Friday, February 15, 2008

Catastrophic Acid Mine Drainage Blow-out Threatens Leadville Colorado and Arkansas River System with 1.5 Billion Gallons of Toxic Water

Lake County officials have feared a catastrophic blowout of a blocked mine-drainage tunnel for years, but they declared a state of emergency only amid this winter's heavy snows and a recent revelation that federal officials share their concerns.

Metals-contaminated water already is seeping out of fissures and reaching the Arkansas River, officials say, and the risk is growing of a life-threatening flood and environmental disaster if the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel bursts.

"What were trying to avoid here is a catastrophe," county director of emergency management Jeff Foley said Thursday during an emergency conference call with state and federal officials. "That's why we're acting now instead of acting when there is a blowout."

(Are we really naive enough to believe, that over the next few centuries, the Arkansas River isn't destined to be contaminated by this mine?)

The concern is a 1.5 billion-gallon pool of acidic mine runoff, laced with toxic levels of cadmium and zinc, that is dammed behind cave-ins deep underground in the World War II-era drainage tunnel.

Water beneath the mining district has risen to 188 feet above the tunnel's water-treatment plant and is beginning to spill out in new springs, according to a memorandum by Jord Gertson of SourceWater Consulting.

In addition to reaching the Arkansas River — the site of a massive Superfund cleanup effort over the past 25 years — the untreated water threatens to contaminate Leadville's water wells, said County Commissioner Ken Olsen.

And with snowpack already at 160 percent of its average depth, the threat is probably only going to get worse during the spring runoff.
River was contaminated for miles

Ron Cattany, director of reclamation, mining and safety for the state Department of Natural Resources, noted that the river was contaminated for miles downstream after the last mine-drainage blowout in 1983, which prompted the Superfund designation.

Although county officials have raised red flags about the blockages since they were discovered in 2001, they didn't learn until last week that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shares their fears.

"We are concerned that an uncontrolled, potentially catastrophic release of water to the Arkansas River from the (tunnel) is likely at some point," EPA regional administrator Robert Roberts wrote in a November letter to regional director Michael Ryan.

EPA letter "heightened awareness"

The letter "validates" the county's chronic concerns over human safety and protection of the river, and it contributed to the declaration of an emergency, Olsen said.

"That has certainly brought to our attention a heightened awareness," he said. "The situation is no different today than it was yesterday, except the fact is, what we're trying to do here in Lake County is to address the prevention of some subsequent catastrophe."

Officials with the federal Bureau of Reclamation — which operates the tunnel — as well as the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers vowed Thursday to work with state and local entities to resolve the problem, beginning with a conference call today to review data, determine the actual threat and develop possible solutions.

Here is the full article.

After years of “environmentally friendly” mining South Africa pays the price for mining industry platitudes – permanently contaminated waters

One legacy of South Africa's extensive mineral deposits is the infrastructure and wealth of the country. But another more troubling legacy is emerging as an increasingly urgent problem: environmental contamination from over 100 years of mining that could severely pollute the country's water, affecting the food chain and citizens' health.

The magnitude of the potential problem has government agencies scrambling to coordinate a response to a relatively new issue for the regulatory bodies. "The truth of the matter is that as a nation we don't know how to deal with this problem because it has never happened to us before," said Dr Anthony Turton, a leading water researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

"This was always suppressed before because people didn't matter in the pre-1994 South Africa. All we've done so far is see the tip of the iceberg. We certainly don't have any coherent government strategies yet."

But the urgency is real. As more mines close and more tests reveal hazardous contamination levels in sediment and local food samples, there is growing concern about acidic waters emanating from disused mines.

The epicentre of the problem lies southwest of Johannesburg in a valley ringed by mines - both active and closed - where a small river called the Wonderfonteinspruit runs southwest from the mining town of Randfontein to Carletonville and Khutsong, and into the Mooi River, which provides water for Potchefstroom, a large university town.

Over 10 years of scientific studies have established that the sediment in the Wonderfonteinspruit is contaminated with radioactive uranium and high levels of other heavy metals in wastewater discharged from local mines.

By law, wastewater from mines is supposed to be treated to a standard established by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) before being discharged into waterways, but the evidence of contamination in the sediment means there has not been compliance. The mining companies were not closely regulated during the apartheid years, but environmental activists charge that while laws are now in place, enforcement is not.

Further complicating the enforcement issue is that several different mining companies - DRD, Gold Fields, Harmony - operate in the area and discharge water into the same canals and pipelines, so identifying a specific source of contamination can prove difficult.

A second source of pollution is runoff and wind-eroded particles from slime dams - soil residue from within the mines that often contains radioactive elements and heavy metals. On a recent site visit south of Carletonville, residue from eroding slime dams was observed washing down dirt roads towards drainage canals that empty into the Wonderfonteinspruit.

A 2007 report by the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) stated: "These slime dams and rock dumps are potentially significant contributors to diffuse contamination."

Wind-blown radioactive dust particles from the slime dams could also pose "significant radiation exposure" through inhalation or by contaminating agricultural crops, while cattle posed a serious problem because they churned up sediment loaded with radioactive elements and heavy metals in the waterways when they went into them.

After the NNR's report was released, the largest mining company operating in the area, Harmony, issued a directive to land and water users in the area, saying that cattle should no longer be watered in the river.

Thus far, the more proactive steps are coming from the local community. The Merafong Council, which includes the town of Carletonville and surrounding district, has put up signs warning people to not use the water and has provided drinking water to informal settlements on the river's banks.

"Although Water Affairs in their latest reports indicate that the water itself is safe, it is a known fact that there are sediments that are contaminated with radiological elements," said Albie Nieuwoudt, Strategic Executive for Economic Development, Planning, and Environmental Management at Merafong.

"That's why we put up the signs. We've just created our own Environmental Management section to look at issues arising from dust and slime dam residue; we've got a duty to protect our citizens."

Frustrations with government

Rene Potgieter, a former peat farmer who now works on the Wonderfonteinspruit contamination issue, said, "We have a group here organised through DWAF where water quality is monitored. I sit on the committee, and on a regular basis we look at what the discharge water qualities are. You just see noncompliance, noncompliance, noncompliance. But all DWAF does is monitor - they don't do anything with those results."

Nieuwoudt said he had heard of NNR reports about vegetable samples but had not seen them yet. "Apparently they found some pollution in some crops. "There are small community farming projects using that water source from boreholes, so we need to be informed."

The NNR has made statements that contradict its own reports, several of which classify food samples as above the accepted limit. On 7 February 2008 it issued a statement about the Wonderfonteinspruit that said, "No evidence has been found indicating unacceptable levels of radioactivity in vegetables, fish and meat samples." NNR's CEO, Maurice Magugumela, has also assured the public that food from the area was safe to eat.

Yet an NNR status report in October 2007 said: "The NNR collected samples of vegetables (onions, asparagus and oats) and fish in the area and sent these for analysis. The projected doses from the samples taken indicate that the total doses from some [of] the samples taken are above the dose constraints and dose limits ... and are of safety concern from a radiological point of view."

When questioned about these discrepancies, Magugumela stated that it was a complex issue and different international measurements were used to determine dosage and when intervention was appropriate.

Acid Mine Drainage

After 100 years of mining in South Africa, the subterranean infrastructure is vast and many neighbouring mines are interconnected for safety reasons. To mine for gold, mining companies must displace the groundwater for the duration of the mining operation by pumping it out. This slurry carries an assortment of naturally present heavy metals to the surface on the slime dams and discharges water.

When a mining company ceases operation, water begins to re-enter the area and reacts with exposed pyrite, a mineral formation, which creates sulphate. Sulphate reacts with water to become sulphuric acid, which then dissolves the heavy metals into the mix as the water rises and eventually "daylights" onto the surface. At this point, the water is considered to be acid mine drainage (AMD) or "mine water decant".

"You get this flow of water that comes up through the springs and it is very low Ph - very acidic - and it is a whole cocktail of heavy metals and potentially radioactive metals," said the CSIR's Turton.

