Preliminary results of the Complex Expert Assessment of the expediency and possible outcomes of the intended development of the copper-nickel minefields in the Voronezh Region were presented at the Civic Chamber on December 19.
The document was prepared by an independent group of scholars which included specialists on hydrogeology, biology, medicine, economics, sociology, legal issues, and agriculture and food safety; it was initiated by the Working Group on ecology affiliated with the CC Commission on social issues.
In particular, experts claim that in conflict with the applicable law, the UMMC Holding has never carried out an expert examination of the project’s environmental impact assessment (EIA). UMMC representatives argue that this documentation is not required for exploration works.
“I stress this: these results are preliminary. Until the expert examination is completed, we cannot make any clear conclusion which way is the weight scale of possible benefits and losses caused by exploration of the copper-nickel minefields are going,” CC Member Sergey Simak
Sergey Simak also pointed that he would support holding a referendum on this issue in the Voronezh Region, given that its initiators would apply for it. “People have the right to decide how they want to live, even if they lose something because of their decision. This is their land and they have the right to manage it,” Simak stressed.
According to the specialists who participated in preparation of the expert examination materials, they failed to accumulate full data on the Yelaninskoye and Yelkinskoyr copper-nickel minefields development because the licensee, i.e., the UMMC Holding, did not submit the data requested. They had a chance at the hearings to meet in person with Deputy Director of the Holding Evgeny Bragin; the latter expressed his readiness to provide with excerpts from the project documentation.
Besides this, he also informed that in the summer 2012, the Company gave start to the analysis of the environmental status in the area of the perspective development; first reports on their outcomes will be presented to the public in the spring 2013. Before the third quarter of 2015, the Company is planning to carry out the necessary exploration drilling in order to evaluate, in particular, the quality of the ore and its preparability; hydro geological aspects of the extraction of ore; and its possible outcomes for the environment.
“In the next three years, UMMC will spend more than 5 billion rubles in order to find answers to these questions,” Bragin said.
The UMMC Holding’s representative stressed that the Company will start design of the mining-and-processing integrated works in 2016 only in the case if all results of the environmental assessments will be reasonable.
Bragin called public concerns “groundless” and pointed that the Company “has absolutely no way to by-pass its obligations declared” in the part of the environmental impact.
“The enterprise’s environmental impact will be strictly restricted by its site’s borders,” the representative of the UMMC Holding said. By his words, the total acreage of the lands transferred in the industrial status “will not exceed 500 hectares for the entire period of the minefield exploitation.”
Bragin also informed that in the middle of December, his company launched a specialized Internet-portal which contained information on the company’s plans on industrial exploration of the subsurface resources in the Voronezh Region.
In their turn, local ecological organizations and public are concerned that establishment of the mining and metals enterprise in the region might, among other things, lead to contamination of water resources and the atmosphere, destruction of soils, and aggravation of the agricultural conditions, as well as to negative impact on people’s health.
Coordinator of the public movement “To Protect Khoper” Konstantin Rubakhin reminded in his presentation that by ecologists’ assessments, the perspective prime costs of the nickel excavation in the region makes it economically inexpedient under the current price tendencies in the world market.
“We are concerned that an environmental damping will have place… and that expenses on environment protecting measures (caused by that) might be inadmissibly reduced,” Rubakhin said. In his opinion, food safety reasons have higher priority in this particular case than perspectives of industrial exploration of the minefields.
Coordinator of the Green Band Movement Valentina Bobrova added that population of the region has already identified agriculture as its development priority. “We cannot allow development of the mineral resource industry in the black earth areas; this is against the elementary common sense,” Bobrova said.
Coordinator of the Program of Ecological Policies of the Oil and Gas Sector of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Russia Alexey Knizhnikov stressed that the example of UMMC and the Voronezh Region indicates broader problems in the environmental impact assessment, when state license issuing authorities de-facto allow this or that type of activities without proper procedures of ecological assessment.
“There is a certain systemic crisis in our country on adopting decisions on such issues… This issue has ripened long ago; I guess, the government understands this as a whole at the level of political decision-making,” Knizhnikov said. He also appealed to Rosnedra (Federal Agency on Subsoil Usage) to let public know about the outcomes of the license tender and, in particular, reasons for choosing the specific subsoil user from the point of ecological security view.
Speaking at the meeting, Director of the Laboratory of the RAS Institute of Macroeconomical Forecasting Boris Revich stressed that presently RF is “moving along the way of harmonization of the regulatory base” with the international standards in the part of ecological legislation. According to him, measures on serious tightening of international regulations on circulation of mercury and other contaminators, including nickel, are under development.
“In ten years, the situation will be absolutely different, and you will have to deal with an absolutely different regulatory base,” Revich pointed. The UMMC Deputy Director replied to that the Company is “absolutely not afraid” of these changes in regulations because it is planning to use modern imported technologies compatible with these planned changes.
According to Vice Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Natural Resources, Land Use and Ecology Maxim Shingarkin, the situation with the discussion on the perspectives of non-ferrous metals in the Voronezh Region is aggravated with the information deficit and public and ecologists’ concerns about the lack of expert assessments of environmental impact necessary for exploration works which the Company is planning to start in 2013. From the UMMC’s point of view, EIA is not obligatory by law for holding such works.
“I suggest that you do not wait until the difficult period starts and begin to develop EIA (environmental impact assessment) for the exploration drilling… This way, we will break the vicious circle of the insufficient information provided to citizens,” Shingarkin said.
The MP also proposed that the Company should provide the general schedule of events under the frames of the activities scheduled and the schedule of supplying the necessary documentation to public.
CC expert Sergey Vasiliev added that from his point of view, the situation clearly shows the necessity to redevelop and improve the actual EIA-2000 Statute which, it appears, is obsolete and has serious omissions.
Resuming the hearings’ outcomes, Sergey Simak appealed to both parties of the conflict to hold constructive dialogue on regular basis. “After all, the UMMC Holding is investing huge funds in this project; it should be most interested in the objective assessment of the possible damage. We must assess it yet at the design stage; otherwise, the Company might have serious losses if the project is stopped after the construction will have started.”