What we do
Regions
Премия рунета 2017

WWF RESEARCH: NEW RECORDS OF GOLD MINERS IN SIBERIA AND THE FAR EAST FOR RIVER POLLUTION

25 november 2021
According to WWF satellite monitoring, in 2021, compared to 2020, the number of cases of river pollution in Siberia and the Far East increased by 44; the length of contaminated sites, by 2,197 kilometers; and the number of polluted rivers, by 24


WWF Russia is convinced that the problem of river pollution, as a result of the activities of gold mining companies, is extremely pressing and requires an urgent solution. In 2021, WWF and partners identified 320 cases of pollution of 147 rivers in Siberia and the Far East within 11.5 thousand kilometers downstream of alluvial gold mining sites. Compared to 2020, the number of river pollution cases increased by 44; the number of polluted rivers, by 24; and the total length of polluted river sections, by 2,197 kilometers.

In 2021, the Amur Region is the undisputed leader in pollution, where experts have identified 45% of the total amount of pollution. The largest “contribution” in terms of pollution has been made by the Amur Region, Trans-Baikal, Krasnoyarsk and Khabarovsk Territories: together, they are responsible for 85% of cases and 91% of the length of contaminated sites. Such conclusions were made by WWF experts based on the results of public monitoring of water bodies in the Amur basin and in the south of Eastern Siberia, downstream the alluvial gold mining sites, according to satellite images. Monitoring in 2020 and 2021 was carried out by WWF Russia, the environmental coalition "Rivers without Borders", and the Center for Civil Control and Space Monitoring (St. Petersburg) within the framework of the WWF project "People for Nature" with the support of the European Commission and the Presidential Grants Foundation.

An example of the analysis of satellite images showing pollution of water bodies
(c) WWF
“During 2021, we observed the colossal work of the authorities of the Amur Region and the Amur Administration of the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resource Usage, which identified river pollution and monitored the observance of environmental protection requirements by gold mining enterprises,” says Pyotr Osipov, Director of the Amur branch of WWF Russia. "However, all these efforts failed to change the situation; the rivers were polluted even more than last year. In our opinion, the situation with pollution will not change until the number of licenses given for prospecting, exploration and production of alluvial gold is significantly reduced. This is especially important for exploration licenses given on the basis of applications and used by unscrupulous companies to cover up actually illegal gold mining. When there are about 1,500 licenses in the region, of which almost a thousand are exploration licenses, it is impossible to reduce river pollution by control and supervisory methods: the existing inspectorate staff is simply physically not able to carry out full-fledged supervision."

RESIDENTS OF THE KEMEROVO REGION ARE REGISTERING THE CONTAMINATION OF THE KIYA RIVER DOWNSTREAM AN ALLUVIAL GOLD MINING SITE.

In 2020, WWF Russia and environmental organizations published their position on alluvial gold mining. In November 2021, WWF Russia addressed the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation with a request for an in-depth discussion of the problem and solutions. WWF experts and partners are confident: the main reason for the sharp increase in river pollution during alluvial gold mining in recent years is the issuance of licenses allowing companies to search for new deposits of the precious metal on the basis of an application, without holding a tender. According to the law, a company that received an exploration license is not allowed to extract mineral resources. In fact, a huge number of small companies, under the guise of licenses, illegally mine alluvial gold. At the same time, such companies are not subject to environmental supervision, since they do not formally carry out activities that harm the environment, do not pay taxes on mining operations and fees for the use of water bodies, and do not create the infrastructure necessary to prevent river pollution. According to WWF experts, about 80% of all cases of river pollution can be associated with the activities of such companies.

Pollution from the work of gold miners on the Bolshaya Ussurka River in the Far East.
(c) WWF Russia / Alexander Khitrov
“We believe that solving the problem of river pollution during alluvial gold mining requires a severe reduction of the number of licenses issued for this type of activity, especially exploration licenses given in accordance with the application procedure. Such decisions should be made at the national level”, says Alexey Knizhnikov, head of the WWF Russia program on environmental responsibility of business. “We have already turned to the Commission on the Environment of the Public Chamber of Russia with a proposal to hold a round table at the beginning of 2022 dedicated to this problem with the involvement of the public councils of the Federal Agency for Subsoil Usage and Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resource Usage — the authorities responsible for issuing licenses and monitoring the compliance of license holders with the requirements of environmental legislation. A number of regions, where the situation with the impact of alluvial gold mining on the environment is the most acute, are planning to actively participate. We hope that, as a result of the meeting, recommendations will be given by the authorities on putting things in order both with regard to the licensing of this type of activity and the application of the mechanism of state environmental impact assessment at the stage of approval of this type of mineral resources management."

WWF Russia and partner organizations openly inform the public about the problem. Since 2020, a special information portal zolotari.net has been operating. In 2021, the musicians of the FAZA band also supported a public campaign against the destruction of rivers during alluvial gold mining. Information on river pollution in the Altai-Sayan ecoregion is presented on an interactive online map of pollution as a result of the activities of gold mining companies: https://www.arcgis.com/apps/dashboards/9decddd81b13440db0a6db49dc3c5831