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Brazil/Canada: Toxic Mega-Mine Looms Over Belo Monte’s Affected Communities April 12, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Environment, First Nations, Latin America, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: it may be that Canada has a young hip looking (if vacuous) Prime Minister and a reputation for being more peace loving and less aggressively capitalistic than the United States, but that image is belied by Canadian mining companies in Africa and Latin America.

On the banks of Brazil’s lower Xingu River, a toxic controversy looms large, threatening to heap insult upon the grievous injuries of the nearby Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. In early February, the Canadian company Belo Sun received the final operational licence for its proposed Volta Grande mine from the Pará state environmental agency (SEMA-PA). The sprawling nearly 620 square-mile concession would become Brazil’s largest open-pit gold mine, straddling the territories of three indigenous peoples and other traditional communities that are already reeling from the many social and environmental impacts of Belo Monte.

Since field research for the mine began in 2008, the peoples of Xingu have publicly decried the occurrence of human and environmental rights violations in the lead-up to the mine’s construction. They have also warned of the likely negative social and environmental impacts that the mine project will cause, and recently they and their allies have taken these complaints to the courts.

First, they have denounced that some of the land on which the mine will be constructed was purchased illegally, given that it is land that the federal government designated for agrarian reform in the 1980s. Second, the mine is close to the village of Ressaca, a community of 300 families, all of whom would be displaced and have not been relocated by the company as required.

Third, local communities fear that the project may well end in a tragedy, like the Samarco Mariana dam collapse in 2015, given that Belo Sun intends to use a mining waste storage dam similar to the one used in Samarco. And even if the mine did not suffer a major catastrophe, the environmental and health impacts of the liberal application of cyanide, arsenic, and other toxic chemicals frequently employed in gold mining would lead to dire implications for communities already dealing with the dramatic changesto their way of life caused by the Belo Monte dam.

In a small piece of good news for communities, on February 21st a judge issued a 180-day injunction on the license in response to a legal complaint filed by the local public prosecutor’s office. In doing so, Judge Álvaro José da Silva Souza recognized that the license issued by SEMA-PA had ignored the community’s complaints, that the allegations of illegal land purchases warrant further investigation, and that the company had not fulfilled its promises to properly relocate the families that would be displaced by the mine. As Judge da Silva said in issuing the injunction, “I understand it to be completely absurd and unjustifiable that the families are currently still at the mercy of their own luck.”

The ruling gave the company 180 days to develop a plan to reallocate impacted communities. The company insists that it will appeal the decision.

Public hearing airs concerns and condemnations

Such concerns were front and center at a March 21st public hearing in the city of Altamira, where Belo Monte’s affected communities aired their grievances to a panel of government and corporate representatives, including from Belo Sun.

After attending the hearing, local analysts described the companies’ neglect of the affected communities as an intentional tactic meant to give them no recourse but to accept meager resettlement plans far from the river and their traditional livelihoods.

During the hearing, Janete Carvalho, an environmental licensing agent from the Brazilian indigenous agency (FUNAI), recalled the toxic legacy of the 2015 Samarco disaster on the Doce River, which killed nineteen people and left another 700 homeless, as a warning to those threatened by Belo Sun. “The closest indigenous territory to Samarco is more than 300 kilometers away and the Krenak people still do not have enough clean water to live,” she stated. “Any accident by Belo Sun will create a situation of ethnocide. The risk is unacceptable.”

FUNAI representatives reiterated that their office does not recognize the mine’s original environmental impact studies and demanded that a new, more rigorous, analysis be conducted that respects the communities’ right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.

“We would like prior consultation to be conducted,” said Chief Gillarde Juruna of Miratu village, located only six miles from the mine’s epicenter. “I was born and raised in that region. We never asked for any project and now there are two of Brazil’s largest projects there. We have no guarantees.”

To address these irregularities, FUNAI filed a lawsuit against Belo Sun in February charging that its installation license was issued by completely ignoring the indigenous agency and its demands that the project’s impact assessment and licensing adhere to a specific study of its impacts on nearby indigenous communities. That case is currently pending.

“Who are you lying to, Belo Sun?”

At the close of the contentious hearing, public prosecutor Humberto Alcântara Ferreira Lima raised serious concerns about the true size and scope of the Volta Grande mine. He revealed a major discrepancy between the mine’s projected gold production as reflected in the license granted by SEMA-PA (pending resolution of Judge da Silva’s injunction) and what the company is telling its investors it will extract. Licensed on the basis of a 2012 estimate that the project will yield roughly 37.7 million tons of gold, Belo Sun has separately touted different projection numbers to its investors: 88.1 million tons in 2013 and most recently 116 tons in February of this year.

