Events of 2016

 Reporterre

Reporterre

Rosia Montana in Romania holds one of the largest gold and silver deposits in Europe. The Rosia Montana area has been in operation since the Roman Empire. This and later historical mining caused widespread environmental damage. The former RoșiaMin mine for example reveals the impacts of past mining activities. The water quality and soil are deteriorated and there are negative human health consequences. The negative impacts continue as long as the site is not rehabilitated.[1]

Next to environmental and health impacts, the ending of the state-owned mine and other mines in the area in 2006, had also other severe consequences for the residents, mainly unemployment and extreme poverty. The state-owned mine for example employed almost all the local workers. Later at the end of 2009, three years after the closure of the mines, data showed that 70 % of the people in Rosia Montana had no job.[2]

A new mine site in Rosia Montana was planned. It would be composed of four separated opencast pits which would allegedly meet all the EU and international standards. The site would take 2 years to construct, during 16 years the metals would be digged up and the last 7 years would be used to close and remediate the area. And for the next 30 to 50 years thereafter observation and inspection will have to continue.[3]

Gabriel Resources holds 80 % of the stakes of this project, the other 20 % is part of Minvest Rosia Montana S.A, which is a state-owned-mining company. Together they form the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, which holds the exploitation license of Rosia Montana.[4] Gabriel Resources already invested more than 1, 5 billion dollars in the site, since they obtained the mining area in the late 1990s.[5] The project would generate directly and indirectly 24 billion dollars for the Romanian state and would offer thousands of jobs. For this the project is considered the most important foreign direct investment in the country. Allegedly it offers an opportunity to boost the growth and development of the Apuseni region, were mining has been occurring since centuries.[6]

But according to Gabriel Resources, Romania has been hindering the development of the Rosia Montana project, without due processes or compensations. Consequently, the return of the company investments has been negligible. They allege that they wanted to dialogue with the Romanian government and president in 2015 about the case, but that they were given no response. That's why they wanted to prosecute the country.[7] 

Gabriel Resources asked in July 2015 compensation in an international arbitration before the World Bank's International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). During this arbitration the company confronted the Romanian government for delaying their mining project. They claimed that Romania had violated provisions of the "International bilateral investment protection treaties" which the country signed with Canada and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.[8]

The Romanian government firstly supported the mine, but changed their opinion in 2013 after widespread protests across the country. Many Romanians are opposed against the project because of the environmental consequences and pollution mostly linked to the use of cyanide, the damage that will be brought to four mountains in a historic area and to the Roman-era mining shafts.[9] They also protest against the political corruption involved. However, the Gabriel Resources company stated that the project would help the rehabilitation of the polluted area from previous mining.[10]

At the moment it looks like the mining company will have to revise the plans for the mine. This is because Rosia Montana and an area of two kilometers around it were declared as part of Romanias historical monuments in December 2015, by the ministry of culture. This monument includes the mining sites.[11] As a consequence the area is protected against industrial activities like mining.[12] The town was considered a historic monument before in 1992, but lost this status due to decisions by the Ministry of Culture in 2004 and 2010.[13] It seems like the Romanian population won the battle, but they will have to continue to be vigilant that the government doesn't change their policy or that the company doesn't find another way to continue their project.