MAC: Mines and Communities

Thousands protest against Canadian Potash Mine

Published by MAC on 2002-12-22

Thousands protest against Canadian Potash Mine

Press statement from: Project for Ecological Recovery (Bangkok), Probe International and MinngWatch Canada

December 22, 2002

Today villagers in Northeast Thailand held a traditional rice-harvest ceremony as part of their protest against a mining project proposed by Asia Pacific Resources Ltd. (APR), a Canadian mining corporation. The ceremony comes just days after local communities submitted 5,000 signatures calling on the Thai Government to reject APR's mining application.

APR plans to dig beneath houses and farms of local residents throughout a 2500-hectare (6,500-acre) area at a depth of less than 350m to extract potash, or potassium-containing ore. The potassium is used primarily as an ingredient in commercial fertilizers.

Villagers, academics, and government officials are concerned that the project will severely impact the local environment. The potash-refining process may cause water shortages in local villages and salt contamination of farmland, forests, and local water sources. The mine itself will cause land subsidence, possibly damaging roads, the railroad, and private land.

Underground mining operations of this scale are new to Thailand, and only became possible last month with the passing of an amended Mineral Bill, making it legal for corporations to mine beneath private land without having to ask permission from land-owners. The amendments were challenged without success by a group of Thai senators in Thailand's Constitutional Court.

Responding to villagers' concerns about the mine's potential impact, the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment said, "Such a big project needs a thorough study. If we are lagging from the first project, there will be similar cases popping up in the future."

The Minister said he will request the Office of Environmental Policy and Planning to order project developer Asia Pacific Potash Corporation (APPC) to conduct a new Environmental Impact Assessment, (EIA) as the one completed in 2001 did not fully study crucial environmental considerations.

Dr. Sasin Chalermlap, a geologist at Rangsit University in Bangkok said that the EIA did not assess the ecological impacts on the entire 2,500 ha of land. In addition, baseline studies of soil salinity have not been done. Extensive geological surveys completed by APR are being kept confidential, leaving the academic community without the necessary tools to determine how severe collapse of land above the mine is likely to be.

When the EIA was carried out, APR made little or no effort to give out information to local people, who were therefore excluded from any part of the process. This exclusion is unlawful according to the Thai Constitution.

CEO John Bovard admits that the corporation has been " slow and delinquent in giving out information" to the local people, and that "the company has not communicated well." However, he maintains that it is not necessary for the company to re-do the faulty EIA. Rather, he plans to "supplement" the old EIA with new information from soil, water, and air "surveys" that are currently underway.

TEAM Consulting Engineers, commissioned by APR to carry out the EIA, is the same firm that in 1984 completed the EIA for the notorious Pak Mun dam project. Both EIA's were conducted without sufficient baseline studies, and without public participation. As in the Pak Mun dam case, villagers stand to lose their livelihoods and way-of-life: stakes too large to be carelessly assessed. In addition, if the mining project is allowed to go forward before complete baseline studies are conducted and made publicly available, it would be nearly impossible for local villagers to prove damage to their land, rice crops, forests, and water sources. Today's ceremony was planned "to demonstrate the importance of agricultural livelihoods and to fight this company that has come to destroy our natural resources and livelihoods," said a member of the Udon Thani Environmental Conservation Group, a coalition of over 21 villages fighting against the mine. "If this project comes, the land will become salty and we won't be able to grow rice."

Mr Panya Khamrab, one of the villagers to be affected by the mine, said he could not grow rice or raise cattle on his land because of the salt from the drill test run left over by the company in 1993. He said, "If they have no measures to clean up the mess even for a small operation, they could easily create a disaster from the real project."

Local villagers have been protesting the project since they first learned of the mine's potentially devastating impact in October 2001. Over the past year, villagers have voiced their concerns at all levels of government, and have even petitioned the Canadian Ambassador to Thailand.

John Bovard has pledged to seek the mining lease early next year, without conducting a new EIA.

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