Massive Mongolian mine raises environmental fears – by Josh Tapper (Toronto Star – April 11, 2012)

The Toronto Star, has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

Economic project led by Canadian miner Ivanhoe a boon – except it’s soaking up valuable water

Buried in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia’s economic future rests on a massive mining project called Turquoise Hill.

Known locally as Oyu Tolgoi, the copper and gold mine, co-owned by Vancouver-based Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. and the Mongolian government, is expected to balloon the Central Asian country’s GDP — an estimated $13.28 billion in 2011 — by more than 30 per cent when it starts full production later this year.

But the economic boon is also, for some, an environmental nightmare as the project will allegedly soak up valuable water resources in the already-arid Gobi. While reports vary, the mine plans to use up to 920 litres of water per second.

Dugersuren Sukhgerel, executive director of local NGO Oyu Tolgoi Watch, said lack of water is the “No. 1 issue” in the region.

“There are very few who are happy with the mine’s presence,” Sukhgerel said in an email to the Star. “The mine and its infrastructure corridor has taken away the best pasture land from the local community.”

Oyu Tolgoi, roughly 80 kilometres north of Mongolia’s southern border with China, is expected to be one of the world’s largest copper mines, with about 250 kilometres of mining tunnels. It’s the centrepiece of Mongolia’s booming mining industry — dubbed “Minegolia” — that has fuelled an otherwise minor economy in recent years.

The country’s economy grew an estimated 17 per cent in 2011, compared with 6.4 per cent in 2010, galvanized by a robust minerals trade with China, which gets more than 90 per cent of Mongolia’s exports.

Ivanhoe, majority owned by British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto, owns 66 per cent of Oyu Tolgoi; the Mongolian government holds a 34 per cent stake. Rio Tinto oversees operations at the site.

By late 2011, more than $3 billion had been invested in Oyu Tolgoi, a sum expected to increase to roughly $6 billion in 2013, according to the mine’s website.

Oyu Tolgoi is to produce an estimated 1.2 billion pounds of copper annually over the first 10 years. The yearly output will also include 650,000 ounces of gold and 3 million ounces of silver.

Gold, silver and copper mined at Oyu Tolgoi will be used in 4,700 medals for the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics.

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