In the Wonderfonteinspruit area the aquifers are in dolomite, a spongy layer of rock through which water moves quickly. The speed of the water is increased by the mining shafts. In August 2002, acid mine water began to appear in the West Rand Mining Basin just above Krugersdorp Game Reserve.

Harmony Gold rapidly built containment dams and channelled the water into Robinson Lake for treatment, but a percentage of the water is unusable even after treatment and is released into the Tweelopie Spruit, a small river in the area.

A 2006 Water Resources Commission report described Robinson Lake as having an exceptionally high uranium concentration after the influx of AMD water. "This extreme concentration is believed to be the result of remobilisation of uranium from a contaminated sediment by acidic water."

A separate paper about the 2002 decant, written in 2007 by CSIR scientists and Water Geoscience Consulting, stated: "The ramifications of mine water decant for the subregion are enormous. The greatest focus in this regard is undoubtedly the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site ... Of no lesser concern, however, are the downstream landowners and agricultural activities that are largely or wholly dependant on groundwater for potable and business use."

According to Turton, "This is the source of major concern in the short term, but there are other future worries as mines close down and decant starts to move across to the East Rand."

He fears that the country's energy crisis will exacerbate the problem by forcing smaller mines that cannot absorb the financial losses caused by power outages to close. "If they close prematurely, this process will simply be accelerated like a domino effect and hit us before we have the necessary science in place to inform the policy-making process," he said.

But DWAF Minister Lindiwe Hendricks has stated that wastewater from mining operations is not a threat to the country's water supply. When the 2002 decant began, DWAF instructed the responsible mines to contain and treat the water. Hendricks said DWAF's plan to deal with future AMD issues was to build a long-term treatment plant. The Western Basin Environmental Company has been established to treat AMD water.

A Farmer's Tale

Douw Coetzee's farm is located on the Wonderfonteinspruit stream, and his dam is a radioactive hot spot with high levels of radioactive sediment and other heavy metals like cadmium. The dam tested higher for radioactivity than the site above his property where mining waste enters the water via a pipe. Coetzee said he had submitted fish and cow samples from his farm months ago but had yet to hear any results.

Regulators from Harmony mines, as directed by the NNR, ordered Douw and his brother Sas to stop using the water for irrigation purposes because it exposed the sediment, so the Coetzees watched their fields wither and lost their primary income from maize.

Then they were told to keep their cattle away from the water because cattle disturb the sediment when they go into the water to drink, allowing the mine waste to move along in the water's flow. He cannot sell the cattle, which are multiplying rapidly, or the farm, for fear of contamination. "It's not morally right," he said.

He and his brother are not only worried about financial ruin but also their health. "I've lived here all my life; I played in this mud when I was a child. The cadmium level in our dam is 16,000 times higher than the allowed maximum. We're caught up now in nothing but meetings and maintaining what's left of the farm," said Coetzee.

"Basically we're just keeping the cattle alive and having to borrow money from the bank. This was supposed to be my legacy to my children, but everything has been stopped. This is horrible."

He said there were approximately 50 subsistence farmers upstream who did not know about the issues until he and his brother met with them. Whether or not those farmers were still irrigating with river water was unclear. The farmers' union spokesman was unavailable for comment.

What's next

The NNR has established a Regulatory Steering Committee, involving all the relevant local and national government agencies, to be advised by a team of scientific experts yet to be named.

The CSIR's Turton noted that even though many people were frustrated with the current number of reports, the reports thus far have been inadequate in scope and funding.

He said two studies were needed to clearly define the issues in the area and allow government agencies to act: one is a "fate and pathway" report that will definitively determine whether the heavy metals and/or radioactive pollution are entering the food chain and, if so, what steps are necessary to break the chain of pollution; the second is an epidemiological study of people exposed to mine waste.

The reports could potentially create a rough blueprint of the mining pollution issues and appropriate actions that other areas of the country will face. "This is a national strategic issue," said Turton. "We know the next decant will be in the East Rand in the next 10 years, when they stop mining. It is the only way we will get a handle on human health issues arising from chronic exposure."

The Coetzee brothers plan to take meat samples from their cattle to a laboratory in Europe and also have themselves tested while there. Douw pointed to a collection of disused buildings on the property and said the farm used to employ 19 families.

"We tried to hold onto them as long as possible but eventually they didn't get anything from us because we didn't have any money," he said. "It's complete ruins now. These used to be nice houses."

Here is the full article.

Leadville Mine Planning to Re-open by 2009 - Will Create 300 New Jobs - When the mine shut down, many Coloradans lost everything they knew

Phelps Dodge Corp. is planning to reopen the Climax Molybdenum mine near Leadville by 2009 after overhauling infrastructure and acquiring necessary permits, the company announced Wednesday.

Company spokesman Ken Vaughn said the Climax mine would employ about 300 people when it reopens. Currently, no other mines operate in Lake County.

The mine, which at its production height employed about 3,200 people, last operated – briefly – in 1995. Since then, Phelps Dodge has monitored the molybdenum market and left open the possibility of restarting operations.

Last year, the price of molybdenum – used primarily as a strengthener of steel – hit an all-time high of $35 per pound.

At the same time, the company completed a pre-feasibility study about renewing operations at Climax.

Based on the study and the strong molybdenum market, the company board of directors approved restarting operations contingent upon a final feasibility study and permit approvals.

“Molybdenum market fundamentals remain strong,” chief operating officer J. Steven Whisler said in a press release Wednesday.

“Phelps Dodge is committed to meeting the requirements of its customers and we believe the Climax mine is the best non-operating molybdenum resource in the world.”

The company owns a molybdenum mine near Empire and Copper mines in Arizona, New Mexico, Chile and Peru and employs about 13,500 people.

The company plans to demolish most of the existing infrastructure and replace it with cleaner, more efficient structures. It plans to invest as much as $250 million to upgrade the operation.

“It’s just not practical to re-open those old facilities,” Vaughn said. “We have to put in place state-of-the-art facilities so we have a mine operating at modern standards. It will be a major construction project.”

Jobs in mining, driving, processing, engineering and administration will be available when mining operations resume. Construction jobs will open during demolition and construction.

The refitted mine could produce 20 million to 30 million pounds of molybdenum per year, the press release said.

Major layoffs occurred in the early 1980s and production halted in September of 1981.

In 1981, assessed value of property in Lake County was $258 million but it dropped to $44 million in 1987 as the mine ceased operation, Howard Tritz, Lake County assessor, said.

The mine operated briefly from its open pit in 1992 and again in 1995 when it closed because of the slow market for molybdenum, Vaughn said. He said the market has picked up based upon demand from China and other developing companies.

The company has maintained a crew at the site since the mine closed and has spent millions of dollars on reclamation, Vaughn said. He explained the company has always envisioned re-opening the mine and has kept many of its operating permits current.

Permits from Summit County and Lake County – the mine straddles the county line along Colo. 91 atop Fremont Pass – but permits from the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division will need to be obtained before the mine can re-open.

“We’re committed to continuing environmental and reclamation programs already underway and building new facilities that are state-of-the-art in how they are operated environmentally,” Vaughn said.

Company officials said they will maintain contact with residents in the area as the re-opening process continues.

“We know this is a major decision affecting the area,” Vaughn said. “We want to keep everybody in the community informed.”

Officials react to decision with optimism

Cheers and optimism in Lake County met the Phelps Dodge Corp. announcement Wednesday afternoon that it plans to reopen the Climax Molybdenum mine.

“This is great news,” Ken Olsen, Lake County Commission chairman, told the Leadville Herald Democrat Wednesday. “It’s good for all of Lake County and the region.”

The mine history dates to its discovery in 1879. During World War II, it became a major part of the steel production for the U.S. war effort. During its peak production in the late 1970s, the mine employed about 3,200 workers.

“The reopening of this mine would help revive an entire city and region within my district, and I couldn’t be happier with this announcement,” said state Sen. Tom Wiens, whose district includes Lake County.

