Environmentalists are again beating alarm: gold mining companies continue spoiling rivers in Siberian and the Far East. Meanwhile, the issue of limiting placer gold mining in Russia remains deadlocked.
Placer gold mining has been shrinking. The “cream” was skimmed off these deposits back in the 19th century. Many plots are repeatedly rewashed. However, the methods of mining are improving along with the efficiency factor, so the miners are not going to give up yet. They go to any lengths to get their cherished kilograms of gold. Large companies that work with ore gold, try to take responsibility for their activities according to their status. Besides, they are literally under the control of watchdog agencies, while small mining partnerships in the taiga are mostly left unattended. After their digging, rivers turn into drainage ditches without banks or wildlife.
Environmentalists have estimated that this season alone, gold miners in Siberia have spoiled almost 1,500 kilometers of river channels. Satellite-based images have detected 30 facts of integrated pollution. The Krasnoyarsk territory accounts for 14 pollution spots with a total length of 816 km. The republics of Tuva and Khakassia are in the top five polluters. In the Krasnoyarsk territory, environmental violations were recorded in the Mansky and Partizansky districts at the very beginning of the flushing season. Contamination was detected in the Mina and Malaya Zhaima rivers. The investigations showed multiple excess concentration of suspended substances and metals, and a petroleum products content.
“Mining partnerships literally comb through Siberian rivers with heavy equipment trying to scoop out every last particle of gold and leaving ruined banks and waste ditches after their activities,” CEO of the Center for Satellite Monitoring and Civil Control Olga Chupachenko said.
The gold mining season is in full swing. Chances are the final monitoring data will be even worse. Last year, experts from Russia's World Wildlife Fund (WWF) detected pollution in rivers below gold mining sites with a total length of 2,649 kilometers and proved 78 facts of complex pollution.
“Some mining sites are difficult to access. One can get there only by helicopter. So, companies feel that they can do there whatever they want. It is often a revelation to gold miners that their violations can be seen from space. It is important to continue the monitoring of post-mining pollution together with activists and supervisory authorities,” Chupachenko said.
Experts have long said that placer gold mining is an absolutely barbaric method, which should be banned [in Russia,] as it was done in many countries. The adoption of relevant legislative initiatives has been postponed for years whereas mining partnerships enjoy the best conditions. For example, they got licenses for mining under a simplified procedure which does not include environmental impact inspections.
“The whole placer mining industry is semi-criminal, and both ordinary employees and top managers are very suspicious personalities. For example, a bankruptcy manager of a local partnership was stabbed to death in Krasnoyarsk several years ago. Where else would you see something like that? This entire sector is profitable. Gold prices are constantly growing, and there is no need to make any investments. Hire former convicts and locals and give them some vans to live in, some old washing equipment, an antiquated dredge and that’s it. They will be ready to work,” says a former mining partnership worker.
A year ago, WWF Russia proposed a moratorium on the development of deposits in rivers not previously affected by gold mining and in the areas adjacent to specially protected natural areas and communities that are important to economic activity. The authorities were not very enthusiastic about this initiative. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment previously stated that the extraction of placer gold was a key component of the industry. It accounts for 12% of the country's reserves of precious metals. The ban will leave tens of thousands of people without work. Moreover, even after the official moratorium, mining will continue illegally. The number of inspectors is insufficient to constantly monitor the taiga.
“In general, the issue is not being solved at all. Nobody listens to us. Few companies start conducting their activities properly after the sanctions. More often they just ignore it and keep dumping untreated water into the rivers to make extraction cheaper. We have ironclad proof, namely satellite images. However, the courts currently do not take them into account. Therefore, the mining partnerships can easily challenge the fines,” Alexander Kolotov, a coordinator of the Rivers Without Borders coalition, said in an interview with wek.ru.