Tag Archives: gold mines

The Global Gold Rush and Plunder of Congo

Since March 2020, record amounts of gold dug from artisanal mines in the conflict zones of Eastern Congo have been smuggled across the porous border with Uganda, where it is being stamped with fake certifications before being shipped to international markets in Dubai, Mumbai and Antwerp, according to Ugandan security officials, smugglers and traders. Much of the gold is reaching these overseas markets using cargo planes returning from Uganda after delivering Covid-19 aid and other essential supplies, according to plane manifests seen by The Wall Street Journal.

The trade in conflict gold isn’t new, but it has perhaps never been more lucrative: Gold prices at illegal and unregulated Congolese mines, where supply chains have been disrupted by coronavirus shutdowns and renewed violence between militant groups, have dropped over 40% since April 2020, according to local traders, while on global markets, prices are up by almost a third…Activists and U.N. investigators have long accused Uganda and several of Congo’s neighbors of being complicit in the plunder of Congolese gold…The calls to end the illicit trade grew louder last year after Uganda’s gold exports overtook coffee to become the leading export commodity for the first time—despite the country producing very little bullion.

U.N. investigators estimate that each month between 2 tons and 3 tons of Congo’s conflict gold—with a market value of over $100 million—is crossing the Ugandan frontier, passing border crossings patrolled by heavily armed guards, with metal fencing and razor wire erected to reduce the flow of people due to coronavirus fears…

Smugglers and police say the gold is secreted in trucks that are allowed to bypass coronavirus restrictions to deliver “essential goods” from fuel to food supplies. The yellow bars, weighing between 5 to 20 kilograms, are stuffed underneath truck cabins, inside battery compartments and emptied gasoline tankers. Once inside Uganda, the truckers sell the bars to traders who purchase forged documents in Kampala that disguise the gold’s origin.

The scramble is fueling violence in the eastern Congolese province of Ituri…Fresh spasms of violence have left more than 1,300 civilians dead since March 2020, in what the U.N. says may amount to war crimes. Some six million people are displaced. Armed groups are carrying out predatory raids on mines in search of gold.

In the meantime on Wall Street, on July 24, 2020, gold futures were priced at $1,897.50 a troy ounce eclipsing their August 2011 peak of $1,891.90. The coronavirus has ignited a global gold rush, with physical traders around the world trying to get their hands on more metal and individuals around the world ordering bars and coins.

Excerpts from Nicholas Bariyo and Joe Parkinson, Under Cover of Coronavirus Lockdown, a Booming Trade in Conflict Gold, WSJ, July 9, 2020, Gold Climbs to a High, Topping Its 2011 Record, WSJ, July 24, 2020

Cutting Trees, Digging Gold and Mercury Pollution – Amazon

The past two decades have seen a sharp increase in illegal and informal gold mining in Peru‘s southern Amazon region of Madre de Dios. These small-scale operations typically involve cutting down all of the trees in a particular area, digging a large pit and then using mercury to extract gold from the excavated soil… The mercury binds to any gold in the soil, creating a large chunk that can be easily removed. This chunk is then burned, evaporating and releasing the mercury into the air while leaving behind pure gold

Besides releasing mercury into the atmosphere, miners typically add three to four times more mercury… than is actually needed. While this ensures all of the gold is extracted, it also means there is a large amount of leftover mercury in the slurry that is inevitably dumped back into the excavated pit. And because the whole process started with the clearing of trees, there’s nothing to stop the mercury-laden soil from eroding into nearby rivers.

“This means mining practices can hit people three times with mercury — once from direct contact, once from atmospheric transport and deposition, and once from soil mercury mobilization due to land clearing,” said William Pan,Professor of Population Studies at Duke. “The scenarios we run demonstrate that even if mining were to end today, since vegetation is unlikely to return for several decades, the cleared land will continue to release mercury.”

For more details see Duke University

Excerpts from Deforestation, erosion exacerbate mercury spikes near Peruvian gold mining, Science Daily, Dec. 12, 2019

Free-For-All: Gold Mining and the Polluted Rivers of Central African Republic

Four Chinese-run gold mines should be closed in the Central African Republic because of pollution threatening public health, a parliamentary panel said in a report published on July 14, 2019.  “Ecological disaster,” “polluted river,” “public health threatened,” were some of the phrases used in the report.  “Gold mining by the Chinese firms at Bozoum is not profitable for the state and harmful to the population and the environment,” the commission found after its investigation into mining in the northern town.  “The nature of the ecological disaster discovered onsite justifies the immediate, unconditional halt to these activities,” the report found.

Members of the commission spent four days in Bozoum a month ago in response to “multiple complaints from the population.”  There, they found a badly polluted River Ouham, shorn of several aquatic species following the excavation of its riverbed.  They discovered that a rising death rate in fishing villages as well as shrinking access to clean drinking water.

The investigators also voiced fears that the country’s “resources are being squandered with the complicity of certain ministry of mines officials.”  The CAR is rich in natural resources but riven by conflict which has forced around one in four of its 4.5 million population to flee their homes. Under those circumstances, exploitation of the country’s natural resources is difficult to monitor effectively given that the state only has partial control of its own territory.

Central African Republic Report Cites Ecological Disaster in Calling for Closing of 4 Chinese Gold MInes, Agence France Presse,  July 14, 2019

Demand for Gold Causes Deforestation

The global gold rush, driven by increasing consumption in developing countries and uncertainty in financial markets, is an increasing threat for tropical ecosystems. Gold mining causes significant alteration to the environment, yet mining is often overlooked in deforestation analyses because it occupies relatively small areas. As a result, we lack a comprehensive assessment of the spatial extent of gold mining impacts on tropical forests.

