Mercury, cyanide treatment in gold mines destroying land, says miner

A russian mining company prospecting in the Hukawng Valley region of upper Sagaing Region said its business interests as well as continued prospects for gold mining in the area are being hindered by thousands of illegal miners.

The company, Nobel Gold, said they are concerned that these alleged illegal miners are using mercury and cyanide to increase the volume of gold extraction in the area, a process that destroys land.

“It is a serious problem,” the company’s project manager, Grigory Stepanov, told The Myanmar Times. “More than 10,000 illegal miners and 70 private mining companies [have been] extracting gold in the area since two years ago.

“Most of the illegal miners use mercury in order to increase the volume of gold extraction. This chemical is widely sold in local markets for K1000 per 10 gallons.”

A total of 34 local companies have permission to mine in 55 gold mining blocks in Bangmauk township, according to government data. In Sagaing Region, there are 135 companies with permission to mine 238 blocks.

In February 2011 Nobel Gold received permission from the Ministry of Mines to prospect for gold and associated minerals in a concession measuring 1246 square kilometres (about 308,000 acres).

But over the past two years it has had difficulty conducting surveys in the area because of illegal miners, said Mr Stepanov.

“In conformity with Myanmar and international law, Nobel Gold does not use mercury and other poisonous chemicals,” he said.

U Kyaw Thet, director of the Department of Mining under the Ministry of Mines, said he is aware of the extraneous miners and plans to quell the issue with new provisions in a revamping of the 1994 Mining Law, expected for this year.

“We have put a section regarding eradication of illegal mining in the revision of the mining law which is going to be discussed in the coming Parliament session,” he said.

U Than Htaik, regional minister for forestry, mines and energy in the Sagaing Region government, said there has been limited government action taken despite the long-standing problem.

“They have been there for a long time earning a small amount of daily income for their families. We have talked to them and encouraged them to stop,” he said, adding that the government has also tried granting workers authorisation to work in Myanmar as a registered company, though it did little to stop the problem.

Nobel Gold is a branch company of Russian oil company Nobel Oil. The company is working on an onshore field named U-ru block (B-2) in Homelin township in Sagaing Region.

After their exploration licence expires in March 2014, Nobel Gold will get a licence for the feasibility stage of its project, Mr Stepanov said.

Source: Myanmar Times

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