Romania’s Roşia Montana mining threatens environment

By Diana Toma and Marc Wells:

The interests behind Romania’s Roşia Montana project

16 September 2011

After the wave of privatizations that began amid the collapse of the Stalinist regimes of eastern Europe in 1989—in which state companies were auctioned off to international capital, with devastating social consequences and leaving thousands of workers unemployed—the Romanian government is considering a second wave of large-scale privatizations of remaining state-owned enterprises.

A major example of this socially destructive process is the Roşia Montana gold mining project. From the moment the project’s act of incorporation was signed 12 years ago, it was designed as a source of super-profits for a handful of big investors. The project—initiated by a member of the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL), Radu Berceanu—was also used by the ruling PDL as part of its electoral campaign.

The Roşia Montana project entails the exploitation of Europe’s largest gold mine in the Apuseni Mountains (Western Romania), from which 300 tons of gold and 1600 tons of silver would be extracted. Both the media and the Romanian state—which has signed a non-disclosure agreement with the Roşia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC)—support the project. It has been the focus of extensive controversy and local opposition. …

The main argument presented by investors and politicians for the project is that it will create jobs and would improve the living standards of people by training them in new professions. This is a lie to conceal the brutal exploitation entailed in the project, which aims to exploit precisely the appalling social conditions facing the local population.

Gabriel Resources plans to acquire all properties in the exploitation area and displace residents. Initial projections assess that nearly 2,000 people will be moved, and nearly 1,000 homes demolished. Residents are to be moved to a location without water resources and whose land is too degraded for agriculture. Moreover, the jobs created will pay a pittance and offer grossly inadequate benefits, if any. After the mine ceases to operate, 16 years from now, the area will be abandoned, with even more workers left unemployed.

Mining in Romania was a thriving industry before privatization began in 1989, employing nearly half a million people. Since then, over 100 mines have been shut. The lifting of regulations has led to a series of deadly accidents. This February five workers died in an explosion at the Uricani mine, while 13 died in November 2008 at the Petrila mine in the Jiu Valley.

Another likely consequence of the project is environmental damage and destruction of historic and archeological Roman and pre-Roman sites. The methods applied in the preparation of the Roşia Montana mining project violate already inadequate international standards, like the Directive on Environmental Impact Assessment. They contradict basic standards of the European Convention of Human Rights through the forced resettlement of the citizens and the Berlin Convention, which bans the use of cyanide in the mining process in the EU.

The mining technique to be used to extract gold involves treating the milled ore with sodium cyanide solution. It is a well-established fact that cyanide spills seriously endanger the environment and can have long-term effects on workers’ health. Alternatives such as cyanide-to-cyanate conversion, starch and sulfur dioxide reduce risks but are opposed by corporations as a burden on profits.

Gold mines using cyanidation have had a series of devastating accidents in recent years, such as in the US (Colorado, 1993), Guyana (1995), Kirghizstan (1998) and also Romania (2000). One of the worst environmental accidents in European history—dubbed the worst disaster since Chernobyl—took place in Baia Mare, Northern Romania. The result was a spill of about 100,000 cubic meters of liquid and suspended waste containing about 50 to 100 tons of cyanide, as well as copper and other heavy metals.

Greenpeace activists from across Europe stormed the office of Romania’s environment minister today to protest against a Canadian firm’s plan to build a gold mine in Transylvania: here.

Mining firms that exploit Venezuela’s gold deposits must sell all that they extract to the state under a new law that went into effect on Monday: here.

A South Wales mining community was plunged into horror today after a flood at a nearby colliery ended in tragedy with the death of three miners: here.

Tributes were paid at the weekend to the four men killed in the Gleision Colliery tragedy in South Wales: here.

The National Union of Miners (NUM) called today for tighter health and safety regulations in the mining industry following the tragic death of four workers at a Swansea Valley mine: here.

Investigation launched into deaths of four Welsh miners: here.

Local residents speak on Welsh mining tragedy: here.

Almost two weeks on from the tragic deaths of four miners at the private Gleision colliery in the Swansea Valley, Wales, investigators from the police and the Health and Safety Executive continue to claim it is too early to determine its cause: here. And here.

A miner who was killed in a pit in North Yorkshire after a roof collapsed was named today as Gerry Gibson: here.

UK Coal, the privateer that runs the North Yorkshire pit where a miner died earlier this week, will appear in court tomorrow over the death of another worker at the same colliery two years ago: here.

Saving Romania’s forests – new campaign by @WWF: here.

9 thoughts on “Romania’s Roşia Montana mining threatens environment

  1. Administrator on September 27, 2011 at 9:36 pm said:

    Grim economic context of Gleision mine disaster

    Here in South Wales we thought the destruction of the coal industry would have at least one beneficial effect. No longer would families have to endure the agonising wait to find out if their loved ones underground were alive or dead.

    But we were wrong. The price of anthracite—a smokeless fuel—is rising on the world markets. Private drift mines like Gleision are springing up around the Swansea valley, and wherever else anthracite can be mined.

    Dangerous though it is, people come to mining out of economic necessity. One of the four men who died at Gleision (Profit drive keeps miners in danger) had been made redundant in February and then found work underground.

    Conditions in some of these places are grim. There was no union organisation at Gleision. The tunnels in the mine looked like something from the Victorian era.

    A Swansea-based company called Coal Direct ran Gleision from 2006 to 2009, when it went into liquidation and was taken over by MNS Mining. The activities of these companies must be properly investigated, and the inquiry by the Health and Safety Executive into the cause of the flooding must be detailed and thorough.

    Most importantly, from now on there must be much stronger regulation of the private mining industry. But with deregulation and cuts to health and safety being driven forward by the government, this is unlikely to happen.

    With anthracite fetching a good price on the market, the result can only be more accidents, more injuries—and more tragedies like Gleision.

    Tim Evans, Swansea


    We’re being hit very hard by the cuts and rising prices in South Wales. Mining and steel have been important parts of our history. But after those industries were destroyed nothing came to replace them.

    Our young people are losing faith in the future. They can’t get permanent work that’s worth doing. The bosses know that working people are feeling the pressure and are trying to take advantage, putting the screws on people.

    What’s happened here at the Gleision mine is a tragedy. But it was only a matter of time. The companies come in and out of the area, leaving people hanging with no work when they go. And they don’t give a damn.

    Gareth, Pontardawe


  2. Administrator on October 18, 2011 at 5:15 pm said:

    Manager arrested over Gleision Colliery deaths

    By Antony Stone

    Tuesday, 18 October 2011

    A pit manager who survived a flooding incident in which four miners died has been arrested on suspicion of gross negligence manslaughter.

    Malcolm Fyfield, 55, was held by officers from South Wales Police investigating the accident at the Gleision Colliery near Swansea last month.

    David Powell, 50, Philip Hill, 44, Garry Jenkins, 39, and Charles Breslin, 62, died after floodwater engulfed a tunnel where they were working on the morning of September 15.

    Fyfield was able to escape from the mine and was taken to hospital. His condition was reported as critical at the time.

    South Wales Police did not name the suspect, who was arrested in the Swansea Valley this morning and is being held at Port Talbot police station.

    The victims’ families and community leaders were informed of the arrest.

    Detective Chief Inspector Dorian Lloyd, the senior investigating officer in the case, said: “The arrest follows consultation between South Wales Police, the Health and Safety Executive and the Crown Prosecution Service to review the evidence gathered to date.

    “We continue to work closely with the bereaved families throughout this process and I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the communities affected by this incident for their continued support and patience.

    “We will do everything possible to fully understand how these four men lost their lives.”


    See also here.


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