Press Release - The Ecologist
WWF urges French president to stop mining project
The Montagne d’Or company is an outgrowth of the consortium of multinational corporations, the Russian company Nordgold and the Canadian company Columbus Gold.
These multinationals are seeking to establish themselves in French Guiana’s Amazon forest, between two Forest biological reserves, and to dig a gigantic pit.
The project borne by the company is planning to clear a total of 1,513 hectares, including the deforestation of primeval forests of considerable environmental value – 575 hectares – on a site where more than 2,000 vegetable and animal species can be found, of which 127 protected species have been inventoried.
According to the operator, in order to extract the gold, 57,000 tonnes of explosives, 46,500 tonnes of cyanide and 195 million litres of fuel will be necessary during the twelve years of planned operation. The risk incurred by the Amazon forest in French Guiana would be considerable.
This useless and imposed project is an economic mirage and represents a dead end for the future of French Guiana and its inhabitants.
WWF France denounces the disastrous impact of this project on an exceptional ecosystem at the heart of French Guiana, the largest terrestrial biodiversity reserve in France.
In addition to the irreducible environmental impacts (deforestation, energy consumption, etc.), the project poses substantial risks for this part of the territory and its inhabitants (bursting of the dike, acidic mine drainage, transport and handling of dangerous materials, landslides, etc.). Numerous accidents have occurred these past years, among them the Baia Mare catastrophe in Romania in 2000, the worst environmental catastrophe experienced in Europe since Chernobyl, which, caused the spilling of hundreds of tonnes of cyanide and heavy metals into the rivers and resulted in the destruction of millions of fish and the contamination of drinking water for millions of Hungarians. In 2014, the bursting of a dike in the Mount Polley Canadian gold mine resulted in the spilling of cyanide, copper and lead into Canadian waters. And in 2015, Brazil experienced the greatest environmental disaster in its history as a result of the bursting of a dam. The toxic mudslide killed 19 persons, wiped several villages off the map and polluted hundreds of kilometres of rivers, all the way downto the Atlantic Ocean.
The Montagne d’Or company plans to use cyanide even though, in 2010, the European Parliament requested a total ban on the use of cyanide based technologies in the mining industry, due to its extreme toxicity for the environment and human health. Moreover, a number of countries such as Germany, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary have already banned the use of cyanide in the mining industry in their national legislation. For all of these reasons and many more, the National Advisory Board on Human Rights has requested a moratorium on this project and alerted the government on the environmental risks of such a mining operation. The fears of the Guianese with regard to the Montagne d’Or project have also been revealed in an opinion poll conducted by the French Institute of Public Opinion in late 2017, in which three-fourths of the persons polled considered that Montagne d’Or represents a great risk for the environment in French Guiana.
The conclusions of the economic mirage study we conducted are clear: Montagne d’Or is a mirage in terms of development for French Guiana and a bottomless pit for taxpayers.
The WWF France report showed that the economic analysis of the project was based on several particularly favourable hypotheses. The volatility of the price of gold and dependency on the euro-dollar exchange rate create genuine uncertainty as to the profitability of the project as a whole.
Moreover, this project alone is expected to swallow up at least 420 million euros of public funding, or 560,000 euros for each of the 750 direct jobs announced. And finally, the economic spinoff for the territory of French Guiana will be nominal. The Montagne d’Or company announces a payoff of 56 million euros for the territorial community of French Guiana over 12 years – less than the cost of Lycée IV which is to be completed in 2018 in French Guiana (the total cost of which is estimated to be between 60 and 62 million euros).
The customary Amerindian chiefs have stated their opposition to the project over and over and are fighting for their voice to be heard.
At the Conference of Native Peoples of Guiana held on 16 and 17 December 2017, the customary chiefs again stated their “firm and unmoveable” position against the Montagne d’Or project and demanded a moratorium on all mining projects threatening their territories. Young people are also mobilising through the group Young Natives of Guiana, which has been advocating against this project for several months and in favour of preserving the Guianese environment.
Gold mining is not a priority for the Guianese, however, the public funding allotted to Montagne d’Or will not benefit other essential sectors such as agriculture, tourism or renewable energies.
French Guiana and the Guianese have numerous assets that will allow them to develop their territory over the long term: agriculture, renewable energies, tourism, fishing, etc. It is in these sectors that the millions of euros from taxpayers must be invested, and it is also these sectors that the Guianese consider a priority for development. The poll conducted by the French Institute of Public Opinion in late 2017 shows that the Guianese do not regard the gold mining sector to be a priority for development. Only 11% think that gold is a sector to be prioritised – far behind agriculture (44%), the building industry (37%), tourism (29%), renewable energies (28%), the food processing industry (19%) and fishing (17%). Unfortunately, the public funding allotted to Montagne d’Or can in no way benefit these high-priority sectors.
It is urgent to part ways with the linear economy of the past, based on the extract-manufacture-consume-throw away quartet, and to open the way to the twenty-first century economy , which is circular, functional and sustainable.
The Montagne d’Or company wishes to destroy hundreds of hectares of forests and mine 54 million tonnes of ore in order to obtain gold, a precious metal, 90% of which is used to fill the coffers of banks. In 2017, only 8% of gold was used for technological applications whereas 90% went to the jewellery and finance sectors (ingots and other uses). Montagne d’Or is proposing to explode a mountainside to obtain 1.6 grams of gold per tonne of ore, even though it would be enough to recycle telephones to obtain 200 grams of gold per tonne of recycled electronic cards. The construction of an industrial mine between two forest biological reserves in the French Amazon corresponds to the vision of earlier centuries: development based on the intensive exploitation of natural resources with negligible benefits for the territory and major socio-environmental consequences for the territory.
Behind Montagne d’Or, numerous other mining companies stand ready to exploit every nook and cranny of the Guiana forest to find gold there.
The president of the Montagne d’Or company himself has acknowledged as much: “other large mining groups are awaiting this result to start up operations in French? Guiana”. To accept Montagne d’Or is to agree to open the Guianese forest up to a field of industrial mines; and also durably weaken the Guianese economy which would become dependent on multinationals working in the sector and on market prices decided thousands of kilometres away from French Guiana.
From an economic perspective, New Caledonia has shown the disastrous consequences for a territory and for all citizens (whose taxes will be called on to replenish the accounts of companies in the event of a drop in prices) of being dependent on international market prices. From an environmental perspective, the Advisory Board on Human Rights is worried that “such a mega-mine will set a precedent in French Guiana, thus opening the way to other projects of this type. Gold mining in French Guiana would then swing over to large-scale industrial mining which (...) would be particularly concerning with regards to the respect of the right to a healthy environment in French Guiana”.