MAC: Mines and Communities

Call to action: No to industrial gold mining in the forests of French Guyana

Published by MAC on 2017-03-20
Source: Rainforest Rescue (2017-03-20)

Organizations are calling on the French government to place a moratorium

The French government is encouraging foreign multinationals to establish vast mining operations in the heart of the French Guianan forest. Among these is the “Montagne d’Or” project, which is scheduled to start in 2018. With an area of 190 square kilometers and a 2.5 km long, 500 meter wide and 400 meter deep pit, it would be the largest gold mine ever operated on French soil.

The Or de question collective, an alliance of local and national NGOs, is calling on the French government to cancel the mega-mining projects immediately.

No to industrial gold mining in the forests of Guiana

Our 18 organizations are therefore calling on the French government to place a moratorium on large-scale mining in French Guiana and the immediate cessation of all such projects already underway. The list of supporters will be sent on 7 April 2017 to the candidates in
the French presidential and legislative elections.

https://www.rainforest-rescue.org/petitions/1084/no-to-industrial-gold-mining-in-the-forests-of-french-guiana

20 march, 2017

It would be an industrial hellscape: the “Montagne d'Or” project would involve a concession area of 190 square kilometers and include a pit 2.5 km long, 500 m wide and 400 m deep. Its cyanide ore processing plant would consume no less than 20% of the power generated in French Guiana.

Industrial sites of this type inevitably destroy wide swathes of surrounding forest and the likelihood of water pollution due to acid mine drainage is high. The greatest risk lies in the dammed storage of millions of tons of cyanide sludge. Since 2000, at least 25 dam breaks have occurred around the world. In 2015, a mining dam collapse in Brazil caused one of the worst ecological disasters of all time.

French Guiana includes a still-intact part of the Amazonian forest – the green lung of our planet and home to extraordinary biodiversity. It is crucial that we protect this ecosystem against such destructive activities.

Gold mining is not indispensible. Industrial requirements account for only 8% of gold currently mined. The recycling sector supplied three times that amount in 2015.

If France authorizes the exploitation of this first deposit, it would set a disastrous precedent for similar projects in the future.

The envisaged course of action does not represent a path toward sustainable development. Moreover, the population was not consulted and procedures requiring recourse to the Advisory Council of the Amerindian and Bushinengue indigenous populations were not respected.

The Or de question collective, an alliance of local and national NGOs, is calling on the French government to cancel the mega-mining projects immediately. The French Guianan economy must move toward ecologically and socially sustainable development.

Thank you for speaking out against this potential ecological disaster by signing the petition: https://www.rainforest-rescue.org/petitions/1084/no-to-industrial-gold-mining-in-the-forests-of-french-guiana


The French government is quietly encouraging [1] multinational corporations to launch gigantic mining operations in the heart of the French Guiana forest. Among them, the “Montagne d'Or” project by the Russian-Canadian NordGold/Columbus Gold consortium is expected to start in 2018 [2]. It would be the largest gold mine ever established on French territory. Industrial gold mines are still the cause of serious and often irreversible human and environmental impacts [3]. We consider the destruction of a part of French Guiana’s exceptional biodiversity and taking the risk of major accidents to be unacceptable for the extraction of a material currently of secondary social and industrial utility. Our 18 organizations [4] are therefore calling on the French government to place a moratorium on large-scale mining in French Guiana and the immediate cessation of all such projects already underway.

Titanic mining projects

Because the quantities of gold present in the rock are minute (1 to 2 grams of gold per ton of rock), the Montagne d'Or project would require digging a pit 2.5 km long, 500 meters wide (an area equivalent to 150 soccer fields) and 400 meters deep [5]. This will generate an estimated 400 million cubic meters of extremely toxic mine waste. The ore processing plant would also require energy equivalent to 20% of French Guiana’s annual consumption [6]. Furthermore, the Advisory Council of the Amerindian and Bushinengue Populations (CCPAB) warned of demands for the retrocession of 200,000 hectares of primary forests, including traditional lands and subsistence areas of these communities, whose wood would be then used to fuel the mine processing plant [7]. The CCPAB also denounces the fact that they have not been consulted for the Montagne d'Or project, in violation of French legislation [8].

