International Environmentalists Should Stop Gold Miners’ Violations in Kamchatka

International Environmentalists Should Stop Gold Miners’ Violations in Kamchatka

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Trans-Siberian Gold Plc (TSG), a British gold mining company, is operating in Kamchatka Peninsula for several years – and is persistently violating nature conservation laws. The world community should pay attention to the way TSG is destroying the unique nature of this area.

The Guardian reports that ecocide might soon be regarded as crimes against humanity. Chances are the companies maliciously destroying nature will appear before the Hague Tribunal.

Environmental issues both abroad and in Russia are becoming more and more acute and acquiring a new scale. Environmental disasters occur every year. The year of 2020 was no exception, too. In addition to these tragedies, some of which could have been predicted and prevented, there is also an ongoing issue. Namely, constant damage to nature and malicious disregard for the principles of environmental protection. The situation also occurred in Kamchatka. This Russian peninsula is famous not only for its fish resources but also for its gold reserves. That is why gold mining companies are attracted by this area. The British Trans-Siberian Gold Plc (TSG,) the founder of the Russian company Trevozhnoe Zarevo, is among them. According to some estimates, gold production in the region will go up to 10 tonnes by 2025. Plans indicate that investment by gold mining companies will amount to about 18 bln rubles ($243.9 mln) by 2022.

A total of 76 enterprises are registered as subsoil users in Kamchatka. At the same time, environmental watchdog agencies constantly initiate administrative cases against gold miners violating legislation. It is also worth noting the articles of the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses that the companies violate. For example, "Failure to comply with regulations," "Impeding lawful activities of the authorities," "Failure to provide information," and "Failure to comply with license conditions." This indicates that their activities are not transparent, and violations on their part have been intentional. A number of violations the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources (Rosprirodnadzor) identified in 2019 have not been eliminated to date. The North-Eastern branch of the Federal Agency for Fisheries (Rosrybolovstvo) recorded almost two dozen violations of environmental legislation by mining companies this year alone.

In most cases, the activities of gold miners destroy animal habitats and especially the Kamchatka fish. As noted by ecologists, toxic waste from mining works inevitably affects the peninsula's ecosystem. There is virtually no reclamation of lands and watercourses. In the long term, self-recovery of biocoenosis is likely to take dozens of years.

"To extract ore gold, chemical substances is used," says Olga Chernyagina, an ecologist, botanist and member of staff at the Pacific Institute of Geography. “Cyanides are used as well. These are the worst poisons. Apparently, this method is the cheapest. Then gold miners make "ends," and the cyanides decompose under the sun. Some are intentionally aerated. However, this might cause problems. For example, the tailings dumps may not be made properly. Or they may break, for example, when the off-flow is not calculated, and there is a greater amount of rainfall some year. The tailings dump presses on the dam, and everything is washed into the river. All the streams flow into the rivers. And it should be said that all the big rivers in Russia are used for fishing. There are people down there who catch these fish. Not so long ago, the authorities of Kamchatka admitted that the peninsula was unlikely to survive on fishing only. So, they started developing the mining industry.”

According to the Chernyagina, experts said that starting from development of a single deposit the gold miners might want to continue. The industry has really taken over the whole territory. So, now, its ecology is seriously affected.

In particular, the aforementioned TSG has already been taken to court for violations more than once. However, it continues to violate the law. A year ago, KamchatNIRO, the Kamchatka Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography, rang an alarm bell regarding the risk of the extinction of Kamchatka salmon. The other day, TSG boasted of its success in working at the new Boomerang 25 auriferous vein at the Asacha mine which it had recently started developing. According to Alexander Dorogov, the head of the company, by the end of 2020, the plan is the production will reach a record amount of about 44,000 to 45,000 ounces of gold. The mine turned out to bring more than expected. At the beginning of this year, the company expected to produce 38,000 to 42,000 ounces of the metal.

