MAC: Mines and Communities

Former Meridian boss criticses Esquel project

Published by MAC on 2003-03-06

Former Meridian boss criticses Esquel project

The following interview is between Robert Deurloo, former general manage of the Beartrack mine, operated by Merdian Gold in the US, and Luis Manuel Claps, an activist in Argentina (Patagonia), involved in the current campaign to prevent the company from mining at Esquel.

Deurloo: I was the General Manager of the Beartrack Mine for 10 years. I would be happy to respond to your questions. I will try to briefly answer your questions, and will be glad to elaborate if you wish further details.

1. Each orebody and environment is unique, but there are certain characteristics which are common to most mines. Beatrack and Esquel are probably similar in that they are in a mountainous environment which is relatively pristine, and close to numerous water sources. Water is the BIGGEST deal.

2 Beartrack is 13 miles by air, and 34 miles by road from Salmon, Idaho which is a town of 3000.

3. The salmon in the river have about disappeared, but it is more from other factors than the mine. The mine will affect water quality, but I don't think it has seriously harmed the salmon. The mine did leave an ugly 800 deep hole in the ground, and will affect the quality of the streams leading from it, unless a permanent water quality purification plant is installed and maintained forever. Cyanide isn't the biggest concern, it is the exposure of rock which contains arsenic, mercury, sulphur etc. These elements begin to oxidize and will turn the water acidic. This goes on for years and years.

4 All waste should be put back into the ground, and they must post a large monetary bond which will insure that a water purification plant can be installed and operated forever.

5 I would not trust Meridian's promises. They are only concerned about their bottom line (financials) and won't do any more than is necessary to protect the environment. In the U.S. there were strict environmental regulations, and Meridian fought them all the way. If things are more lax in Argentina, they will do no more than what is required, and will probably leave an everlasting scar and mess when they leave.

I will be glad to elaborate if you wish further details. Your beautiful environment isn't worth sacrificing forever for a short term gain by an American company who doesn't care who you are, and will never see you again.

First, you have to understand where I am coming from. I was fired by Meridian after a tenure of 9 a half years, so I could be discounted as simply a disgruntled former employee.

My last performance rating was "Outstanding", and I was never given a specific reason for my firing, simply a "reduction in force". Only two of us were "let go" at that time, and it came as a sudden surprise. Edgar Smith performed the termination, and one of the reasons he mentioned for my sudden departure was that the environmental liability due to the acid rock in the North Pit was much greater than I had anticipated when I was permitting the mine.

The cost of dealing with acid drainage escalated during the tenure of the mine, and one of the reasons I was fired was because I didn't anticipate this, and didn't fight the regulators forcefully enough to avoid the raising cost of compliance.

Beartrack was one of the last mines permitted in the U.S. and Brian Kennedy said that he was not going to do business in the U.S. in the future because of the risks and costs of environmental compliance. The U.S. has said no to ruining the environment, so I guess they will go to where they think people are less sophisticated.

The final chapter hasn't been written on the effect of Beartrack on the environment. To date, the water has been re-circulated, and hasn't had to be discharged. When they finally stop rinsing the heap, and the South Pit fills up and starts discharging, then we will see if the runoff meets environmental standards. I doubt it, and if not, they will have to purify the water. As I said before, it is almost impossible to dig a hole in an anomalous orebody, and not effect water quality.

Meridian will say that Esquel will be an underground mine which has less environmental impact. Noranda has the underground Cobalt Mine which is about 20 miles from Beartrack. It operated in the late 40's and 50's. It killed all of the salmon in Panther creek, and the government has forced them to install a water purification plant. They will be obligated to operate it for years and years to come. It is an environmental disaster, and has been designated a "Superfund Site" by the EPA.

Ask Meridian if they can point to one mine in an environment with running water that hasn't effected water quality.

You don't have to compensate Meridian for their loss, they simply must comply with state of the art World Wide standards, which won't allow degradation of the environment. There should be little trace of their presence after they leave. We ask the same of backpackers into the wilderness areas. They should clean up any messes that they make (including piles of toxic waste rock), and post a monetary guarantee that they will install and run a water purification plant to insure the water is as good when they leave, as before they came. Is this too much to ask? That is what they would have to do here in the U.S.. Isn't your country just as, or more beautiful?

I have the names of several other professionals who previously worked at Beartrack, who will substantiate my statements. I've attached some pictures which I took of Beartrack in June of 2002. Feel free to use my name, and statements.

The following links describe one environmental organizations lawsuit against Meridian, and the others describe the problems with the underground Blackbird mine, which is near Beartrack. The government and Noranda have spent over $50 million dollars, and still have a long way to go before it is cleaned up


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