Rare photos of Kumtor mine and environs
Business and Economics, Kyrgyzstan, Photoblog, VideoblogOne Comment
“People would prefer to have gold or silver or platinum, some tangible asset that can preserve their wealth. So, while we’re sitting out in this isolated part of Central Asia and it seems unconnected to much of the rest of the world, this is obviously very central issue to what’s going on economically and financially right now in Europe and North America.” — Dr. Robert Moran, hydrologist/geologist
This past September, Bankwatch and I made a documentary about the Kumtor mine. You can view the video via YouTube. Some weeks later I was invited to join a State Commission which was visiting the Kumtor goldmine to do an environmental monitoring and take water samples. While we were out there, though, I also took a long series of photographs, originally posted by Bankwatch on Flickr but which I’m now re-posting with permission here to help spread the word about what’s happening in Kyrgyzstan’s mountains.
Although the State Commission was visiting the mine with an official decree of then-Prime Minister Almazbek Atambajev we were first denied acces to the mine. During the five hours we were waiting up there at the entrance I took this shot of the Davidov Glacier with mining waste sitting on top. The disposal of mining waste on top of the Davidov glacier as well as on the adjacent Lysie glacier increases the fast melting down of the glaciers and contributes to its destruction. In other parts of the world like in Latin America, the mining of glaciers would be considered as an extremely volatile environmental issue.
The next day, September 20th 2011 the commission was eventually granted access to the mine and was taking a series of water samples from different locations at the mine. We started at Lake Petrov, which sits above the mine at around 4000 meters above sea-level. Due to climate change the Petrov glaciers has been melting dramatically. This has increased the size of the Petrov lake enormously. International scientists like Dr. Robert Moran as well as Kyrgyz scientists like Dr. Isabek Torgojev fear that the natural glacial moraine dam will become more and more unstable and could break if an earth quake occurs.
The report of Dr. Moran states:
“These conditions are extremely risky and could result in a catastrophic collapse of the Petrov Lake dam, which might also damage the Kumtor tailings impoundment. This might cause a rapid release of masses of contaminated water and sediments (the tailings) into the Kumtor River, endangering downstream people, facilities, downstream rivers, and would likely kill much of the mountain trout population and other aquatic organisms. Such a collapse could negatively-impact waters throughout much of the Naryn River basin, which flows into Uzbekistan.”
The Kumtor Operating company extracts 4.38 Billions litres from Petrov Lake a year. The report by Dr. Robert Moran states:
“Extraction of such vast quantities of water by Kumtor inevitably reduces the supplies available to downstream users for all their daily activities (agriculture, livestock, drinking, domestic, etc.), impacts fish populations–and increases the overall competition for water downstream. [...] The volume of water needed for Kumtor operations will likely increase as production increases. The Water Usage Permit allows KOC to draw 6.3 million cubic meters per year (about 6.3 billion liters per year) from Petrov Lake (p. 133). One assumes that KOC pays no price for the water itself.”
The gold mining at the Kumtor site produces massive quantities of waste. About 89 million tons of toxic tailings till the end of 2010 are stored in this tailings pond. One of the main problems with this dam is that it has become unstable and is slowly moving downhill with its shape deforming. The report of Dr. Robert Moran gives the following explanation for it`s instability:
“This instability is due partly to the factors discussed above, but is likely enhanced by the relatively high temperatures of the tailings when they come from the process plant (a highly contaminated mix of about 50% solids, 50% liquids) which would increase permafrost melting. Such deformation and movement of the tailings structure, combined with the partial melting of the permafrost raises concerns about a catastrophic failure of the tailings impoundment — especially if a severe earthquake were to occur.”
The highly contaminated mix of solids and liquids coming from the process plant of the mine is stored in the tailings pond and then treated at the treatment plant. After the treatment the water is released into the Kumtor river.
The analysis of the water samples indicate that there is water contamination of the rivers coming from the Kumtor goldmine flowing down the valley into the Naryn river basin. For further detailed information please review the report of Bankwatch and the NGO “Tree of life” .
I would like to close this report with some interesting questions Moran is posing in his report:
“There is a common myth that we can develop natural resources on a large scale without any significant impacts. This is untrue, and this myth continues in the daily information average Kyrgyz hear and read with respect to the Kumtor Mine. There is no ‘free lunch’. All such projects involve trade-offs: some economic benefits for significant long-term impacts and costs—often environmental and social. Several additional questions arise: Are these impacts acceptable to those impacted? Who will pay the long-term costs? Who decides?”