Tue, 2010-07-06 01:12

EU Commission confirms sufficient legislation in place for gold

Brussels, 1 July 2010:

The resolution of the European Parliament calling for a general ban on the use of cyanide mineral processing technologies in the European Union has received the full attention of the European Commission. On June 23rd, 2010 the European Commissioner for the Environment – Mr Potočnik – published the following statement on behalf of the Commission in response to a Parliamentary question on the issue.

“After an in depth analysis of the issue, the Commission considers that a general ban of cyanide in mining activities is not justified from environmental and health point of views. Existing legislation notably on the management of extractive waste (Directive 2006/21/EC) includes precise and strict requirements ensuring an appropriate safety level of the mining waste facilities. The limit values for cyanide storage as defined in the Directive are the most stringent possible and implies in practice a destruction step of cyanide used before its storage.

Due to the lack of better (in the sense of causing less impact on the environment) alternative technologies, a general ban on cyanide use would imply the closure of existing mines operating in safe conditions. This would be detrimental to employment without additional environmental and health added value.
The Commission intends to continue to closely follow the possible technological developments in this sector in order to ensure that "best available techniques" are applied in practice as required by the Directive.
In addition, the Commission considers that the priority should be set on ensuring full application of the Directive by the Member States. As guardian of the Treaty, the Commission intends to take all necessary measures within its remit to ensure that the Directive is fully and correctly applied in practice.”

The companies managing gold mining operations and projects in Europe, represented by Euromines – the European Association of Mining Industries, Metal Ores & Industrial Minerals – welcome this statement and further stress that EU regulation applicable to the presence of cyanide and cyanide compounds in mining waste is one of the most stringent legal regimes worldwide to safeguard human health and the environment. All mines are and will be complying to limit values far stricter than international standards due to the application of best available technology, e.g. presence of cyanide destruction units within their processes. The same EU legislation covers base metal mines that might use cyanide in their mineral processing plants. Therefore, there is no further environmental or health benefit to be achieved by additional regulation in the EU.

Fact and Figures – Gold Mining in Europe

In 2009, Sweden, Finland and Turkey were the largest gold producers in Europe, but there are other operators in other countries (Bulgaria, France, Greece, Ireland,Romania) and many other new gold mining projects in many European countries such as Bulgaria, France, inland, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia,Spain, Sweden, and UK. In total the gold mining sector in Europe represents 16,000 jobs (direct and indirect employment). 

  • The current amount of capital investment in EU gold mining projects is in the order of billions of Euros and is expected to substantially increase in the coming years.
  • Such investments include allocations to Corporate Social Responsibilityprogrammes and local water and biodiversity management schemes.
  • Additionally, the tax and royalty contribution of gold mining companies to the EU Member States is likely to total in the 100s of millions of Euros over the lifetime of the mines. 

Mining operations have focused on minimising environmental effects in the short-, medium- and long-term. This means that sites are not only designed to have the minimum impact during operation, but also the closure and after-care of sites is planned from the out-set. Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), risk assessment evaluations, biodiversity action plans, integrated closure plans, monitoring and follow-up are just some of the strategic tools routinely applied by the industry to minimise environmental effects. Environmental audits are regularly conducted to review and constantly improve the environmental management, which has been demonstrated by many projects within the EU to be world-class. 

Leaching of gold with sodium cyanide solutions is controlled by specific safety measures to prevent incidents and environmental impacts. Thorough Risk Assessment is always part of the design process of the mines and the mineral processing plants where technical solutions aimed at the prevention of accidents and environmental impacts are identified, implemented and insured. Currently, about 1,000 tonnes of sodium cyanide are used by the gold mining sector in the EU annually. All gold mining operations in Europe that use these cyanide compounds to process ore on site employ best available technology that meets or surpasses EU and Member State water quality obligations. Safer, more environmentally friendly alternatives to processing with potassium or sodium cyanide solutions do not exist on an industrial scale at this time. The gold mining industry will continue to do extensive research and development into the most environmentally safe and economically viable methods or treating and processing ore.

Europe represents a modern and developed society, with technologies and wealth to a large extent relying on the benefits of metals, including gold. EU mines are required to operate to a world- class standard with respect to sustainability criteria that is environmental protection, economical performance and social development. EU Member States have a responsibility to support their demand for gold and other metals by supporting the EU’s own mineral extraction and processing industry according to the existing rigorous standards.

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