“The mine brings jobs, commerce and economic development to Lake County and the entire region.”

Local leaders will begin planning for increased housing needs and student population caused by the 300 jobs expected to become available when the mine re-opens.

“I’m so excited,” Leadville Mayor Bud Elliott told The Mountain Mail Wednesday afternoon. “It means money will be spent every day, not just in the summer.

“I think this is going to be wonderful for the economy of Leadville and Lake County.”

Olsen said every mine has a “life” and that Lake County can’t make the mistake of becoming too dependent on the mining economy.
That mistake was made during previous operations at the mine, which halted in 1987, except for a couple of brief reopenings during the 1990s.
“When the mine shut down, many Coloradans lost everything they knew,” Wiens said. “There can be no doubt the mine’s closure hurt a lot of good, hard-working people.

“When this mine does reopen near Leadville, I have no doubt it will bring the region back to prosperity and open new doors for hundreds of Coloradans.

“This is not only a great decision for economic development, but it also shows an appreciation for the miners in Leadville, who over the years, have proven themselves among the best in the world.”

Christopher Kolomitz, Mail managing editor, also contributed to this story, as did Marcia Martinek, editor of the Leadville Herald Democrat.

Here is the full story from 4/5/2006.

Common-sense mining reform protects nature, consumers, says Seattle based Benbridge Jeweler CEO

Common-sense mining reform protects nature, consumers

Jewelry symbolizes affection, love and commitment.
Jewelry, and the metals mined to create it, should also embody environmental and social responsibility. As co-CEO of a family-run jewelry company, I want to be able to tell my customers that the precious metals we use are mined responsibly. No one wants to buy a "dirty gold" wedding ring or a "blood diamond" anniversary gift, and we don't want to sell them.

That's why my company and 26 other leading jewelers support the "golden rules" for responsible sourcing developed by nonprofit groups, including EARTHWORKS and Oxfam, and the retail jewelers trade association, Jewelers of America.

While an international dialogue between nongovernmental organizations, retailers, multinational mining companies and affected communities has begun to wrestle with how to apply the "golden rules" on a global basis, we have an opportunity to lead the way here at home.

Unfortunately, there's an obstacle blocking more-responsible mining in the United States — the badly outdated 1872 Mining Law, which affects hundreds of millions of acres of Western public lands. Intended to spur development of the West, the law is virtually the same today as it was when President Ulysses S. Grant signed it.

Nearly everyone agrees reform is needed. The reasons are compelling: The law contains no environmental provisions, it gives mining preferential treatment over other uses of our public lands, and it perpetuates a land giveaway at 1872 prices. In addition, mining companies can buy public lands for $2.50 to $5 an acre and they don't pay any royalty for the gold or silver. These giveaways have been temporarily suspended, but they remain part of the old law.

The net result is a loss of royalty dollars to our national treasury as well as polluted water and hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines across the West. Some of these mines are so contaminated with toxins that they pose an imminent threat to people or wildlife and end up as Superfund sites.

With metals prices skyrocketing, thousands of new mining claims are being staked on public lands. In Washington alone, claims increased 14 percent between 2003 and 2007, according to federal data compiled by the Environmental Working Group.

Here in the Evergreen State, there is a new proposal for an open-pit nickel and copper mine next to Mount St. Helens National Monument, which has downstream towns, including Kelso, worried. This same story is repeated around the West in places such as Boise, Tucson and Bristol Bay, Alaska, home of the world's largest wild sockeye salmon runs.

Jewelers support common-sense mining-law reforms. The U.S. House of Representatives approved a comprehensive bill late last year, and not a moment too soon. The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act, HR 2262, would fix many of the old law's worst failings by:

• Empowering federal land managers to balance mining with other uses of our public lands, such as for clean water and places to hike, hunt and fish;

• Giving local governments and tribes a voice in decisions about whether to site new mines near their communities;

• Setting common-sense standards to protect clean water;

• Protecting national parks, monuments, wild and scenic rivers, and roadless backcountry;

• Ending the sale of public lands claimed for mining;

• Providing for abandoned-mine cleanup with a reasonable royalty on the mining industry, which currently pays nothing. Cleanup will be expensive — as much as $50 billion — but would create jobs and restore our poisoned streams to health.

These are principles that the jewelry industry can get behind. Mining contributes to our business and the nation's economy in important ways. Now is the time to scrap the old law for a modern approach that upholds 21st-century Western values and benefits responsible mining companies. Our public lands and clean water are our most precious resources, not to be squandered by a law enacted before the light bulb was invented. Rather, they must be cherished and shared with our families.

As the U.S. Senate considers reform this year, I encourage lawmakers to keep the principles laid out in HR 2262 in mind as they move forward.

With jewelry retailers, hunters and anglers, local elected officials, tribes and conservationists across the West supporting reform, I hope that, soon, consumers can be assured that the gold in the rings and bracelets they purchase come from mines governed by a new law that puts water and communities first and assures the American public of a fair financial return for the mining of our natural resources.

Jon Bridge is the co-CEO of Ben Bridge Jeweler, a 78-store chain headquartered in Seattle.

Here is the full article.

Whole Life Valentine's Day Gift Guide - Your Purchasec Say no to Dirty Gold and the Destruction of Patagonia, Chile

Bestowing your beloved with conflict diamonds and dirty gold is hardly the best way to say “I love you.” Some jewelers are beginning to take notice:

Green Karat: recognizes the damage inflicted on the environment from destructive gold and diamond mining practices, which is why they only use man-made and recycled diamonds and recycled precious metals. Their myKarat program encourages consumers to recycle broken and unused jewelry for store credit. The Vinea ring ($825) is 100 percent post consumer recycled 18k white or yellow gold, available in two widths. greenkarat.com

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Brilliant Earth: To the one you love AND to responsible social and environmental values with a ring from San Francisco-based Brilliant Earth. This Platinum Seacrest ring ($1,050 without center stone; $6,500 with center stone) is certified conflict-free, hailing from Canadian mines that promote fair labor practices and environmental sustainability. Five percent of Brilliant Earth’s profits benefit African communities harmed by the diamond mining industry. brilliantearth.com
Kirsten Muenster: Jeweler Kirsten Muenster strives to create “wearable landscapes” by integrating the Japanese aesthetic of wabi sabi (the observation and appreciation of the natural cycle of life) with found objects, ethically sourced stones and repurposed vintage materials. This necklace is fashioned from recycled sterling silver, druzy quartz, a vintage glass button and fossilized dinosaur bone. Due to the one-of-a-kind nature of Muenster’s designs, prices are available only upon request. kirstenmuenster.com

Rust-Belt: Established jewelry designers Page Neal and Anna Bario joined forces to create Rust-Belt, a line devoted to repurposed materials and eco-conscious practices. Their Sisal Blue ($192) is a vintage enameled chain with a sterling silver clasp packaged in a repurposed glass bottle. Neal and Bario hope to educate others about the issues surrounding the jewelry industry on their blog at rust-belt.org.

