narcisco Agundez Montano of local concerns about gold mining and its potential to harm the environment. He too has supported the opposition. The National Commission for Biodiversity also objects to the mine plan due to the potential environmental impact.

For now, the opposition has worked to halt the issuance of the necessary permits; but Baja citizens need to remain aware of Vista Gold Corporation's plans to re-apply. Vista Gold Corporation projects they could extract approximately 1.2 million ounces of gold from the area if they are able to get the permits issued. Vista Gold President Fred Earnest and the Paredones Amarillos project manager Carlos Calderon both have publically stated through the company that the process will be safe and held to the highest environmental standards if they are able to proceed with mining in Baja. Vista Gold Corporation also currently states through online updates that they are working with legal counsel and experts to advance the permit process.
The Berkeley, Montana, open pit mine as seen from space. Photo courtesy of wired.com

The Berkeley Pit . . . once a huge copper pit mine, now a toxic man-made lake of extremely acidic water. Photo courtesy of obscuraday-berkeley-pit.eventbrite.com
The Berkeley Pit in May 1984. Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org