MAC: Mines and Communities

Doubts on Drummond Coal Megaproject in Cesar, Colombia

Published by MAC on 2007-02-10

Doubts on Drummond Coal Megaproject in Cesar, Colombia

by Herminso Ruíz -- El Espectador

10th February 2007

On April 7, 2005, the multinational mining company Drummond Ltd presented to the Ministry of the Environment a request for environmental permits for a coal mining project in the municipalities of Agustín Codazzi, Becerril, La Jagua de Ibirico, Chiriguaná and El Paso, in the department of Cesar, Northeast Colombia. In these new areas, the firm intends to mine in what is called El Descanso, Símiloa, and Rincón Hondo - some estimated 1,056 million tons of coal in an area of over 60,000 hectares.

Without a doubt, this is the largest and most important open-pit coal operation project in recent times in Colombia. In fact, preliminary calculations by experts claim that in less than a decade profits will cause a 4% boost in the gross national product.

However, the National Attorney General has cast serious doubts on Drummond's proposal to mitigate the environmental impact which could be produced in the region by this megaproject.

In a 72 page report presented to the Ministry of Environment, the attorney Edgardo Maya Villazón stated that the proposal made by the foreign multinational to mitigate the harmful effects of the extraction of coal was full of untruths and did not accurately explain the environmental consequences which could be produced by the operations of the mining projects El Descanso, Símiloa and Rincón Hondo.

According to the document, within the environmental impact report of the project there were at least forty negative environmental impacts, among which were highlighted the contamination of water sources of the region, vital for an area which has built a good part of its economy on livestock. "The water resources are seriously affected by construction work and coal mining operations, because of increased discharge of industrial wastes into aquifers and the use of contaminated waters in mining activities."

The report also stated that the soil, water, fauna and flora are seriously affected by the construction of the mines, and will continue to be affected during mining operations. The analysis of the District Attorney's office says that Drummond's proposal to mitigate the environmental impacts to the air of the region is not technically complete, as it did not take into account the high levels of pollution that will come from the coal train lines connecting La Jagua de Ibiríco with La Loma.

This past February 2, the District Attorney held a public meeting with the goal of hearing the worries of the communities of the six municipalities in Cesar where the project will be developed. The president of Drummond, Augusto Jiménez, explained the economic "benefits" of the project and said that in this last decade royalties have been paid amounting to US$ 394 million. The representative of the multinational said that his firm is trying to minimize the environmental impact and that they will "reforest some corridors of the area" and stated that the landscape of the region will be modified to create "flat plains where they did not exist before and at the same time new hills." He concluded his presentation before the community by stating that in 1998 they created two thousand new jobs and in 2006 that will increase to six thousand.

The community, however, had different opinions and claimed, among other things, that the jobs created by Drummond for the people of the area "are dead end jobs and there is never the possibility of rising to leadership positions." There were also complaints over deterioration in the environment caused by the multinational in the area surrounding the coal mining project of La Loma. According to community members, Drummond has not met its commitments to mitigate the erosion in the area and to prevent air and water pollution. "Equally, in the studies which Drummond presented as parameters of the initial pollution they present levels which are not reflected in the actual levels of pollution today," said an official of the District Attorney's office in charge of the elaboration of the study.

That is precisely what the District Attorney emphasized in the repor -, the multiple environmental irregularities in the La Loma contract, signed by Drummond in 1987- and this is why the D.A. expressed their worries to the Ministry of the Environment in the approval process of this new license for the company to mine some 60,000 hectares in Cesar. The Ministry will have to resolve the multinational's request for environmental permits within the next few weeks.

According to the D.A., the management of soils that Drummond has done in La Loma project has been ineffective and the firm has caused irreparable damages. This is why, according to the document, "it is necesary that the Ministry takes into account this background," in order to ensure that "these results are NOT produced again," more so if the area of operations is more than 60,000 hectares.

"The D.A. detected that in the lands near by the current mining operations of La Loma, there are observable large mountains of rubble which have not been treated, and materials are dispersed through the atmosphere, affecting livestock, vegetation, and water sources. They are even inhaled by the neighbors of the area," added the report.

The oversight organization is also investigating the possible harms caused by Drummond in the Los Manantiales area, located near La Loma, where it appears there are several infrastructure road projects being carried out without authorization.

Finally, the Public Ministry indicates that "the uncertainty in the face of the probability of effects upon crops or livestock (by the operations of the mining megaproject) certainly diminishes the probability of other investments in nearby lands." They warn that they do not wish so say that the D.A. wants to oppose the Drummond project. "We simply want this project to be developed with respect to the environmental laws in the Constitution."

Since 2002, Colombia has registered proven reserves of coal of 6,267 million tons, representing some 80% of South America's reserves. The [large] greater part of the coal exported by the country is found in La Guajira and Cesar, and in 2003 more than 40,000 million tons were exported per year. In Cesar, the major coal mining firms are Consorcio Minero Unido S.A., Carboandes S.A., Carbones de La Jagua S.A., C.I. Prodeco S.A., Emcarbón S.A., Norcarbón y Carbones del Cesar S.A.

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