Newmont Mining Corp. said its plan for a $4.8-billion (U.S.) gold mine project in Peru includes water reservoirs to replace lakes that environmentalists fear will be affected by mining operations at the site, where recent protests led to a state of emergency.
The Colorado-based company, the world’s second-largest gold producer, also stressed on Thursday that the Conga project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) had been approved in October, 2010, by Peru’s Ministry of Energy and Mines.
On Sunday, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala declared a state of emergency to quell protests against the project that have hobbled the region of Cajamarca for two weeks.
Mr. Humala chided leaders of the environmental protest as intransigent after weeks of mediation efforts failed. His decree allows the military to help police reopen roads, schools and hospitals shuttered for days by rallies and marches.
In a statement on Thursday, Newmont said Conga’s EIA was reviewed by 12 agencies before being approved by the government.
The public engagement process leading up to the approval included approximately 13,000 people from neighbouring communities in the Cajamarca region and elsewhere.
“Conga’s EIA followed the process laid out by the government of Peru in what was one of the most thoroughly studied mining projects in the country,” Richard O’Brien, Newmont’s chief executive officer said in a statement.
“The environmental and social impact analyses were based upon comprehensive studies that spanned up to 13 years and were conducted by internationally recognized and respected firms.
“The public engagement process was transparent and open to anyone who wanted to provide input or raise concerns during a three-year period,” he said.
Newmont said Conga’s water protection plan includes four reservoirs with the capacity to store more than twice the water currently in the affected lakes.
Water from the reservoirs will be available to downstream users all year round, addressing the needs of farmers, who currently face an unreliable supply during the dry season.
Conga’s environmental management plan includes the protection of water quality during project construction and operation, the company said.
Mr. Humala, a former leftist, won the presidency last June on promises to steer more spending to rural towns to calm social conflicts over natural resources, while assuring companies their investments would be safe in Peru’s surging economy.
He has said the Conga project would benefit all of Peru. It is the largest mining investment in the country’s history, with gold deposits worth about $15-billion at current prices.