Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Romania: Gold Dig Sparks Controversy

Canadian project to build a gigantic open cast gold mine runs into trouble.
By Daniela Tuchel

Opposition is mounting to Romania's biggest-ever foreign investment project - plans for a huge open cast gold mine in Transylvania which environmentalists say will be a disaster.


The World Bank last month refused a request for a 100 million US dollar loan towards the cost of the 400 million dollar project being managed by Canadian company Gabriel Resources.


"We are overjoyed," said Eugen David, president of a local group opposed to the proposed mine, at Rosa Montana valley. "We hope that other financial institutions and banks will follow suit."


He branded the project, which will see a gigantic hole dug in an area of outstanding natural beauty, as "speculative, unprofitable and unsustainable," and said the mine will "increase pollution and poverty".


The Canadian company, Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, thinks differently: it is pushing ahead with plans for what will be the biggest open cast mine ever developed anywhere in Europe.


Conservationists are opposed because the mine would destroy the remains of Roman mine workings on the site - some of the best preserved ever found - along with several villages which would have to be bulldozed.


Reports by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth claim that the valley would be transformed, not just by the pit but also by the huge quantities of cynanide that are used in gold mining.


"The thing the inhabitants of Rosia Montana need most is solidarity," said journalist Horia Turcanu. "They need people to protest, to write, to campaign against this dreadful


menace that hangs over them. They need to know that they are not alone."


Gabriel Resources aims to produce 10 million ounces of gold over 15 years at Rosia Montana. The company promises that the mine will provide employment for 15,000 people.


However, most locals say they don't believe in these promises and they fear that the project would destroy their villages and pollute their drinking water. Moreover, they don't want to move out of the area.


"People will get either money to buy themselves other houses, or they will get a new house we are going to build in the villages nearby. They have nothing to worry about," said Rosia spokeswoman Dana Golea.


"Nobody will lose anything, we will take care of that."


But Romania has seen a series of cynanide accidents in the past two years, which have made people wary about the new project.


A cyanide spill in Romania's Baia Mare pit in 2000 polluted the drinking water for 2,5 million people and killed thousands of fish.


Hundreds fell ill because authorities didn't tell the nearby villages their water had been contaminated until two weeks after the event.


The government blamed exceptional weather conditions and claimed the Baia Mare accident was a natural disaster.


A second cyanide spill blighted the country in mid-January last year, with almost 100 people, mostly children, treated in hospital after eating contaminated fish in the Siret river.


The accident was caused by workers emptying cyanide solution from tanks at a bankrupt detergent factory into the Siret, a tributary of the Danube.


Just one man was arrested and the company was fined the equivalent of 800 dollars for negligence. Later in the year, the company went bankrupt.


Environmental officials reported readings 128 times the accepted levels of chemicals in the Siret.


This year has seen more accidents, the latest in Bistrita county, Transylvania, last August.


An industrial plant accidentally poured toxic substances into the water, contaminating more than half of local wells and making many people sick.


Local health officials say the wells cannot be shut down since none of the villages in the area are connected to the public water plant. The people in these regions have no other water resource.


Pollution, much of it a legacy of the communist-era passion for heavy industry, is a continual problem in Romania.


Acid has caused health problems in communities along the banks of the Ampoi river for more than 20 years.


And Bucharest's drinking water is so polluted it is over the maximum safety limits allowed by the European Union, according to a report made out recently by the Office for Consumer Protection in Romania, OPC.


The inspectors blame ageing water distribution networks that allow pollutants into the drinking supply.


Daniela Tuchel works for the Bucharest-based newspaper Libertatea


More IWPR's Global Voices

Why Did Cuba Jail This Journalist?
Rights defenders say that unusually harsh punishment reflects wider troubles for Havana regime.
Under A Watchful Eye: Cyber Surveillance in Cuba
Cuba's Less Than Beautiful Game