Romanian Government proposes a ban on cyanide use in mining for the next 10 years

26/12/2016 12707 views

Bucharest, 27 December 2016 – Romanian Government adopted in the last meeting of the current Executive, a proposal for a temporary ban on cyanide use in Romania. The legal moratorium proposed to the Parliament provides a 10 year period during which cyanide-based technologies may not be used in mining. During this time frame the Romanian state would have to undertake detailed assessments of the environmental issues generated by cyanide-based mining operations.

This proposal for a moratorium comes in response to the request from the Industry Commission in the Chamber of Deputies, addressed to the Cioloș Government, to formulate an official opinion. This was requested in December 2015 in relation with the two legislative proposals under debate in the Parliament for the definitive ban on cyanide-based technologies in Romania.

Mining Watch Network and Save Roșia Montană Campaign have repeatedly requested Romanian authorities to ban cyanide use in mining definitively. All arguments have been documented and presented to the competent institutions, from the periodical cyanide spills occurring all over the world, to the tragedies in our country at Certej and Baia Mare and the threat of generating 2900 hectares of cyanide waste in Romania [1].

The separate assessments undertaken by the Ministry of Environment [2] and the Ministry of Culture [3] have determined these institutions to publicly assume opinions in favour of the definitive ban on cyanide use in mining. Moreover the Ministry of Energy, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have also formulated similar positions. At the other end, the Ministry of Economy and the National Agency for Mineral Resources support cyanide-based mining in Romania despite the fact that a study ordered by the European Commission in 2010 showed that “none of the EU Member States is a large gold producer, therefore it could be maintained that a ban on cyanide would have minor economic impacts in the EU”. [4]

The Government’s opinion, adopted in the meeting on 21 December 2016, recommends a legislative solution consisting of a temporary ban on cyanide use in mining for the next 10 years. During this time frame the Government proposed “the initiation and development of a national research and development programme to identify new mining technologies and to perform the necessary impact assessments to enable decision making for authorising investments in gold-silver mining”. The final aim of such research would be that the new technologies and permitting procedures “should be consistent with an integrated perspective to reflect all legitimate public interests, not only the commercial ones” [5].

“This proposal for a moratorium on cyanide use in mining is a first step towards the definitive ban of this toxic practice for Romania’s nature and communities. We need to continue to enhance our efforts because, on the other side, industry and the associated lobby make pressures to continue the use of cyanide, no matter what the consequences would be. The battle for a cyanide-free Romania is far from being over and its result depends on each of us, the citizens”, said Roxana Pencea Bradatan of Mining Watch Romania network.

The legislative solution of a moratorium is used in practice by several states and by the European Union when faced with the need to make decisions on authorising controversial technologies. It is used not only in the field of mineral resource exploitation but also in agriculture, waste management etc. For instance Switzerland established a moratorium on the use of genetically modified organisms (plants and animals) [6] until all risks for the environment and human health entailed by the genetic modifications technology are investigated.

“From a legal perspective there are 3 possible scenarios at the end of such moratorium, if it were established: turning the temporary ban into a definitive one, extending the moratorium in case that research has not reached any firm conclusions and cancelling the moratorium, in case the risks of using this technology appear to be acceptable as compared to benefits. On the other hand, if the legislative body assumes the Government’s proposal, this would transform Romania in the first European state committed to thoroughly investigate the consequences of using cyanide in mining, independently from the assessments funded and undertaken by the mining industry. These are the only ones currently available, relied upon for decision-making on authorising large scale mining projects using cyanides”, said Ștefania Simion from Mining Watch Romania.

Notes:

[1] Position document on banning cyanide use in mining in Romania 

[2] Opinion of the Ministry of Environment

[3] Opinion of the Ministry of Culture

[4] Study commissioned by the European Commission   

[5] Media statements made by the Government spokesman Liviu Iolu at the end of the Government meeting on 21 December 2016, https://youtu.be/4GsVn6VEnOo

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_of_genetically_modified_organisms_in_Switzerland

Context (excerpt from https://goo.gl/SP05YS):

  • Romania prepares to authorise the first cyanide-based operations in Europe, for the first time after more than 10 years. All these mining operation proposals are located in densely populated areas.
  • Romania would use the largest quantity of cyanides on the continent – 1634 t/year at Certej and 13000 t/year at Roșia Montană, as compared to 300 t/year used for gold mining at Kittila, Finland.
  • There is no such thing as safe cyanide mining anywhere in the world. In November 2015 a leak of sterile from the tailings dam occurred at Kittilä gold mine in Finland. At the same time the environmental permit of the mine held by Agnico-Eagle for Kittilä is challenged in court. “The mine poisons rivers with antimony, arsenic, cyanides and heavy metals” – article in Finland Times, tinyurl.com/KittilaLeakage
  • In Romania there are 64 gold deposits which would “generate not less than 2900 hectares of cyanide waste” – tinyurl.com/MarinceaCianuri
  • A study performed in the town where Waihi gold mine is located (New Zeeland) shows a much older population in that area as compared to the regional average, with a trend to leave the town after the mine closure, with a double number of mental illnesses, disabled persons and persons receiving social aid as compared to other localities in the region, with revenues and education below the regional average and problems of family violence and alcohol and drug consumption – Social Impacts of Closure of Newmont Waihi Gold operations, University of Queensland, 2009, tinyurl.com/WaihiReport
  • An assessment shows that the Roşia Montană mining project, the largest in Europe, would generate about 250 jobs for local people but could destroy 22,000 other jobs in the region for those who work in agriculture, tourism, furniture production and traditional crafts – tinyurl.com/StudiuCampeni
  • The recycling of precious metals from one tonne of mobile phones could yield 150 g of gold recovered, as compared to a tonne of extracted ore which contains between 1 and 2 g of gold per tonne (both at Roșia Montană, and at Certej).