Oct 122013
 

In November 2012, the federal Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, Semarnat) refused a request to allow open-pit (opencast) mining in the buffer zone of the Sierra La Laguna Biosphere Reserve in Baja California Sur.

The request came from Zapal SA de CV, whose mining project, currently named “Los Cardones”, is located about 60 km from La Paz, the state capital. The proejct is close to the small settlements of El Triunfo, San Antonio and El Rosario. This mining project was previously called “Paredones Amarillos” and “La Concordia”. The original Concordia project, proposed by US mining firm Vista Gold and Toronto-listed Argonaut, was opposed on environmental and public health grounds by several environmental groups including the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA).

Location of Los Cardones mining project. Credit: Tony Burton/Geo-Mexico

Location of Los Cardones mining project.

The latest version, Los Cardones, was resubmitted to authorities in September 2012. The project involved 423 hectares of semi-arid scrub-land, from which Zapal hoped to extract 40 metric tons of gold in the next decade using open-cast (pit) mining. The $217-million project would have created around 2200 jobs.

According to the project’s website (no longer functional), the mining project would have relied entirely on desalinated seawater (brought to the site by a 40-km aqueduct), which would be continuously recycled, and would therefore have no impact on local aquifers. Zapal claimed that the mine would have been the first gold mine in Mexico to use a closed-system cyanidation process, designed to prevent any contamination of the local environment. Zapal is part of the Invecture group which already operates an open cast copper mine in Piedras Verdes, Sonora, claimed to have an impeccable environmental and safety record.

Semarnat rejected the proposal on the grounds that it did not meet the legal requirements for mining operations in a Biosphere Reserve buffer zone. It is likely that a revised application will be made in due course. However, officials of the Baja California state government have previously gone on record as saying that they will oppose any open-cast mining in the state, because of its potential environmental impacts.

Anti-mining protests elsewhere in Mexico

David Bacon, author of “The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration”, wrote an informed account for the American Program website of several cases across Mexico where opposition to Canadian mining firms has arisen.

A Guardian photo essay entitled “Mexico mining: ‘When injustice is law, resistance is duty’ – in pictures” reported on a January 2013 meeting of some 500 activists from across Mexico and Central America in Capulálpam de Méndez, Oaxaca. The meeting’s slogan was,  “Si la vida! No la
minera!” (Yes to life! No to mining!). It was held to co-ordinate local resistance to the human and environmental costs of mining on the region’s communities.

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