Gold Mining in the News

This past May, environmental news featured many stories relating to gold mining. In South America mercury is used to collect the gold after it has been mined, and it has polluted the environment and poisoned the workers. On the other side of the Pacific, ocean floor mining is seen by investors as a golden opportunity, but critics disagree.

A report by Vice calls gold “the new cocaine” in Colombia, because of both the rising demand giving way to a production rush with negative social effects and the armed groups vying for control over the mining sites. The report highlights the ubiquity of illegal gold mines, where mercury is used in the extraction and its pollution causes both environmental and health effects. As Colombian rivers dry up and workers experience organ failures like loss of vision, nervous system problems, and sexual impotence from mercury poisoning, the price of gold and opportunity for wealth keeps many Colombian workers in the gold mines.


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Nearby, in Peru, the government has declared a 60 ­day state of emergency because of illegal gold mining in rivers. Mercury pollution of the waters has resulted in poisoning of the local people, and particularly the indigenous peoples there. Like in Colombia, the rivers of Peru have had their courses change or have dried up and nearly 100,000 acres of forest have been cut down for gold mining. Peru is among the top exporters of gold in the world, and extraction has expanded quickly in recent years.

Birth of a new illegal gold mining zone in in the buffer zone of the Tambopata National Reserve (Madre de Dios region, Peru) between July and September 2015. Source: Finer M, Olexy T (2015) High Resolution View: Birth of a New Illegal Mining Zone. MAAP #17.

Birth of a new illegal gold mining zone in in the buffer zone of the Tambopata National Reserve (Madre de Dios region, Peru) between July and September 2015. Source: Finer M, Olexy T (2015) High Resolution View: Birth of a New Illegal Mining Zone. MAAP #17.

Lastly, as described in another recent Vice report, Toronto­based Nautilus Mining Inc. is set to test ocean floor mineral extraction off the coast of Oman and is looking to do the same off the coast of Papua New Guinea in the coming years.  There, the village residents are being propositioned to give Nautilus mining rights in the hydrothermal vents off the coast. The CEO of Nautilus says that ocean floor mining may in 20 years exist on the scale that offshore drilling for oil and gas does today. However, if that is the case, then it will likely face the same criticism and opposition from environmentalists. Critics now say that the mineral extraction will result in habitat destruction and species loss. Others say that it may compromise the extraction of other resources that could yield advances in fields like pharmaceuticals or fuel sources, so if anything of this sort should be undergone then an analysis of what these places can offer should be conducted. The Deep Sea Mining Campaign warns that the oceans are already expected to be critically harmed by climate change and pollution, so additional risks need not be taken.

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