Plans progress for Co Tyrone gold mine

Richard Halleron looks at the Co Tyrone project which has the potential to deliver a range of economic benefits but which faces significant local community opposition.

 

Canadian company Dalradian Gold Ltd has announced plans to extract gold from a 200 acre site in the Greencastle area of Co Tyrone. Local residents, however, have significant concerns around the project. According to Bernie Fox, vice chair of the recently established GRG Concerned Community Group – representing families and farmers in the Greencastle, Rousky and Gortin areas, the operation will entail the use of cyanide in the extraction process.Issue_img2

“Dalradian only recently confirmed the use of cyanide, as they sought to secure full planning permission for the project,” said Fox. “If allowed, this will result in the creation of a toxic dump on our doorsteps. The land purchased by Dalradian lies close to a number of rivers and watercourses. All it would take is a single accident to blight one of the most picturesque areas of Co Tyrone for ever.”

Dalradian Gold began underground exploration for gold in County Tyrone in 2014 and has now outlined its intention to locate a mine and processing plant within close proximity of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, just outside Greencastle. Fox confirmed that all of the residents in the area are totally opposed to the project.

“We want it stopped,” he stated. “There is a level of fear, anger and tension never before experienced in this community and many have said they will leave this area if this goes ahead. The threat to our farming community and their livelihoods, is very real.”

Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill recently visited the Greencastle area, where she met with concerned residents. Discussion centred on how plans by Dalradian may impact on local agriculture and environment.

“The community of Greencastle have been raising their concerns about plans by Dalradian Gold with my party colleague Declan McAleer MLA and I am pleased to have met with residents today to discuss those concerns further,” said O’Neill.

“The company has confirmed that it intends to use cyanide at its processing plant to separate the gold from ore. As Minister of Agriculture I share the concerns of local residents regarding the potential negative impact that this process will have on farmers, rural dwellers and our environment.” agendaNi has been informed that Michelle O’Neill intends to discuss the matter with the relevant planning authorities.

Creating well paid jobs

Meanwhile, in response to these claims by the Minister and concerned residents a spokesperson from Dalradian said: “This project will help reinvigorate the industry in Northern Ireland. Dalradian would employ at least 200 people during construction and 200 during the mine’s operation over a period of up to 20 years.

“The skills this mine will develop can provide well paid jobs for generations, contributing to building a sustainable economy in the region and especially in the West.

“Proactive consultation will continue over the next few months after which a final design will be presented to the community in the summer of 2016. The planning application will be submitted in the autumn. Throughout this time Dalradian will continue to engage with members of the community and politicians at local and national levels to ensure we’re delivering a sustainable plan which both protects this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and creates hundreds of new jobs.”

An independent team of experts is conducting a full Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which will detail mitigation measures on impacts to landscape, water, soil, climate, air quality, noise, and traffic, among others. During both the construction and operation of the mine, Dalradian has confirmed it will conform to the highest environmental standards, going above and beyond what is legally required. During operations all surface water will be tested and, if necessary, treated before leaving the site.

“We understand community concerns around cyanide,” said the spokesperson. “It is consequently one of the most highly regulated substances in the world and is used safely in many industrial applications, not just mining. Dalradian is voluntarily opting into the International Cyanide Management Code. In our process, we will reduce the concentration to less than what you’d find in a handful of almonds.”

Managing cyanide

The International Council on Metals and the Environment (ICME) has confirmed that cyanide is one of only a few chemical agents that will dissolve gold in water. In addition, gold mining operations use very dilute solutions of sodium cyanide, typically in the range of 0.01 per cent and 0.05 per cent cyanide.

Cyanide is also cited as a chemical that is produced in large amounts. It is one of a few basic compounds used chiefly to synthesize a wide range of industrial organic chemicals such as nylon and acrylics. Gold recovery accounts for approximately 18 per cent of total world cyanide production.

For both technical and economic reasons, cyanide is the chemical of choice for the recovery of gold from ores. It has been used in metal extraction since 1887 and CIME also points out that cyanide used in mining solutions is collected, either to be recycled or destroyed, after gold is removed. Managing risks associated with the use of cyanide will always involve engineering, careful monitoring and good management practices in order to prevent and mitigate the potential release of cyanide into the environment.

However, this advice has not prevented a number of disasters associated with the leaking of cyanide into the environment from a number of gold mining operations in countries around the world. A case in point was the 2000 Baia Mare cyanide spill in Hungary.

In this instance a dam failure resulted in the leak of 100,000 cubic metres of cyanide-contaminated solution into the Someş and Tisza water courses. Pollution flowed into Europe’s second largest river, the Danube, and finally into the Black Sea, across six countries. Hungary confirmed that the spill killed 1,241 tonnes of fish within its territory alone. Residents of Northern Ireland will be hopeful a similar spill does not occur here.

 

 

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