Gold Producers are Teetering on Edge of a Dam

Gold Producers are Teetering on Edge of a Dam


A court has opened hearings into the criminal case of the Sisim company. Its line of business includes the mining, milling, and preparing of miscellaneous metal ores. At present, three top executives of the company are in the dock. The investigation believes that they are responsible for the death of 20 people last fall.

The tragedy produced a resounding nationwide effect. The investigation into its causes was done by top-rank law enforcers. The criminal indictment was drawn by the Prosecutor General's Office of Russia. Sisim’s CEO, as well as its site supervisor and mine overseer were brought to trial. Charges to them were issued under the clause on “Violation of workplace safety rules that resulted in death.”

On October 19 last year, a technological dam on the Seyba river was broken through at night in the settlement of Sisim’s workers in the Kuraginsky district of the Krasnoyarsk territory. The water flow of many meters in length tore the houses where the workers were sleeping. There were 60 people in two hostels. One person in every three was killed. Only in spring the bodies of three workers were found far downstream.

The Yenisei department of the Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Nuclear Supervision (Rostekhnadzor) almost immediately said that the dams had been built illegally. Allegedly, the watchdog agency knew nothing about them at all. According to Rostekhnadzor, the company's management had not provided any information about the hydraulic installations and had not issued consent to their engineering specifications.

The order to build them was made by Sisim’s CEO. During the construction of the dam the standards for development of the gold-bearing quarry were violated. Suffice it to say, in no case should people have been settled below the cascade of dams. On the night of the incident, one of the dikes fell apart, and the water washed away the rest of them in ripple effect. According to the Prosecutor's Office, about 80 witnesses were interrogated during the investigation of the criminal case, and 15 expert examinations were carried out. All the defendants involved were detained by way of pretrial precautions. Only the site supervisor , who signed a plea agreement, completely admitted his guilt.

The Sisim company insists that heavy rains are to blame for the dam breach. The investigation also believes that along with it, the accident was caused by the company’s desire to conceal the poor environmental impact of its operations. Sisim was awaiting another inspection regarding the state of the riverbed. Since early September, it had been accumulating sewage in settling sumps to prevent it from reaching the Seyba river. In other words, it hid illegal discharges in illegal water reservoirs.

The property of the Sisim company and its CEO was arrested. The plan is to use it for compensation for the damage caused to the environment and the victims’ claims for damages. Initially, the Krasnoyarsk Environment Protection Prosecutor's Office insisted on 362 mln rubles ($4.8 mln.) Then the cost of pollution damage increased to the amount of 424 mln rubles ($5.6 mln.) Sisim is a subsidiary of the Sibzoloto holding company, which focuses on alluvial gold. The company's total output exceeded 3 tonnes of gold at the end of the last year. It is the Sisim firm that will have to pay for it. At the end of the last year, Sibzoloto suffered multimillion losses.

The legal proceedings are being monitored by environmentalists. The Sisim case confirms the fact that has been on everybody’s lips for many years. Namely, all gold-mining companies operate in a predatory way. There are no exceptions. Alluvial gold mining should be seriously limited in Russia if not banned at all. According to WWF’s data, in June alone, its monitoring investigations revealed dozens of facts of suspended solids pollution in rivers near alluvial gold deposits in the Krasnoyarsk and Altai territories, the Kemerovo region, and the constituent republics of Tyva and Khakassia. The total length of contamination of water bodies was 1,121 km.

“Alluvial gold mining changes the natural river beds leading to the transformation of river valley slopes,” Alexander Kolotov, the coordinator of the Rivers Without Borders nonprofit organization, told “Muddy traces stretch for hundreds of kilometers. This season two gold mining companies were caught red-handed in the Altai republic. And there is one more in the (Far-Eastern) Amur region. The others got warnings. In the Trans-Baikal territory, Rosprirodnadzor is investigating a number of gold mining companies. In the Kemerovo region, the regulatory documents are being prepared to withdraw the licenses from goldminers. The issuance of any licenses for gold mining is being suspended there under a procedure requiring fewer formalities. It turns out that the authorities of the region can achieve this. Where’s the will, there’s a way, as the saying goes.

“In order to check our requests for contamination of rivers as a result of alluvial gold mining, employees of the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Amur region made a helicopter flight over the territory.

As a result, the pollution of the Gar, Bolshoi Dzheltulak, Bolshiye Damuki, Unakha, Ilikan, Levaya Kokhani and Namnichi rivers was confirmed. At present, the ministry is calculating the amount of damage caused to water bodies.”

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