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Stop dirty prospecting for gold

13 november 2020
The ban on prospecting licenses granted for placer gold mining by a declarative procedure should be the first step to prevent devastating river pollution.

WWF summed up the results of satellite monitoring of river pollution caused by pacer gold mining, which was carried out in March 15 - October 15, 2020 in six provinces of the Russian Far East by the Rivers without Boundaries Сoalition with the support of the Presidential Grants Fund and the People for Nature project.

The monitoring was organized in Zabaikalsky, Amurskaya, Evreiskaya, Khabarovsky, Kamchatsky and Primorsky provinces. It revealed 205 cases of river pollution with the total length of 6650 kilometers of polluted areas. The largest number of cases was registered in Amurskaya province: 123 cases of pollution and 3921 kilometers of polluted rivers, almost twice as many as in the rest of the regions combined. However, at the last stage of monitoring, the "indicators" of Zabaikalsky province have increased significantly. The length of polluted areas there reached 2040 km with 50 identified pollution cases. Less number of cases were detected in the rest of provinces: 22 facts of pollution were revealed in Khabarovsky province (494 km), 7 cases in Kamchatka (105 km), two cases in Evreiskaya (70 km) and one in Primorsky province (20km).
White color indicates river beds with destroyed vegetation
An example of placer gold mining in Amurskaya province
After placer gold mining in Amurskaya province © Evgeny Rogalev
Damaged river bed after gold mining in Amurskaya province © Evgeny Rogalev
Satellite monitoring helps to reveal cases of river pollution caused by pacer gold mining
Image source: ESRI / DigitalGlobe / GeoEye

Upon the revealed facts of river pollution, 260 reports had been sent to federal and provincial ecological inspections. It should be noted that after active work and a series of inspections organized by the Amursky Administration of Rosprirodnadzor and the Amursky Ministry of Natural Resources, 17 companies were charged penalties at 3,606,000 rubles (more than US$ 45 000), 7 companies were sued for environmental damage at the amount of 16,776,228 rubles (US$ 220 000), 31 warning notes were sent to the companies on the inadmissible actions that may cause damage to the environment.

Mining companies operating in Amurskaya province were charged the biggest amount in fines and lawsuits: 2,131,000 rubles in fines and 16,389,759 rubles for damage, including LLC “VVP” mining company which received 580 000 rubles fine and more than 10 million rubles lawsuit for damage. This July, this company has discharged oil products into the Selemdzha River within its licensed gold field​​. Moreover, the procedure of early termination of the license was initiated against this company. Three more companies in early November were imposed to suspend the activity for 90 days period.

Sergei Zharchenko, game manager at Sidatun model area, 2 kilometers from Melnichnoye village in Primorsky province
Two river flows: pure and muddy after placer gold mining in Primorsky province
Alexander Khitrov / WWF Russia
Comments Peter Osipov, director of WWF Russia Amur branch: “Unfortunately, the efforts of governmental agencies do not improve the situation. The sanctions imposed to violators are clearly insufficient. Penalties for environmental damage, which may seem huge to people, are not much serious for gold mining companies. More effective measure is a temporary suspension of the enterprise activity and early termination of the license. Thought, it is too late to suspend the activity in November, when mining companies normally stop their activities due to weather conditions. However, even this is a half-measure, since the problem lies in the huge number of licenses granted in recent years, namely the so-called prospecting licenses obtained by the declarative procedure without an auction. Correlation of the number of pollution cases and the number of granted prospecting licenses clearly shows the direct relation of these two parameters. From our point of view, the first step to prevent river pollution during placer gold mining is to ban the declarative procedure of granting prospecting licenses.”
Governmental authorities are aware of this problem and are trying to develop mechanisms for its solution. Thus, the Governor of the Amurskaya province Vasily Orlov at a meeting held in September in the Selemdzhinsky district demanded to take measures to reduce the number of licenses. Four representatives of the Ministry of Natural Resources of Amurskaya province entered the Commission at Subsoil Management Department of the Far Eastern Federal District, which evaluates technical projects for the development of placer gold fields. As a result, at the very first meeting of the Commission, all three projects submitted for licensing were rejected as violating the requirements of environmental legislation.

Moreover, the Amursky Administration of Rosprirodnadzor began recruiting inspectors to monitor the northern districts with the most intense gold mining activities: Selemdzhinsky, Zeysky and Tyndinsky. Regular presence of inspectors with delegated rights to record and halt violations of environmental legislation will help to reveal violations and prevent serious damage to the environment in the future.

Next year, WWF Russia together with the coalition of nature conservation organizations will continue satellite monitoring of river pollution and training public inspectors to detect violations “on the ground”. Moreover, WWF is preparing an appeal to the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation with a package of proposals to amend legislation in order to reduce the impact of placer gold mining on the environment. The appeal is based on the position adopted in October 2020 by the Coalition (http://zolotari.net/position).

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: The prospecting license provides the right to explore new mineral fields in the areas that have not been previously subjected to geological exploration. Holders of this type of license do not have the right to mine gold in the licensed areas. However, practice shows that most of small enterprises launch actual gold mining operations after receiving these licenses by declarative procedure, without an auction. At the same time, they do not build required infrastructure in order to hide the fact of gold extraction in case of inspection.

The People for Nature project is being implemented by WWF Russia in 2019-2022 with support of European Union. It is aimed at engaging wider audience in environmental protection, protection of the forests, reduction of environmental impact caused by industrial processes and increase the environmental responsibility of business.

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