Illegal miners could be attracted to the fragile “paramo” high-land moors where large mining companies are not allowed to operate, analysts fear.
Colombia, which has tens of thousands of legal and illegal miners, faces the dilemma of trying to increase investment in its oil and mining sectors while trying to balance environmental concerns, Reuters reported Wednesday.
Cesar Diaz Guerrero, executive director of the Colombian Chamber of Mining said, “Gold will be extracted by someone. It won’t be a company with good practices. It won’t be a company that eliminated the use of mercury,” referring to rudimentary, illegal practices that still utilize mercury to separate gold, polluting rivers in the process.
A particular case in point is that of March 24, when the Ministry of Mines and Energy denied access to Canadian mining company Greystar in the Santurban region of northern Colombia where it wanted to mine for gold and silver. That same day, Greystar told Colombian authorities it would withdraw environmental and technical permit requests for the Angostura gold project.
Colombia’s inspector general, local authorities and environmental groups supported the government’s decision, calling the Angostura project a threat to the delicate Andean ecosystem.
However, some analysts believe that as a result of the move, small groups of illegal miners could move into the area where Greystar was aiming to mine despite the government’s move to block efforts to explore the region.
Juan Mejia from the brokerage firm Interbolsa, said, “Once gold is publicly known in quantity and location, there will be people mining it in the area, and the worst environmental stories … could happen once again.”
He added that the size of the prohibited area in relation to the Greystar project is potentially too large to police and thus prevent illegal mining due to its size of 198,000 acres.
Diaz Guerrero acknowledged the problem of balancing attracting investment and stamping out harmful operations. Referring to the Greystar Angostura project, he stated the need to move it to another, less vulnerable area, but added ultimately, “This is a project that must be saved because it is going to generate great financial benefits for the country. It has to be rethought to take into account the current state of the ecosystems where they are going to develop [the mines],” according to La Republica.
Since 2009, the Colombian mining code has forbidden working in the “paramo” ecosystems, areas that are located 10,500 feet above sea level.