The study Global demand for gold is another threat for tropical forests published in Environmental Research Letters provides a regional assessment of gold mining deforestation in the tropical moist forest biome of South America. Specifically, we analyzed the patterns of forest change in gold mining sites between 2001 and 2013, and evaluated the proximity of gold mining deforestation to protected areas (PAs)….Approximately 1680 km2 of tropical moist forest was lost in these mining sites between 2001 and 2013. Deforestation was significantly higher during the 2007–2013 period, and this was associated with the increase in global demand for gold after the international financial crisis….In addition, some of the more active zones of gold mining deforestation occurred inside or within 10 km of ~32 PAs. There is an urgent need to understand the ecological and social impacts of gold mining because it is an important cause of deforestation in the most remote forests in South America, and the impacts, particularly in aquatic systems, spread well beyond the actual mining sites.

Excerpt from Abstract, Global demand for gold is another threat for tropical forests

Natural Resource Curse – Central African Republic

Gold and diamond sales are being used to finance conflict in Central African Republic and United Nations peacekeepers should monitor mining sites to clamp down on illicit trade, a U.N. panel of experts * [pdf]said.In a report, the panel also said the peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA) should deploy troops to the remote north of the country and use drones to monitor the rebel-controlled region to put an end to simmering violence there.  The mission, which launched in September, is operating at only two-thirds of its planned 12,000-strong capacity.

Central African Republic was plunged into chaos when northern, mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized control of the majority Christian country in March 2013, prompting a vicious backlash by the largely Christian ‘anti-balaka’ militia.  The panel said that some 3,000 people had been killed between December 2013 – when the U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo – and August 2014.  The Kimberley Process – a group of 81 countries, including all the major diamond producers, formed to prevent ‘blood diamonds’ from funding conflict – imposed an export ban on raw gems from Central African Republic in 2013.  But since then, an additional 140,000 carats of diamonds, valued at $24 million, had been smuggled out of the country, the panel estimated…..

In their northern enclave, the former Seleka fighters are imposing taxes on a wide range of goods from gold mining to coffee, livestock, and diamonds to fund their operations, the report found.  Former Seleka fighters were issuing mining licences to gold miners at the Ndassima mine near the rebels’ headquarters of Bambari, in the centre of the country, it said…

It suggested that interim President Catherine Panza’s decision to name representatives of the armed groups to cabinet roles may have fuelled conflict.”Competition among political representatives of armed groups for ministerial positions, as well as among military commanders for control of resources, accounts for of the recent infighting between former components of Seleka and rival factions of anti-balaka,” said the report, dated Oct. 29 but only made public this week.

Excerpts, Gold, diamonds fuelling conflict in Central African Republic, Reuters, Nov. 5, 2014

*Letter dated 28 October 2014 from the Panel of Experts on the  Central African Republic established pursuant to Security Council  resolution 2127 (2013) addressed to the President of the Security Council [S/2014/762]

Orphaned Gold Mines – Canada

Welcome to the Giant Mine, an abandoned gold mine in Yellowknife, capital of the Northwest Territories of Canada. The Canadian government first took charge of it in 1999 after the owner declared bankruptcy and walked away. It is one of an estimated 10,000 orphaned or abandoned mines in Canada’s north that are now the government’s responsibility. And it is full of arsenic trioxide, a compound that is produced by heating arsenopyrite ore, a mineral that has traces of gold. Arsenic trioxide is odourless, tasteless, highly soluble—and lethal. An amount smaller than a pea is enough to kill. The Giant Mine has 237,000 tonnes of the stuff.

The Giant Mine opened in 1948. For the first few years arsenic trioxide went up the smokestack as vapour and came down in the surrounding area as dust. Dust-collecting “scrubbers” were added to capture some of the poisons after newspapers began warning people not to drink water made from melted snow. Once captured, the arsenic, which has the consistency of talcum powder, was blown into underground chambers. As long as the poisonous dust was in the permafrost layer, the thinking went, it would freeze solid and no longer pose a problem.

That might have worked had mine managers not later decided to dig a series of open pits to extract more gold. Now much closer to the surface, the permafrost has melted. With water leaching into and out of the mine it was only a matter of time before the arsenic threatened the waters of Great Slave Lake.

The federal government’s proposed answer, which was approved last month and whose cost has been estimated at C$1 billion ($900m), is a variation on the original plan. The largest open pit will be filled and the 15 sealed vaults containing the arsenic will be refrozen. “

The Dene, the largest group of indigenous people in the territory, in whose homelands the Giant Mine sits, want the dust taken out and reprocessed into a more stable form. Under pressure from the Dene, environmentalists and the city of Yellowknife, the government is to set up an independent body to monitor its work and check every 20 years whether plans should change. It has stopped claiming its solution will last forever, shortening the period a tad, from eternity to 100 years.

If there is a golden lining in this cloud of arsenic dust it is that the studies, remediation work and monitoring create jobs in Yellowknife, now largely a government town. “That mine is still making money,” says Walt Humphries, who is leading a campaign to turn the Giant Mine’s former recreation centre into a museum. “And it will make money for years to come.”

Canada’s Giant Mine: Giant headache, Economist, Sept. 27, 2014, at 38