Monique Péan uses 100 percent recycled gold and ancient fossilized ivory for her luxury Bering collection. Ten percent of her proceeds go to the Alaska Native Arts Foundation to raise awareness of Alaska native art and culture and the environmental issues they face. These Fjord Ivory Diamond Earrings are conflict-free with sustainably-harvested (ie. found) walrus ivory. Price available upon request. moniquepean.com

The Palma Collection is artisan-crafted from nontoxic, sustainable “vegetable ivory,” which comes from the nut of a rare South American palm, harvested only after it naturally falls from the tree. This Hosono ($36) necklace features vibrant vegetable dyed tagua nut slices strung on a faux suede cotton strap. palmacollection.com
Gwendolyn Davis is “interested in fashion as a vehicle for a more ethical world.” Her Verde Rocks line is a collection of “nouveau vintage” bracelets, necklaces and other goodies created from recycled and organic materials. The Glass Nugget Cuff ($89) is vintage brass adorned with a mosaic of recycled glass pieces. gwen-davis.com


Moonrise Jewelry: Much of Virginia-based Moonrise Jewelry’s wares are handmade by local artists using fairly traded, ethically sourced gemstones or renewable, recycled or reclaimed materials. These Tupelo Earrings ($68) are fair trade citrine and 24K gold vermeil. moonrisejewelry.com
Water is a Human Right: With “water wars” on the not-so-distant horizon, eco designer Linda Loudermilk thinks it’s about time people start paying attention. Her Water is a Human Right collection donates a generous portion of purchase proceeds to the YEW Foundation to support organizations with clean water initiatives. She’s constructed this faucet necklace ($79) from reclaimed silver in hopes of raising money and awareness. lindaloudermilk.com

Tarma Designs offer an alternative to gold and silver mining with their Active Collection, featuring artistic expressions of outdoor activities forged in recycled stainless steel. This Spiral Pendant ($25) was inspired by an Anasazi petroglyph signifying water. tarmadesigns.com

Here is the full article.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Gold miners face jeweler boycott - “business as usual” attempts to paper over destructive environmental legacy & practices are no longer effective

In a different twist to the annual No Dirty Gold campaign backed by environmental NGOs, five major jewelers have pledged they will not use gold from the controversial Pebble copper & gold project near Bristol Bay, Alaska.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Jon Bridge, Co-CEO/General Counsel of Ben Bridge Jeweler in Seattle said, "I am pleased to stand with others in the jewelry industry today in announcing our support for protecting Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed from large-scale mining. As retail jewelers, we want to be able to tell our customers that the precious metals we use are mined responsibly-that the materials used in the jewelry they purchase have been mined in environmentally friendly ways, respectful of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery and the communities that depend on it."

Joining Bridge in the Pebble gold boycott were Tiffany & Co., Helzberg Diamonds, Fortunoff, Leber Jewelers, Inc., and Alaska's Blake's Fine Jewelry. The retailers are among a group of 28 jewelry retailers, representing 23% of U.S. jewelry sales, who have endorsed the No Dirty Gold campaign's "Golden Rules" human rights and environmental criteria for mining.

Last December an advertising campaign was launched in industry news publication National Jeweler, asking jewelers to boycott gold from the Pebble Mine project in the Bristol Bay watershed. Washington, D.C.-based EARTHWORKS placed the ad in the January, February and March issues of National Jeweler.

Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty Mines has proposed to build the Pebble copper-gold mine southwest of Anchorage. However, Northern Dynasty has drawn criticism for failing to conduct an effective consultation campaign outside of Alaska regarding Pebble's potential impacts on Bristol Bay. Conversely, Bristol Bay environmentalists have been able to draw on the support of national and international environmental NGOs, fisheries and sportsmen groups, as well as Alaska native interest groups.

The involvement of international mega-miner Anglo American in the Bristol Bay project is expected to improve national and international stakeholder consultation. Sean Magee, a spokesman for the Pebble Partnership, told reporters that they are disappointed that none of the jewelers or EARTHWORKS spoke to them prior to Tuesday's announcement.

Magee told the Los Angles Times that "there is a lot of common ground between the Dirty Gold camp and the approach we are taking. We support high environmental standards for mining. If the fisheries can't be protected, we won't advance this project."

(High unlikely as these mining companies care little for people never mind fish: Ok Tedi Environmental Disaster )

Tiffany's CEO Mike Kowalski-who is also a prominent advocate for reform of the 1872 Mining Law-told the Anchorage Daily News that the company supports Bristol Bay residents who value the region's salmon fisheries over mining, and pledged that Tiffany will avoid using gold from Pebble if it is developed into a mine.

However, EARTHWORKS President Stephen D'Esposito told the Anchorage Daily News that mining companies, smelters and refiners also have to help jewelers, such as Tiffany, have more control over their gold supply chain.

The Pebble West project is believed to have a measured and indicated resource of 4.1 billion tonnes containing 42.1 million ounces of gold, 24.6 billion pounds of copper, 1.4 billion pounds of molybdenum and additional silver. The Pebble East project is believed to have a 3.4 billion-tonne inferred resource containing 42.6 billion pounds of copper, 39.6 million ounces of gold and 2.7 billion pounds of molybdenum.

GOLDEN RULES REPORT

In a report that accompanied the No Dirty Gold announcement of the Bristol Bay gold boycott campaign, EARTHWORKS and Oxfam America highlighted gold mining operations, which they believe, violate basic human rights, refuse to recognize their miners' right to organize through labor unions, or fail to adequately protect worker health and safety. Other mines are criticized for their alleged involvement in armed or militarized conflict, or forced relocation of nearby landowners and/or indigenous peoples.

The report also highlights mines which reportedly dump mine waste into oceans, rivers, lake or streams; and calls for ensuring that projects are not located in protected areas, fragile ecosystems, or other areas of high conservation or ecological value.

Among the mines criticized in the report are Freeport-McMoRan's Grasberg mine in Indonesia; Newmont's Yanacocha mine in Peru; Barrick's Cortez Mines in Nevada; BHP Billiton's iron ore mines in Australia; Barrick, Teck Cominco, and Newmont's Hemlo Camp mines in Ontario; AngloGold Ashanti's Mongbwalu mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo; Gabriel Resources' Rosia Montana project in Romania; Placer Dome's former Marcopper mine in the Philippines; Newmont's Minahasa Raya and Batu Hijau mines in Indonesia; Barrick's Porgera gold mine in Papua New Guinea; Ascendant Copper's Junin project in Ecuador; Newmont's Akyem gold mine in Ghana; and Anglo American and Northern Dynasty Minerals Pebble copper-gold project in Alaska.

Also featured in the report are the former Pegasus Gold Zortman-Landusky mine in Montana; Golden Star Resources' Bogoso/Prestea gold mine in Ghana; Yukon-Nevada Gold's Jerritt Canyon gold mine in Nevada; and the former Galactic Resources Summitville gold mine in Colorado.

To download a copy of the report, "Golden Rules, Making the case for responsible mining, visit www.nodirtygold.org

Staples Inc., the world's largest office-supply retailer, ends its contracts with Asia Pulp & Paper Co. (APP) because of its environmental practices

Office-supplies retailer Staples Inc. has severed all contracts with Singapore-based Asia Pulp & Paper Co. Ltd., one of the world's largest paper companies, in a move that shows concerns over forest destruction and global warming are having an impact on big U.S. paper buyers.

Until recently, Staples sourced about 9% of its total paper supply from APP and used the paper for its own Staples-branded stock, mainly photocopy and office paper. Staples had stuck with the company even as other large paper sellers in the U.S., Europe and Asia, including Office Depot Inc., stopped buying from APP in recent years because of alleged environmental misdeeds.

The Framingham, Mass., company canceled its contracts late last month, said Mark Buckley, vice president for environmental issues at Staples. Staples is expected to announce the move next week.

"We decided engagement was not possible anymore," Mr. Buckley said. "We haven't seen any indication that APP has been making any positive strides" to protect the environment. Remaining a customer of APP was "at great peril to our brand," he added.

APP representatives didn't return calls seeking comment. In the past, it has said it is moving toward relying for all of its wood on plantation trees but needs to cut natural forest to maintain production levels.

APP runs one of Asia's largest pulp mills on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and has operations in China. The retailers worry that APP is destroying natural rainforest to feed its mills.

Concerns over rainforest destruction have been heightened in recent months because new data show that Indonesia is the world's third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, the heat-trapping greenhouse gas, behind the U.S. and China. Fires set to clear natural forests and forested peat swamps after they have been logged are the major cause of those emissions.

APP last year sought permission to use an environmentally friendly logo issued by the Forest Stewardship Council. In October, after inquiries from The Wall Street Journal about APP's planned use of the logo, the FSC barred the company from using it.

Here is the full article from the Wall Street Journal.

Valentines day gifts: if it's not ethical, don't bother...43% of women would rather not get a gift than receive one that was not ethically produced

New research released today by the Department for International Development (DFID) shows that what women really want this Valentines Day is an ethical gift - in fact an amazing 43% would rather not get a gift at all than receive one that was not ethically produced.

