EconomyFinancialThe "ghost towns" of mining and the remediation law...

The "ghost towns" of mining and the remediation law that can change it

Mexico is the largest producer of silver in the world and is among the main producers of other minerals such as gold, zinc, lead and copper. Despite the importance of the country as a source of minerals, there is no law in the country that obliges companies to carry out remediation activities after the closure of the mines .

The situation is different in other countries . In Canada, for example, companies are subject to environmental remediation activities and liabilities virtually for life . Before starting any mining project, mining companies must present an Environmental Impact Statement (MIA). But in Mexico, remediation activities are “optional.”

How is the regulation in Mexico?

To carry out mining activities in Mexico, the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) asks companies to submit to the figure of Environmental Impact Assessment, through the presentation of the MIA document. In it, the possible direct and indirect, cumulative and residual environmental impacts caused by the mining activity that is intended to be developed are identified.

The document is prepared from guides prepared by Semarnat itself, through which the works or activities to be carried out in their operation phase are described, as well as at the end of their production, which is in the Dismantling and abandonment section. of the facilities, as well as in the Strategies for the prevention and mitigation of environmental impacts.

But this document is only a guide, that is, it does not establish obligations for companies , so its compliance and assessment is subject to the consideration of whoever prepares it, that is, of the companies.

Luis Humberto Vázquez, president of the Association of Mining Engineers, Metallurgists and Geologists of Mexico, confirms that in Mexico there is no Law that specifically addresses the activities related to the closure of mines , however, those companies adhered The formal schemes, mostly agglutinated in the Mining Chamber of Mexico (Camimex), adopt international regulations, mainly Canadian ones.

“It is still our responsibility. Although you are no longer using the concession or you have considered your work finished, they are still responsible for the centuries of the concession and the place you occupied”, he says in an interview with Expansión .

Today, the regulation around remedication is fragmented into several Official Mexican Norms (NOM) that cover only some very specific aspects. For example, NOM-141-SEMARNAT-2003 establishes the procedure to characterize tailings, NOM-155-SEMARNAT-2007 on environmental protection requirements for gold and silver mineral leaching systems, and NOM-157- SEMARNAT-2009 marks the elements and procedures to implement mining waste management plans, among others.

Fernando Alanís, former president of Camimex, believes that a greater strengthening of those regulations related to the development of operations would lead to successful closures in each complex . But a holistic perspective is necessary, not a fragmented one. “I don’t think that one more NOM should be created,” he tells Expansión .

From “ghost towns” to developing towns

Fourteen years after starting operations at the El Castillo mine in Durango, the Mexican subsidiary of the Canadian company Argonaut Gold presented its closure plan for the complex last August, from which it obtained an accumulated production of 799,502 ounces of gold. .

This closure plan contemplates an approximate investment of 9 million dollars, destined for the remediation of the environment, in addition to the fitting out of facilities, such as offices, so that the inhabitants can use them.

Alfredo Phillips, vice president of corporate affairs and Environmental, Social and Governance of Argonaut Gold, highlights in an interview with Expansión that after the closure of a mine, the surrounding towns become “ghost towns” , when their main source of resources is withdrawn, for what this closure plan seeks to give them a future.

One of these best-known “ghost towns” in Mexico is the one located in Concepción del Oro, in the semi-desert of Zacatecas, known as Aranzazú. After having experienced a mining boom in gold production last century, today there is no exact figure on the inhabitants of the place, however, some data indicate that it retains less than 10 inhabitants.

Luis Humberto Vázquez, who also works as director of mines for Grupo Peñoles, stresses that the Mexican firm has also sought to confront these “ghost towns” through different activities .

In 1992 the company began the process of exploitation, mainly of zinc, in the Bismark mining district, in Chihuahua. After having had an installed capacity of 800,000 tons of ore milled annually, the complex closed in May 2020.

“We have plant people, reforesting, taking care of our tailings deposits,” says Vázquez.

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