Sunday, April 30, 2017

Cajamarca Mining Ban - Environmental Boon or Disaster?

Location of La Colosa mine
in Tolima department.
When residents of Cajamarca, Tolima voted recently in a non-binding referendum against AngloGold Ashanti's planned La Colosa gold mine I was surprised, particularly by the overwhelming 97-to-3 percent vote margin.

After all, the mine would have brought investment and jobs to the region, albeit with a big environmental cost.

To the credit of the South African-based company's credit, a few days ago it suspended operations at La Colosa, despite insistence by the Ministry of Mines and Energy that the referendum was merely symbolic. That decision ended 400 jobs, according to the company.

"It's a positive sign for democracy," Renzo García, of The Committee in Defense of Water, told the El Espectador newspaper.
The site is estimated to contain
more than 30 million ounces of gold.

But would the end of this mine, estimated to contain 30 million ounces of gold, be a clear win for the environment?

Undoubtedly, a huge mine like this one would destroy a huge surface area and consume and pollute lots of water. And its trucks and machines would pump lots of dirty gases into the atmosphere.

But what is the alternative? If these 30 million ounces of gold aren't produced by La Colosa, gold supplies will be lower and prices will rise a bit worldwide. That will incentivize gold mining elsewhere - including much more destructive illegal mines.

Illegal gold mining in El Chocó devastates rivers
and poisons miners and even townspeople.
Photo: El Tiempo
Big corporate mines, for all of their impacts, do at least have the resources and sophistication to utilize techniques to minimize pollution and dangers to human health. (And if they don't, then at least there's somebody to sue.) In contrast, illegal and informal miners are generally impoverished, unsophisticated people who use the most dangerous methods to strip gold from the soil. Near Colombia's Pacific coast, hundreds of rivers have been devastated by illegal gold mines, and even residents of towns have dangerous levels of mercury from the mines in their blood.

All of which is not to say that the La Colosa mine would be a positive thing - but at least to ask the question.

Illegal mining's environmental devastation.
Photo: Semana

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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