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Protests against expanded gold extraction in Bulgaria

Published by MAC on 2006-03-20

Protests against expanded gold extraction in Bulgaria

20th March 2006

Protests have followed a decision by Bulgaria's environmental authorities to allow the expanded extraction of gold near the western village of Chelopech.

The Supreme Expert Environmental Council (SEEC), with the Ministry of Environment and Waters, approved on March 10 the positive environmental impact assessment of a project by the Canadian-based Dundee Precious Metals to dig for more gold in the area.

Dundee, through its Bulgarian subsidiary Chelopech Mining, operates the Chelopech gold and copper mine in western Bulgaria.

The expansion project for Chelopech has planned investment totalling $150 million (126 million euro), 89 million of which is designed for investment over the first three years of the project's implementation. The expected increase in production is three million tons in 15 years, while the current output comes to about 850 000 tons.

Environmental organisations who oppose the investment proposal to expand the extraction and processing of copper and gold ore at Chelopech, and the production of metals from concentrates, staged protests in front of the Ministry of Environment and Waters on March 10.

Representatives of the foundation "Cyanide-free Bulgaria" protested against the investment proposal. They raised posters saying: "We are walking on gold and yet we go hungry" and "Do not drive away the people who invest in the environment".

They fear that the mine, which, according to them, is a source of serious and deadly poisonous pollution, will become even more dangerous after the expansion.

However, according to environmental authorities, all measures have been taken to prevent and reduce the harmful impact of the project on the people and environment in the local villages - Chelopech, Chavdar, Karlievo and Tsurkvishte.

The measures include a green belt around the production site, the facilities and roads to be used by trucks, as well as the establishment of a modern automated system monitoring the quality of the air.

Chelopech Mining also undertakes to create 700 new jobs and develop social programmes for the population centres near the Chelopech mine.

This is not the only project by Dundee to spur protests. The company had submitted a project for the Ada Tepe gold mine near the southern town of Kroumovgrad, which is still awaiting the necessary permits from the Environment Ministry.

It has triggered public protests in and around Kroumovgrad, where people fear the gold mine would be dangerous for the environment and the people in the town.

The environmentalists' concerns stem from the fact that the project involves gold extraction by the open-pit method, using cyanides.

They argue that the technology, involving the use of cyanide, is among the most dangerous to people and the environment.

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