Economy 16:30 04/03/2023 Armenia

Lawyer slams Amulsar mine restart plan, says environmental risks are ignored

Armenia’s Ministry of Economy, the Eurasian Development Bank and Lydian Armenia,  a subsidiary of the U.S.-British Lydian International, on February 22 signed a memorandum for $250 million to complete construction work at the Amulsar gold mine near the spa town of Jermuk and purchase the necessary equipment.

The Armenian budget revenues from the development of the Amulsar deposit are expected to be around 40 billion drams a year, Armenian officials claim. In addition, it will open hundreds of new jobs.

Meanwhile, environmental activists claim that its potential environmental risks, including water pollution fears due to acid mine drainage, have been neglected. has spoken with lawyer Nazeli Vardanyan, chair of the Forests of Armenia NGO, about the environmental risks of the project and the government’s claims. Has any new environmental impact assessment been conducted to allow mining at Amulsar? What efforts have been made to mitigate the risks?

Nazeli Vardanyan: There is no official government decision on the mine operation. There is a document which is not legally binding, i.e. no agreement has been signed yet. It’s a memorandum with no legal force. The contract is yet to be signed.

It is a disgraceful memorandum. I hope it will undergo changes, because taking such a responsibility and burdening the people with all its consequences is either ignorance, to put it mildly, or part of a plan to bring the country into a difficult situation with no chances to get out of it.

The risks have not been assessed whatsoever. Absolutely no economic, social, health and environmental damages have been assessed.

The law on environmental impact assessment envisages elaboration of a methodology, but from 2014 and to date there has been no such methodology in place, not even economic damage has been assessed. They claim that many new jobs will be created, but how many jobs will be closed instead?

It seemed to me that they at least counted the benefits but after signing this memorandum, I realized that they have absolutely no idea of them. I don't know what their decisions are based on.

They [the ruling team] screwed up Armenia’s legislation immediately after coming to power, when they gave permissions. All the environmental laws and conventions were violated by these permits. The opinion of Jermuk residents was not taken into consideration at all in a blatant violation of the law. Amid lack of Jermuk residents’ opinion as an affected community, all the permits should be invalidated.

The enemy troops are stationed near the region. In September 2022, we saw that the entire area around Amulsar came under Azeri shelling. Who can guarantee that it will not happen again this time on a platform full of cyanide? This would be the end of Armenia, since 80% of its water resources would be polluted and those areas would become uninhabitable.

They say it's a 10-year project, but in just 2-3 years, they will extract only some materials and leave, as it was the case in the Teghut mine. The latter was declared bankrupt in 4 years. They will go bankrupt either, won’t carry out any reconstruction works and will go away, leaving the burden on our shoulders, and Jermuk will be occupied by Azeris. That's what this program is all about. Mrs. Vardanyan, no environmental impact assessment has apparently been conducted, is it?

Nazeli Vardanyan: A new environmental impact assessment was a mandate as the experts hired by the government stated the data provided by the study was insufficient and it was impossible to assess all the risks, but there has been much talk about the numerous unmanageable risks. What are the major risks?

Nazeli Vardanyan: All the imminent threats are big... Security challenges have now emerged given the proximity of the enemy troops. There is also an ecological risk, because acid mine drainage cannot be managed anyway. The whole region is currently in an unstable seismic situation. We are part of the same seismic zone. Who can guarantee that there won't be destruction and earthquakes here? All these are unmanageable risks. Back in 2016, Doctor of Geology, Professor Armen Saghatelyan said: "...This is a sulfide deposit, thus acid drainage risks are highly unlikely. The rocks at Amulsar mine are very cracked, so the surface water will flow deep down through them, dissolving sulfides on their way and resulting in sulfuric acid. This acidic water will flow into the Vorotan and Arpa Rivers, as well as the Spandaryan and Kechut Reservoirs." How Amulsar mine operation has now became possible?

Nazeli Vardanyan: This man even gave an interview on the matter before his death in the hospital as he was deeply concerned about it. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us to fight. Four experts from Australia, Canada and America, even ELARD experts and other Armenian experts warned about it. All experts unanimously said that the mine exploitation was unacceptable. Acid drainage is uncontrollable, because it is impossible to put a gate valve or a cleaner on every crack. No matter how hard they try, the acid will get through them. The geological structure of Amulsar is volcanic, there are tectonic faults there, which the company kept secret and did not assess that it would penetrate through the faults and cracks.

And what is sulfide? It is sulfur, which reacts with oxygen and water to form sulphuric acid where most metals are dissolved. There is uranium and other heavy metals here, which all will dissolve and gradually flow into rivers. Whereas, they haven’t assessed it and have not revealed where the mining wastewater will go. They say there is no tailing pond, but there is a platform instead. It’s an open area, where cyanide solution will be stored, which will evaporate and may cause various problems. Over two dozen NGOs and individuals recently released a statement on the Amulsar mine development. You also joined this statement. Apart from statements, what steps should be taken to prevent Amoulsar mine operation?

Nazeli Vardanyan: Steps are being taken and we should not necessarily take to the streets, holding posters, though it’s also likely. We have adopted new struggle tactics and are working on it day and night, so the results will be visible soon. I am sure the mine will not restart, it cannot operate illegally against the opinion and will of the local residents. Thank you for the interview.

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