It seems that the way to a woman's heart in 2008 is through her conscience as nearly two thirds (62%) of women say that they would be impressed if their partner went to the trouble of making sure their gift was ethical, whether it's flowers, chocolates or even diamonds. Men aren't far behind with over half (53%) saying they would be impressed by an ethical gift.

Among those expecting to receive or give a Valentines gift this year, flowers are still rated as the most popular gift to receive (42%) with jewellery (22%) and chocolate (17%) coming second and third.

Over half of women in the UK (53%) say that it matters to them that their Valentines gift is ethical. In fact, it matters so much that over half (54%) would be unhappy if they knew that their gift had been made by people who had been treated unfairly.

For any men planning to pop the question this year, it's not just about the flowers. Three quarters (74%) of women would be unhappy if their diamond was a conflict diamond.

Despite so many women preferring an ethical gift, an overwhelming 60% of those expecting to receive a gift this year don't think their partner will make sure their gift is ethical.

Relationships expert Dr Pam Spurr comments: "Women are attracted to men like George Clooney for more than their good looks. Such men clearly care about the world around them and try to make a difference. Thinking about the ethical implications of a Valentine's gift shows that a man has a conscience - a very attractive quality to women. Men should realise the way to a woman's heart is to choose an ethical gift that appeals to her."

Here is the full article.

Go Green the Next Time You Buy Gold

More and more folks are taking in their environmental concerns when shopping for their jewelry these days.

When Carla and Ryan Lents decided to tie the know, they hoped to tie in their love for the planet.

They designed invitations made from recycled paper and used only organic flowers. Buying the right rings was important too, since they're concerned about the impact of gold mining on the environment.

Gold mining, like all mining, changes the landscape and chemicals are often used in the extraction process.

Scott Cardiff is with the "No Dirty Gold" Campaign; a group that claims gold mining is one of the dirties industries.

He says not enough is being done to clean it up so they're calling on the industry to adopt a uniform set of standards.

"We have jewelry retailers who said they would support more responsible sourcing of their gold, from more responsible mining, which represents over 20% of U.S. jewelry sales at this time," says Cardiff.

The World Gold Council, made up of some of the largest mines, says its already working hard to address concerns.

"Most members of the World Gold Council, for example, already have in place very well documented codes of practices and principles that they adhere to," says George Miling-Stanley of the World Gold Council.

Practices and principles set by several associations formed specifically to improve ethical, social and environmental practices.

But Cardiff wants to see even more change. He's calling for a certification process.

"So that when you go to a jewelry store and want more ethical jewelry, they can actually say here's our certification that we are actually sourcing from a more responsible mine," says Cardiff.

For now, if you're a concerned consumer, Cardiff says you may want to ask if the jeweler is part of the campaign, or you can also go recycled.

A company called "Green Karat" will melt down any gold you send in and make new pieces for you. It doesn't even matter what color gold you recycle.

"We take out all the alloys, which is what lends color to gold. Depending on whether you want white gold, or yellow gold, we will add fresh alloys and make brand new pieces," says Matthew White of "GreenKarat."
.Matthew White, GreenKarat

That's what the Lents did, they sent in old family rings to make new ones.

If you're not in the market for jewelry right now, you can still recycle any old gold you have in your jewelry box.

With "GreenKarat" you can send in the pieces and they'll give you a store credit or donate a portion of the value to an environmental organization.

Here is the full article.

Mapuche Conflict - Chile Government Flip Flops as Human Rights Abuses Continue

Despite the government’s professed openness to resolving the Mapuche conflict, human rights abuses against indigenous people continue in Chile.

Last week JosÈ Aylwin, co-director of the Observatory for Indigenous Rights (ODPI) and son of former president Patricio Aylwin, submitted a scathing letter to Interior Minister PÈrez Yoma detailing serious human rights abuses committed by the Carabineros police force against nine Mapuche detainees in the Region IX city of Ercilla. Aylwin’s letter, based on testimonies from the nine detainees, recounts in detail the police tactics he says “can be qualified as torture.”

The nine men were arrested early this month during a two-day public festival celebrating the anniversary of the city of Ercilla. Carabineros apprehended the men individually, claiming they were causing a disturbance. Aylwin cites witnesses who attest that the festival was a peaceful gathering with no motive of political or social agitation. The nine men maintain they were attending the festival for celebratory purposes only. They are now being held at the Collipulli commissioner’s office under charges of public disorder and attacking police officers.

Aylwin claims the arrests were “arbitrary detentions” and that Carabineros acted “without these men having done anything to warrant apprehension.” The police did not ask for identification when arresting the men nor did they offer reasons for the apprehension.

Even more disturbing, however, is the physical abuse endured by the Ercilla detainees. Four of the men, upon being taken to the commissioner’s office, were tied to posts and left there more than 13 hours in police custody while being interrogated and beaten by Carabineros. The report goes on to describe one detainee who had to get stitches on his head after a police officer beat him with the butt end of a gun.

In the letter, Aylwin asks PÈrez Yoma to investigate the Carabineros’ treatment of these and other Mapuche prisoners. He also sent a copy to Rodolfo Stavenhagen, special relater to the United Nations for human rights and indigenous liberties. Stavenhagen has been outspoken against the Chilean government’s indigenous rights policies.

In the meantime, Carabineros have upped police presence in this northern district of Region IX. Residents of Temucuicui, a Mapuche town located 12 kilometers from Ercilla, released a public declaration Tuesday describing a massive influx of special police forces in their small community of 120 families.
Temucuicui has been a focal point for conflict between Mapuche and the police forces that regularly patrol the area. Tuesday’s declaration denounces the unnecessary militarization of this small settlement, including the presence of helicopters, tanks, air planes, and an increased force of police officers decked in riot gear.

As human rights abuses continue in Ercilla, the Chilean government is still vacillating on the issue of how to resolve indigenous conflict. Government spokesperson Francisco Vidal said this week that Chile is open to visits from foreign observers to intervene in the Mapuche conflict. His comment puts an end to the government’s ongoing debate on the matter.

Here is the full article.

When Sustainable Hydropower becomes Unsustainable - Lake Mead Could Dry Up by 2021 warn researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography

There is a 50 percent chance Lake Mead, a key source of water for millions of people in the southwestern United States, will be dry by 2021 if the climate changes as expected and future water use is not limited, warn researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego.

Without Lake Mead and neighboring Lake Powell, the Colorado River system has no buffer to sustain the population of the Southwest through an unusually dry year, or worse, a sustained drought.

In such an event, water deliveries to cities such as Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Diego would become unstable and variable, say research marine physicist Tim Barnett and climate scientist David Pierce.

The researchers say that even if water agencies follow their current drought contingency plans, it might not be enough to counter natural forces, especially if the region enters a period of sustained drought or human-induced climate changes occur as currently predicted.

"We were stunned at the magnitude of the problem and how fast it was coming at us," said Barnett. "Make no mistake, this water problem is not a scientific abstraction, but rather one that will impact each and every one of us that live in the Southwest."

"It's likely to mean real changes to how we live and do business in this region," Pierce added.

The researchers estimate that there is a 10 percent chance that Lake Mead could be dry by 2014. They further predict that there is a 50 percent chance that reservoir levels will drop too low to allow hydroelectric power generation by 2017.

Lake Mead is the largest human-made lake and reservoir in the United States. It is located on the Colorado River about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas, Nevada, in the states of Nevada and Arizona. Formed by water impounded by Hoover Dam, it extends 110 miles behind the dam, holding approximately 28.5 million acre feet of water.

Barnett and Pierce conclude that human demand, natural forces like evaporation, and human-induced climate change are creating a net deficit of nearly one million acre-feet of water per year from the Colorado River system that includes Lake Mead and Lake Powell. This amount of water can supply roughly eight million people.

