Review of Environmental Impact Study for El Tambor Mine Reveals Severe Shortcomings, Vindicates Concerns Raised by Local Communities

By Lydia Cocom

Lydia Cocom is a GHRC Summer 2014 Intern

Dr. Robert Moran, a respected water quality, geochemical, and hydro-ecological specialist, reviewed the Progreso VII Environmental Impact Study for the El Tambor mining project and found it full of misleading information, faulty or absent data, and concerning omissions and ambiguities. Dr. Moran was interviewed by journalist Carolina Gamazo from Plaza Pública and has also written a report summarizing his findings. He warns that the mining project will likely cause a decrease in the local water supply as well as the contamination of ground and surface water. His conclusions support the gravity of concerns raised by local leaders, as well as members of the resistance movement La Puya, regarding the serious environmental and public health impact that the mining project will have on their communities.

According to Dr. Moran’s report:

  • “The Progreso VII EIA is the worst quality EIA / EIS I have reviewed in more than 42 years of professional hydrogeology / geochemistry experience, involving hundreds of mines, worldwide.”
  • “[The study] would not be acceptable in developed countries, i.e. Canada, USA, EU, Australia, etc.”

  • “[The Ministry of Environment] should never have approved this study.”
  • “…this [project] goes against the interests of the Guatemalan population.”

Dr. Moran states that, “…based on [the] review of hundreds of mines, many similar to Progreso, and [the] relevant literature,” he anticipates the mining project will have the following impact:

  • “Increased competition for water with locals in one of the driest areas of Guatemala; reduction in groundwater levels; some wells will go dry; most local springs will go dry; well yields will be reduced; stream-flows are likely to be reduced.”
  • “Likely degradation of ground and surface water quality.” Contaminants are likely to include “potentially-toxic trace elements…such as: arsenic, copper, lead, zinc, and other metals / metalloids; ammonia & nitrate (from explosives), sulfate diesel, organic compounds from the decomposition of the plant processing chemicals, increased sediment loads, etc.”

Some of the key shortcomings of the Environmental Impact Study, as identified by Dr. Moran include:

  • The failure to collect adequate water quality data. As Moran explains, “Because the EIA lacks any statistically-reliable water baseline data, there will be no “yardstick” against which to measure any present or future changes to water quality or quantity. Thus, it will not be possible for the operating company to be held legally responsible for most water-related impacts that may occur.”
  • The failure to present data regarding the chemical composition of the rocks to be mined.
  • Misleading information regarding the mine’s impact on groundwater levels. As Moran writes, “The EIA authors fail to make clear that the groundwater (GW) and surface water (SW) flow pathways are interconnected via faults, fractures and weathered zones, and where GW and SW are exchanged directly at the edges of the streams. Thus, pumping GW during mine operations will cause depletions in stream-flows, will likely cause declines in the water levels of local wells, and will likely cause most local springs to dry up.”
  • The failure to clarify whether cyanide will be used at the site.
  • The failure to adequately address the potential impact of seismic activity at the site, which is located in “one of the most [seismically] active regions in the western hemisphere.”
  • The failure to address the environmental and public health impact of toxic compounds generated by the use of mine explosives.
  • The failure to address the environmental and public health impact of concentrated nitric acid use at the mine.
  • False claims that mine waste rock and tailings will be geochemically inert and will not release contaminants over time.
  • False claims that there is no risk of acid rain despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary being included in the report.
  • A five year time frame for the mining project that does not appear to be logical or economically viable” and likely is deceptively short and misleading in regards to the full cumulative impact of the mining project.

Ready to take action and stand in solidarity with La Puya?

Click here to join GHRC in urging the owners of El Tambor mining project to respect the dialogue process between the Guatemalan government and the communities of La Puya by halting all mining activities, and to cease any pressure on Guatemalan authorities to use violent force against the protesters.

Click here to sign a petition asking President Perez Molina to stop the mining project in La Puya and to denounce the use of violence against peaceful protesters.

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