Recent protests have erupted in Greece over the opening of the Skouries gold mine in the Chalkidiki peninsula, by the Eldorado Gold corp. based out of Vancouver, BC . Due to Greece’s poor economic standing and high unemployment rates, the residents of the area “are divided between those who fear environmental destruction and those who support the mine for its job prospects” . Those opposed to the project mainly fear the mine’s environmental impacts will contribute “to the loss of tourism, fishing and farming” . But Greece is said to contain large reserves of metals and as a consequence has become a region of huge interest to mining companies. With already several other mines in operation in the country, it is expected that the Eldorado Gold corp. “will generate export revenues of approximately $1 billion per year to Greece” all the while generating nearly “5,000 direct and indirect jobs locally” , an attractive prospect for Greece and its citizens living in a faltering economy. This reality has fueled an increase in mining permits in Greece in part due to the “fast-track approvals program”, an austerity measure developed to help bolster the economy . The picture above was taken during a protest in Thessaloniki in March 2013, against the opening of the mine in Chalkidiki. The protest attracted more than 10,000 people, who marched toward the Canadian Consulate.
Although the immediate economic benefits are undeniable, the residents’ fears of adverse impacts are warranted for several reasons, the first being that the negative effects of gold mining have long been known. According to the Environmental Literacy Council, in addition to mercury, “the use and disposal of cyanide is another major environmental concern associated with mining” because it “is a well-known poison that in its gaseous state can be fatal to people” at certain exposure levels . Moreover, although the Eldorado Gold corp. claims that there will be no harmful environmental impacts related to the Skouries project, the company, as recently as last year, experienced problems in Romania with their Certej gold mine due to “irregularities in the use of cyanide” . As a result, the Romanian government was forced to cancel the company’s environmental permit. Adding to Eldorado Gold Corp.’s history and the possible impacts, the EIA conducted for the Skouries gold mine was found by some Greek scientists to have “incomplete scientiﬁc data and problematic methodologies, deviations from the procedures of the European Commission and misinterpretation of statutory limits of pollutants” . The above picture was taken last year, during another protest against Eldorado Gold Corp. and its mining plans.
Unfortunately, the situation in Greece is not an isolated incident. Governments all over the world faced with the obligation and pressure to increase revenues are sometimes doing so by creating measures that speed up project approval processes, or by changing environmental laws. What is alarming about this trend is that it illustrates how often economic values trump environmental or social ones in politics. And the fact that it sometimes does boil down to a conflict of values demonstrates how deep this struggle runs. Values are not easily overcome, nor are they easily changed. Plus, the mechanisms in place to voice disapproval, such as comment periods or the freedom to protest, are not always enough to stop potentially destructive projects from moving forward. That being said, if it weren’t for the protesters or the people who submit their comments, or those who analyse the documents, or those who sacrifice time, money and even their safety for a cause larger than themselves, EIA would not have evolved as far as it has. And that, in and of itself, is a big victory.
The following video, a short reportage by Al Jazeera, illustrates in more detail issues surrounding this debate:
Daynes, Will. (2013). Eldorado Gold: Adding value through exploration. BEMining. Available at http://www.bus-ex.com/article/eldorado-gold
Peek, Jenny. (2013). Why are Greeks Protesting Canadian Mining Operations? Human Rights Abuses May be to Blame. The International. Available at http://www.theinternational.org/articles/305-why-are-greeks-protesting-canadian-mining
The Council of Canadians. (2013). CETA Investor-State Provision Could be Invoked if Greek Gold Mine Cancelled. Rabble.ca. Council of Canadians blog. Available at www.rabble.ca
Timu, Andra. (2012). Romania to Annul Eldorado’s Gold Mine Permit, Ponta Says. Bloomberg. Available at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-09-13/romania-to-annul-eldorado-s-gold-mine-permit-ponta-says.html
The Globe and Mail. (2013). Investigation Continues into Attack on Eldorado Gold Mine Greece. Investing Section. Online version. Available at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/investigation-continues-into-attack-on-eldorado-gold-mine-in-greece/article8786577/
Soshaldiki. (2012). Social, Economic and Environmental impacts of Gold Mining in Haldiki. Available at http://soshalkidiki.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/impacts-of-gold-mining.pdf