Their analysis of Federal Bureau of Reclamation records of past water demand and calculations of scheduled water allocations and climate conditions indicate that the system could run dry even if mitigation measures now being proposed are implemented.

The Lake Mead/Lake Powell system includes the stretch of the Colorado River in northern Arizona. Aqueducts carry the water to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, and other communities in the Southwest. Currently the system is only at half capacity because of a recent string of dry years, and the team estimates that the system has already entered an era of deficit.
"When expected changes due to global warming are included as well, currently scheduled depletions are simply not sustainable," wrote Barnett and Pierce in their paper, "When will Lake Mead go dry?," which has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed journal "Water Resources Research," published by the American Geophysical Union.

Barnett and Pierce note that a number of other studies in recent years have estimated that climate change will lead to reductions in runoff to the Colorado River system. Those analyses consistently forecast reductions of between 10 and 30 percent over the next 30 to 50 years, which could affect the water supply of between 12 and 36 million people.

Barnett said that the researchers chose to go with conservative estimates of the situation in their analysis, though the water shortage is likely to be more dire in reality.

The team based its findings on the premise that climate change effects only started in 2007, though most researchers consider human-caused changes in climate to have likely started decades earlier. They also based their river flow on averages over the past 100 years, even though it has dropped in recent decades. Over the past 500 years the average annual flow is even less.

"Today, we are at or beyond the sustainable limit of the Colorado system. The alternative to reasoned solutions to this coming water crisis is a major societal and economic disruption in the desert southwest; something that will affect each of us living in the region," the report concludes.
The research was supported under a joint program between UC San Diego and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and by the California Energy Commission.

Here is the full article.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Anglo American PLC & Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd incite jeweler boycott for Pebble Gold Mine in Alaska

Five of the nation's leading jewelers have sworn off gold that could someday come from the Pebble Mine, a huge deposit near the world's most productive wild sockeye salmon stream.

The jewelers, including Tiffany & Co., Ben Bridge Jeweler and Helzberg Diamonds, pledged Tuesday not to knowingly sell jewelry made from gold that might be extracted from the proposed mine near the Bristol Bay watershed in southwest Alaska.

'We are committed to sourcing our gold and other materials in ways that ensure the protection of natural resources such as the Bristol Bay watershed,
' the pledge says. 'We would not want the jewelry we sell to our customers to jeopardize this important natural resource.'

The other two companies making the pledge to support permanent protection of the watershed from large-scale mining are Fortunoff and Leber Jewelers. The five retailers together sold about $2.2 billion in jewelry in 2006.

Northern Dynasty Mines Inc., an American subsidiary of Canadian company Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., is developing the prospect in partnership with Anglo American PLC, a London-based mining company.

Northern Dynasty spokesman Sean Magee said he was surprised that none of the companies contacted Northern Dynasty before signing the pledge. He said Northern Dynasty would be contacting the retailers this week to describe Pebble Mine and the approach to the project.

'We have made a commitment to employ the very highest standards at Pebble,' Magee said.
(The "high standards" of the Canadian Mining Industry speak for themselves: Canadian Mining Industry Run Amok )

The pledge was made in conjunction with a report by the No Dirty Gold campaign led by Oxfam America and Earthworks, an advocacy group.

Pebble Mine is estimated to be the second largest ore deposit of its type in the world. Production could begin in 2015.

Here is the full article from Forbes.

Anglo American PLC at the center of massive humans rights atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Leading international corporations established links to warlords

(Johannesburg, June 2, 2005) — The lure of gold has fuelled massive human rights atrocities in the northeastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch said in a new report published today. Local warlords and international companies are among those benefiting from access to gold rich areas while local people suffer from ethnic slaughter, torture and rape.

The 159-page report, “The Curse of Gold,” documents how local armed groups fighting for the control of gold mines and trading routes have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity using the profits from gold to fund their activities and buy weapons. The report provides details of how a leading gold mining company, AngloGold Ashanti, part of the international mining conglomerate Anglo American, developed links with one murderous armed group, the Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI), helping them to access the gold-rich mining site around the town of Mongbwalu in the northeastern Ituri district.
The Human Rights Watch report also illustrates the trail of tainted gold from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to neighboring Uganda from where it is sent to global gold markets in Europe and elsewhere. The report documents how a leading Swiss gold refining company, Metalor Technologies, previously bought gold from Uganda. After discussions and correspondence with Human Rights Watch beginning in December 2004, and after the report had gone to press, the company announced on May 20 that it would suspend its purchases of gold from Uganda. The Metalor statement was welcomed by Human Rights Watch.

“Corporations should ensure their activities support peace and respect for human rights in volatile areas such as northeastern Congo, not work against them,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher on DRC at Human Rights Watch. “Local warlords use natural resources to support their bloody activities. Any support for such groups, whether direct or indirect, must not continue.”

In contravention of international business standards and the company’s own code of conduct, AngloGold Ashanti provided meaningful financial and logistical support – which in turn resulted in political benefits - to the FNI and its leaders, a group responsible for some of the worst atrocities in this war-torn region. In correspondence with Human Rights Watch, AngloGold Ashanti stated there was no “working or other relationship with the FNI” but it said that it had made certain payments in the past to the FNI, including one in January 2005 that was made under “protest and duress.” AngloGold Ashanti also said that any contacts with the FNI leadership were “unavoidable.”

Human Rights Watch researchers documented meetings between the company and the armed group leaders. The self-styled president of the FNI, Floribert Njabu, told Human Rights Watch, “The government is never going to come to Mongbwalu. I am the one who gave [AngloGold] Ashanti permission to come. I am the boss of Mongbwalu. If I want to chase them away, I will.”

AngloGold Ashanti started preparations for gold exploration activities in Mongbwalu in late 2003. The company won the mining rights to the vast gold concession in 1996 but, hampered by the ongoing war, postponed activities there until a peace agreement was signed and a transitional government was established in Kinshasa. The central government failed to establish control of Ituri, however, and the areas around Mongbwalu remained in the hands of the FNI armed group.

As a company committed to corporate social responsibility, AngloGold Ashanti should have waited until it could work in Mongbwalu without having to interact with abusive warlords,” said Van Woudenberg. “Congo desperately needs business investment to help rebuild the country, but such business engagement must not provide any support to armed groups responsible for crimes against humanity.”

From 1 – 3 June, Anglo American is co-chairing the Africa Economic Summit in Cape Town, aimed at promoting business investment and engaging business as a catalyst for change in Africa.
The gold concessions of northeastern Congo, some of the richest in Africa, could help to rebuild Congo’s shattered economy. But according to Human Rights Watch researchers, fighting between armed groups for the control of the gold mining town of Mongbwalu cost the lives of at least two thousand civilians between June 2002 and September 2004. One miner told Human Rights Watch: “We are cursed because of our gold. All we do is suffer. There is no benefit to us.”

Throughout the conflict, artisanal mining has continued. Millions of dollars worth of gold are smuggled out of Congo each year some of it destined for Switzerland. The Swiss refining company, Metalor Technologies, bought gold from Uganda. Asked about these purchases by Human Rights Watch on April 21, 2005, Metalor stated it believed “the gold…was of legal origin.” But since Uganda has almost no gold reserves of its own, a significant amount of the gold purchased by the company was almost certainly mined in Congo. In its public statement of May 20, Metalor said it would not accept any further deliveries from Uganda until the company could clarify Uganda’s position and statistics on gold production and export.

“We hope other companies will follow the lead set by Metalor,” said Van Woudenberg. “The problems we have documented are not unique to Congo, nor to one international company. Rules governing corporate behavior must be enforced, otherwise they are meaningless.”

In August 2003, a group of United Nations experts adopted a set of draft human rights business standards, known as the U.N. Norms, which signaled a growing consensus on the need for standards on corporate responsibility, but they have not yet been widely implemented by companies. The international community has also failed to effectively tackle the link between resources exploitation and conflict in Congo, choosing to ignore previous U.N. reports that highlighted the issue.