Our organizations warn that if France was to allow this first large-scale exploitation of a gold deposit, it would set a precedent that would open the floodgates to numerous comparable mining projects. Moreover, the second wave is already taking shape: with 36 concessions or operating licenses already granted and 21 exploration permits requested or in progress, mining companies from all over the world have already staked out 320,000 hectares of the territory of French Guiana [9].

Known and unacceptable risks

Industrial sites of this type inevitably destroy the forest and ecosystems on which they are established, disrupting the environment by transporting polluted water and sludge from the worked areas and mining waste storages. In addition, the Montagne d'Or mining site would cover an area of 12 square kilometers between two protected ecological reserves and come within 500 meters of one of them.

The gravest risk arises from the tailings dams retaining millions of tons of cyanide sludge. These dams are particularly sensitive to the accumulation of water which increases the risk of failure. Contrary to the assertions of the mining companies, the risk is far from negligible: at least 25 tailings dam failures have occurred worldwide since 2000 [10]. The most recent example happened at the Samarco mining site in Brazil in November 2015, the “Brazilian Fukushima”.

Gold mining has become an industrial aberration

Most of the gold used throughout history is currently stored as bullion or jewelry. Only 8% of the gold mined annually is used for industry and 35% is for the banking sector [11]. In 2016, it has been estimated that 20% of all gold ever extracted is being held in central banks [11]. In 2015, the recycling sector – although underdeveloped in France – supplied three times more gold than needed for industrial applications.

Contrary to popular belief, gold mining is therefore not indispensable to industry and the demand from the jewelry and financial sectors does not justify jeopardizing the environment and human health to such a degree.

Thibaud Saint-Aubin, president of the ISF SystExt association, notes: “All these reasons justify the cancellation of the Montagne d’Or industrial gold mining project. The technical guarantees are not enough to make it a sustainable development solution for French Guiana and its inhabitants. Moreover, it opens the door to industrial mega-projects throughout the Amazon region. Other economic development paths are possible, provided we do not destroy the region’s irreplaceable ecological resources.”
Press Contacts

Or de Question: ordequestion@gmail.com

Fondation Nicolas Hulot pour la Nature et l’Homme

Denis VOISIN: 06 98 46 00 42 (in Metropolitan France) - d.voisin@fnh.org

ISF SystExt

Thibaud SAINT-AUBIN: 06 03 19 54 56 (in Metropolitan France) - thibaud.saint-aubin@isf-france.org


Letter to: the President and government of France

Dear Mr. President,
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The French government appears to be encouraging foreign multinationals to establish vast mining operations in the heart of the French Guianan forest. Among these is the “Montagne d’Or” project, which is scheduled to start in 2018.

With an area of 190 square kilometers and a 2.5 km long, 500 meter wide and 400 meter deep pit, it would be the largest gold mine ever operated on French soil. It would mean the industrialization of gold mining in the European Union’s only tropical rainforest.

Industrial gold mines have been and continue to be responsible for serious and often irreversible human and environmental impacts. Brazil, a country bordering French Guiana, was the scene of a mining “accident” in 2015 that is considered one of the worst ecological disasters of all time.

We cannot accept the destruction of part of French Guiana’s exceptional biodiversity the risk of major environmental disasters for the mining of a material that can be deemed negligible in its social and industrial utility today.

With this letter, we wish to express our support for the demands of the “Or de question” collective.

We therefore call for an immediate halt to various industrial-scale mining projects, beginning with “Montagne d’Or”, and a move toward ecologically and socially sustainable development for the French Guianan economy.

Yours faithfully,

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