However, it is too early to celebrate success yet. To all appearances, the company once again is not going to think over its impact on the environment of the region where it operates. Will the waste disposal operations match the significantly increased volume of gold mining? Last year, KamchatNIRO experts shared their opinion with the North-East branch of Rosrybolovstvo. It was published by media. A relevant document on the issue is available to wek.ru. According to it, Trevozhnoe Zarevo didn't bother to set up the appropriate tailings ponds. The tailings pond also doesn't ensure the treatment of day-drift washings. Noteworthy, operations on the 25th mine have not even started. Even then, as environmental experts have recorded, the company was simply pouring the dirty poisonous waste directly into Kamchatka rivers where fish were disappearing and no longer spawn. What will happen to Kamchatka now? The amount of gold mining operations is increasing, and the outdated protective installations cannot cope with the volume of waste any longer.

Of course, environmental violations might be errors on the part of business, or simply the consequences of the notorious human factor. Errors, for sure, can be corrected. For example, Sigma, the Cyprus-based gold mining company which also operates in Kamchatka, has already started correcting violations in its work. They had been detected by environmental watchdog agencies. However, this is nothing compared to the systemic violations of and disregard for environmental legislation. For the incidents of the laissez-faire approach to nature the companies must receive punishment. It seems that the suspension or revoking of license is no longer the most effective method. For example, it was applied to Dalstroy, the Kamchatka gold mining company for its malicious violations. After all, in this case, the company is essentially not responsible for its mistakes. Moreover, the operating term of gold mining is short. The companies start operating at a mine, stay there for a few years, drain the mine completely and abandon it. They do not restore the environment and do not care for what will happen to nature, people, and the territory itself after they leave it. However, the consequences of the barbarism of this kind will affect people’s lives over the next 10 to 20 years.

From the very beginning of the term of office, Vladimir Solodov, the governor of the Kamchatka territory, has paid special attention to the protection of local nature and the issues with gold mining. He is already taking significant measures. That is why Kamchatka has become a pilot region to implement an integrated system of environmental monitoring.

Local authorities draw young people’s attention to the issue of the protection of nature. Recently, the pilot project of the group of conservationists was launched there. The plan is to bring it to the all-Russia level in the future.

“This is a unique project,” says Vladimir Solodov. “It was born out of a very acute problem we are faced with. Namely, a shortage of personnel for protecting natural parks. We need to attract as many people as possible to this process. Especially those who are really interested in, love and appreciate nature.”

However, it is time to take more drastic measures. Both Alexei Kumarkov, Kamchatka Minister of Natural Resources, and Alexander Kozlov, the new head of the federal agency, should pay attention to the situation. All the environmentalists keep repeating that the expansion of gold mining should not be supported. Especially when it comes down to companies which break the laws. Why are they turning a blind eye to it in regard to the Trezvozhnoe Zarevo company which is starting its activities on the 25th mine as well without a due protection of the environment?

The authorities should be more active. Russia’s Criminal Code, for instance, has Article 358 (Ecocide). It implies serious penalties such as imprisonment for 12 to 20 years. Why does it still exist only on paper? Isn't it time to put it into practice? Especially since there are quite a lot of violations falling under it, including the situation with a number of gold mining companies in Kamchatka.

Other countries set a good example, as shown by an article in The Guardian. France, for example, has already introduced criminal prosecution for environmental damage, including fines of up to 4.5 mln euros and imprisonment from three to ten years. A number of countries have already raised the question of equating ecocide to crimes against humanity.

By the way, Vladimir Putin has already noted that for some reason foreign environmental organizations tell governments how to use their territories. Then why don't the foreign greens pay attention to the harm that a foreign gold mining company inflicts on the Russian Kamchatka peninsula? Moreover, Trevozhnoe Zarevo is operating on the banks of the Asacha river in the South Kamchatka Park, which is located in the protected nature area. The Guardian should certainly take an interest in the violations by the British company TSG in order to draw the international community’s attention to its activities. It is time to think about what our generation will leave to our children.

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