Northeastern Congo has been one of the worst hit areas during Congo’s devastating five-year war. Competing armed groups carried out ethnic massacres, rape and torture in this mineral-rich corner of Congo. A local conflict between Hema and Lendu ethnic groups allied with national rebel groups and foreign backers, including Uganda and Rwanda, has claimed over 60,000 lives since 1999, according to United Nations estimates. These losses are just one part of an estimated four million civilians dead throughout the Congo, a toll that makes this war more deadly to civilians than any other since World War II.

“Efforts to make peace in Congo risk failure unless the issue of natural resource exploitation and its link to human rights abuses are put at the top of the agenda,” said Van Woudenberg “Congolese citizens deserve to benefit from their gold resources, not be cursed by them.”

Quotes from The Curse of Gold

Witness of atrocities by the UPC armed group in a village near to Mongbwalu:

I saw many people tied up ready to be executed. The UPC said they were going to kill them all. They made the Lendu dig their own graves… [then] they killed the people by hitting them on the head with a sledgehammer.

Witness in Mongbwalu:

When the UPC were in Mongbwalu they sent their gold to Bunia and from there it was sent to Rwanda. In exchange they got weapons.

A witness to the burning of Hema women accused of being witches by the FNI armed group:


The strategy was to close them in the house and burn it. They captured the women from the surrounding countryside. They said it was to bring them to talk about peace. They put ten women in a house, tied their hands, closed the doors, and burned the house. This lasted about two weeks, with killing night and day.

A young gold trader tortured for failure to pay taxes to the FNI armed group:

There I spent two days in a hole in the ground covered by sticks. They took me out of the hole to beat me. They tied me over a log and then they took turns hitting me with sticks - on my head, my back, my legs. They said they were going to kill me.

A witness to forced labor:

The FNI combatants come every morning door-to-door. They split up to find young people and they take about sixty of them to the river to find the gold… They are forced to work. If the authorities try to intervene they are beaten.

A victim of torture by General Jerome:

They said the gold was for Commander Jérôme and he needed money to build his house. They said if I didn’t give the money, Jérôme would give the order for me to be killed. On the fifth day Jérôme came with his officers to the prison . . . and pointed his gun at me. He said: “Since the first day, I said I would kill you. I don’t joke. Today it’s the end of your life.” They made me get out of the hole and lie down. Jérôme loaded his revolver and put it to the back of my neck.

Mining engineer in the Durba gold mining region where the Ugandan army had been present:

The Ugandan army were responsible for the destruction of Gorumbwa [gold] mine. They started to mine the pillars. It was disorderly and very widespread. People were killed when the mine eventually collapsed. It was not their country so they didn’t care about the destruction.

A gold trader asked why he worked in the dangerous mines:

“Tell me what choice I have? This is the only way I can make any money. Its about my own survival and that of my family.”

A Congolese government official:

“We just watch our country’s resources drain away with no benefit to the Congolese people.”

Charles Carter, Vice President at AngloGold Ashanti:

The company has made preparations to “commence exploration drilling on the Kimin prospect [OKIMO] in the Ituri region of the DRC…[W]hile this is obviously a tough environment right now, we are looking forward to the opportunity to fully explore the properties we have in the Congo, believing that we now have access to potentially exciting growth prospects in Central Africa."

Local observer to events in the mining regions:

“Njabu [President of the FNI] now has power due to the gold he controls and [the presence of] AngloGold Ashanti. This is his ace and he will use it to get power in Kinshasa.

Here is the full article.

Kinross Gold and Katanga Mining: Part of the Pillage of the Democratic Republic of Congo?

According to various analyses, a joint venture involving Kinross Gold, and which is now being taken over by Katanga Mining Limited, gives the multinationals access to huge pieces of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s state mining company, Gécamines (La Générale des Carrières et des Mines) at “fire sale” prices.

Gécamines was formed by former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1966 to nationalise the ill-gotten assets of the notorious Belgian company, Union Minière du Haut Katanga, (formed in 1906 out of the merger of a company created by Léopold II and Tanganyika Concessions Ltd. (a British group created by Cecil Rhodes). Despite years of Mobutu and his cronies siphoning off money, in the early 1990s Gécamines was still the most lucrative source of state revenue in the DR Congo. Now Gécamines has been stripped of virtually all of its assets and ore bodies through a number of disadvantageous contracts. One of those contracts carries a Canadian stamp.

In February, 2004, a contract was signed between Gécamines and British Virgin Islands-based Kinross Forrest Limited, creating the Kamoto Joint Venture and assigning 75% ownership to Kinross Forrest (based on a $200 million investment) and 25% to Gécamines. The Kamoto joint venture holds copper and cobalt leases at Kolwezi, Katanga Province, as well as owning the Kamoto concentrator, the Luilu hydrometallurgical facilities, the Kamoto underground mine, several open pit mines, and related infrastructure.

Kinross Forrest has a definite Canadian connection. It was created some time prior to October 2001, owned 35% by Kinross Gold Corporation, 25% by Tain Holdings Limited (owned by Arthur Ditto, former Vice-Chairman of Kinross Gold), and 40% by George Forrest International Afrique S. PRL (owned by George Forrest, former Gécamines chairman). Kinross only reported on its participation, and the ownership structure, in its 2004 Annual Report.
On August 2, 2005 — confident of President Kabila’s ratification of the joint venture agreement — Balloch Resources Ltd. and Kinross Forrest finalised an agreement giving Balloch the right acquire 100% of Kinross Forrest. Under the agreement, Kinross Forrest shareholders will receive common shares pro rata in proportion to their holdings in KFL.

The joint venture agreement was ratified by President Kabila on August 4, 2005.

On November 30, 2005, Balloch Resources held a special shareholders meeting to ratify and approve the purchase of Kinross Forrest. Balloch also changed its name to Katanga Mining Limited and Kinross Forrest shareholders Robert M. Buchan (former President of Kinross Gold), Arthur H. Ditto, and George A. Forrest were elected to Katanga’s Board of Directors.

Pursuant to the August 2, 2005 agreement (ratified by Kinross Gold shareholders on September 2, 2005), by December 13, 2005 Katanga Mining Ltd. had purchased a 23.33% share interest in Kamoto from Kinross Gold Corporation for $5.45 million, leaving Kinross with 11.67% of Kinross Forrest until such time as Katanga exercises its remaining options.

The joint venture has been controversial in the DRC and internationally. Most recently, UK-based Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) commissioned a legal analysis of the Kinross Forrest joint venture (and another similar contract with Global Enterprises) from Fasken Martineau DuMoulin (FMD), and wrote to World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz asking him to investigate the contracts. The agreements, ratified under World Bank supervision, relate to extensive assets of Gécamines being transferred or leased for use by the private sector without an international invitation to tender or any evaluation or assurance that the DRC will be appropriately paid for them.

According to RAID’s news release, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin found that Kinross Forrest and Global Enterprises:

• will likely reap substantial benefits from the ventures, including complete repayment of loans, before Gecamines receives any reward for contributing the ore bodies and mining assets;

• will manage their respective ventures, but payment to Gecamines for rented installations and machines will likely be minimal or zero; and

• will likely be paid dividends via service contracts, because this is more profitable for the private partners than sharing the remaining profits with Gécamines.

Bizarrely, RAID has since been notified by FMD that “these letters were sent to you without having been approved by a partner, as they should have been” although this “is not to be taken as any criticism or negative reflection on RAID”. The legal advice was published with FMD’s express knowledge and approval. FMD is one of the main legal firms for the mining industry.
Also in reference to the Kamoto joint venture and the role of Kinross Gold and Katanga Mining, several Canadian non-governmental organisations (including MiningWatch) wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay on March 17, 2005, urging him to find ways to regulate the activities of Canadian mining companies in vulnerable countries.

But the controversy has been brewing for years. A three-year investigation by a Panel of Experts, convened by the United Nations Security Council in 2000, exposed sophisticated networks of high-level political, military and business persons in cahoots with various rebel groups were intentionally fuelling the conflict in order to retain their control over the country’s natural resources. In a series of controversial reports, the Panel exposed the vicious cycle of resource-driven conflict that had taken hold of the DRC.

In its October 2002 report, the Panel also accused dozens of western companies of violating a set of government-backed international standards for responsible corporate behavior known as the “Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises”. The Panel felt it was necessary to bring to light the companies’ role in perpetuating the conflict.

A Commission of Inquiry was set up in 2003 by the Congolese Transitional Government under the chairmanship of Christophe Lutundula to review the validity of the contracts concluded during the war years (1996-1998). The commission submitted its report to the Office of the Congolese National Assembly on June 25, 2005, but the report was not published until February 20, 2006. The report found that dozens of contracts were either illegal or were disadvantageous to the country, and support a 2003 report prepared by International Mining Consultants (IMC) for the World Bank on Gécamines. The IMC study — still not published — also concluded that the private partners in these joint ventures contributed hardly anything compared with what they gained from Gécamines.

Both the IMC and Lutundula reports called on the Congolese government to suspend all further negotiations, although the Lutundula Commission did not specifically look at the Kinross Forrest agreement. According to the IMC report, the mining concessions that Gécamines still owned in 2003 would have been sufficient to relaunch the company. IMC called for “an immediate halt to all negotiations” and for “rapid preparations for the renegotiation of the partnerships”.

The Lutundula Commission recommended that “all negotiations for the sale of the mine of Kamoto, Kamoto Oliviera Virgule (KOV), the Luilu installations and the Kamoto concentrator, which form the backbone of Gécamines, should be immediately halted.” The Kamoto Joint Venture clearly falls within the conclusions of both the IMC and Lutundula reports, yet President Kabila chose to sign it. There has been much speculation on the reasons for this, based on the individuals involved and their interests as well as the political and economic considerations of Kabila himself.

George Forrest is no stranger to controversy either. A complaint was filed in the US under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises on November 24, 2004 by Friends of the Earth-US and RAID regarding Ohio-based OM Group’s joint venture with Forrest, the Groupement pour le Traitement des Scories du Terril de Lumbumbashi, Ltd., alleging anti-competitive practices, supply chain responsibility, violation of national law, and improper political involvement. OM Group never responded to US authorities.

According to the 2002 report of the UN Panel of Experts, Kinross had been thwarted in initial investment efforts by Congolese officials and George Forrest; clearly, they have worked out their differences. According to Katanga, the Kinross Forrest portion of the Kamoto joint venture is now worth almost three times the initial $200 million investment, and the fact that senior Kinross Gold executives quit their posts in order to take up with Katanga would indicate their confidence that the venture is worth quite a bit more than that.

Katanga Mining Ltd. is registered in Bermuda and reports to the British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario Securities Commissions. It trades on the Toronto Venture Exchange under the symbol KAT. Kinross Gold is registered in Ontario and reports in all Canadian provinces; it trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol K and on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol KGC.

Here is the full article.

Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia assists Anglo American PLC with Corporate Greenwash Sustainability Campaign

It's an interesting sign of the times when the chairman of a mining company notorious for illegally evicting subsistence farmers to increase international coal exports is invited to lecture on "sustainability".

But that is what happened when Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada invited Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, chairman of Anglo American plc, the world's second largest mining company, to address a packed house about "Sustainability Challenges for Extractive Industries Operating Globally".

"There is a lot of buzz in the crowd, which is great," said Ray Cote, a professor of environmental studies, in introducing Sir Moody-Stuart, as student activists passed out leaflets about Anglo American's alleged transgressions in Colombia.

"This company, through its stake in the Cerrejon mine, is responsible for forcibly displacing hundreds of subsistence farmers in northeastern Colombia," said Bronwen White, a fourth-year international development studies student at Dalhousie who passed out critical leaflets prior to the event.

The village of Tabaco, a sustainable farming community populated primarily by Afro-Colombians, was destroyed by Cerrejon's bulldozers in 2001-2002 to make way for more coal exports. "This is not the kind of person who should be speaking about sustainability," White told IPS.

Sir Moody-Stuart is no stranger to this sort of controversy. With gentile candour and huge bushy white eyebrows, Moody-Stuart (he was knighted in 2000) once headed up Shell Oil's controversial Nigerian operations.

Because of his work at Shell and the ensuing allegations that the company had collaborated with Nigeria's military to murder environmental activists, Moody was featured in the popular documentary "The Corporation"; he serves tea to radical earth-first environmentalists as they protest on his front lawn.

While most corporate honchos don a pinstriped suit for these sorts of engagements, Moody-Stuart wore a rumpled blazer atop an un-ironed blue shirt, with several pens stuffed into the breast pocket.

He says he doesn't believe profit should be the driving force for corporations. "The ultimate goal of a company is to produce quality goods and services," he told the audience. "There is not much trust in big business these days."
Activists, however, weren't buying what Sir Moody was selling. One audience member, a master's student at Saint Mary's University, accused him of "corporate green washing" while others held colour photos of Colombian families displaced by Anglo American's operations.

The Cerrejon mine, owned by Anglo American and two other multinationals, is the largest open pit coal mine in the world.

Bronwen White and other students showed video footage of Tabaco's destruction prior to Sir Moody's presentation. In it, a small girl with pigtails and pink overalls cries and pushes against the shields of Colombian riot police as bulldozers ram her family's home while other community members scream and wail.

Prior to its destruction, Tabaco boasted a school, health clinic, good farmland and a telephone exchange. Today, most former residents have joined three million internally displaced Colombians eking out a living however they can.

"Cerrejon employs thousands of Colombians, paying high wages," Moody-Stuart told IPS in an interview prior to the event. "The original relocation [of Tabaco], I think, was carried out in accordance with Colombian law." However, he adds, "We have always said that we don't think it [the displacement] was perfectly executed."

When pressed about whether shipping coal, tainted by allegations of human rights abuses, from Colombia to Canada represents a sustainable business practice, he said, "We can stop producing coal, but your lights are going to go out."

In 2007, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) launched an investigation of BHP Billiton, an Australian multinational with a stake in the Cerrejon mine, for the eviction of Tabaco. Moody-Stuart thinks an OECD investigation of Anglo American is a realistic possibility.

In response to human rights concerns around Anglo American's operations, Moody-Stuart told IPS his company has struck a committee, chaired by the President of Cape Breton University and consisting of NGOs from Chile, a Colombian economist and other notables to investigate allegations around Cerrejon. Their report is due out soon.

Moody-Stuart maintains that only "a small number" of families from Tabaco were not compensated for their property. After interviewing more than 60 families displaced from the community, Dr. Avi Chomsky at Salem State University came to a different conclusion.

"We heard the same story again and again," Dr. Chomsky told IPS in an e-mail after completing the most comprehensive research available on the Tabaco displacement. "'We are peasants, we are farmers,' people told us," said Chomsky. "'We used to be productive people; we used to support ourselves and our families. We were not rich, but we worked our land and we provided our children with what they needed. Since the company took our town and our land, there is nothing for us to do. There is no work'."

Cerrejon produced 30 million tonnes of coal last year and hopes to expand to 38 million to 42 million tonnes by early next decade. This means more communities will soon be displaced.

"Four more villages -- Roche, Pantilla, Chancleta and Tamaquito -- are threatened with displacement in the next few years," said Garry Leech, a lecturer at Cape Breton University who has interviewed scores of farmers displaced by Moody-Stuart's mining operations.

"Cerrejon has been harassing people living in these communities, demanding that they leave the area," Leech told IPS in a phone interview, adding that the mine refuses to collectively negotiate with the nearby communities.

"Throughout history, people have had to move for industrial projects," said Moody-Stuart in an interview. "The question is how you manage those displacements."

"Everyone can make mistakes," said Bronwen White after Moody's talk and the lively question and answer session which followed. "But it seems like Anglo American's Colombian operations haven't learned anything from the displacement of Tabaco. These aren't just numbers; we're talking about people's homes and lives that will be destroyed."

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