“What is the real dimension of Belo Sun’s Volta Grande gold mining project?” asked Mr. Lima. “The one disclosed to Brazilian public institutions or the one disclosed the company’s shareholders, which is more than three times as large? Who are you lying to: the investors or the [licensing agencies]?”

Map of proposed Belo Sun operations

Like Belo Monte, Belo Sun is likely to cause more harm than good

One thing is clear: Belo Sun’s mega-mine is shrouded in irregularities and incalculable risk, much like its neighbor, the Belo Monte dam. Like Belo Sun, local communities and allies warned of the serious environmental and social impacts of Belo Monte, and, unfortunately, those dire warnings have proved prescient. And also like Belo Monte, the corporate interests behind the mine demonstrate neither concern nor prudence, rushing instead to initiate operations at any cost.

Belo Sun is owned by Canada’s Forbes & Manhattan, a private merchant bank. Canadian mining giant Agnico Eagle Mines is the company’s largest shareholder, with a 19% ownership of Belo Sun. Known for its notorious Malartic urban gold mine in Quebec, Agnico is subject to no fewer than 4,000 violations of environmental laws and regulations and is subject to a CAD $70 million lawsuit for its impacts on local residents.

The struggle to preserve what is left of the lower Xingu’s environment and communities from another catastrophic mega-project is not over. Even as political and economic forces line up behind Belo Sun and the region’s untapped riches, the local communities and their allies prepare to resist them. Amazon Watch has been standing with the communities of the Xingu for many years, and we will we not give up our support for them now!

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Shell Must Clean up Its Act in Nigeria December 4, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Environment, Nigeria.
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Published on Friday, December 4, 2009 by The Guardian/UK

As Nigerian villagers take Shell to court over huge oil spills, it’s time for the group to take responsibility for polluting practices

by Chima Williams

A court in The Hague is considering whether Shell can be held liable for alleged pollution in Nigeria, and a ruling is expected on 30 December. This case could set a precedent for corporations based in Europe that exploit lax environmental regulations and violate the rights of communities in the developing world.In the village of Ikot Ada Udot, south-eastern Nigeria, a rusty complex of tubes pokes five feet out of the ground. A familiar sight to locals, it is known as the “Christmas tree”. But unlike its innocuous namesake, this “tree” is an abandoned oil wellhead owned by oil multinational Shell. According to environmentalists, the wellhead spewed toxic oil and gas into the land and fish ponds of local villagers for months in August 2006, and again in 2007. As of May 2008, the area around the Christmas tree was still heavily polluted and villagers remain destitute.

This is one of three oil spills in the case against Shell that will begin its first hearing at The Hague civil court this week. Four Nigerian villagers, in conjunction with Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands), are charging Royal Dutch Shell with causing massive oil spills that have resulted in loss of livelihoods. The case provides a snapshot of the environmental and social devastation caused by Shell in the Niger Delta.

The bigger, more disturbing picture is that oil spills have contaminated the once fertile Delta with approximately 1.5m tonnes of crude oil, equivalent to one Exxon Valdez disaster every year for the last 50 years. As Amnesty International pointed out in a report this July, Shell “has failed to respect the human rights of the people of the Niger Delta … through failure to prevent and mitigate pollution”.

The parent company, Royal Dutch Shell, denies responsibility for the pollution of its subsidiary, Shell Nigeria, and is challenging the jurisdiction of the Dutch court over its actions abroad. It also blames oil spills on sabotage to its equipment. It seems that if Shell had its way, no court would have jurisdiction over any violations of human rights and environmental law. In 2005, the federal high court of Nigeria declared Shell’s gas flaring to be a violation of human rights and ordered the company to stop the illegal practice. Shell has still not complied with this court order. With little or no legal remedy in Nigeria, villagers from the Niger Delta have decided to bring their case to The Hague to hold the company headquarters to account.

Should the case go forward, the court would hear about Shell’s systematic pollution across the region. In Goi, a massive oil spill from Shell’s Trans-Niger pipeline caught fire in 2005, incinerating farmland, property and polluting fisheries. It took 33 months before Shell cleaned up the mess. Chief Barizaa, an Ogoni elder, and one of the four plaintiffs in the case said: “I lost everything … the oil flowed into my fishponds and killed all my fish. The five canoes I had in the creeks were consumed by the inferno. I have nothing left to feed my family.”

Another oil spill flowed from a high-pressure pipeline in Oruma, Bayelsa state, in 2005, polluting the land and drinking water of several neighbouring communities. Shell waited 12 days before containing the spill, and four months later it began its clean-up operation by dumping the polluted soil into pits and setting them on fire, causing further damage to the environment.

The oil-rich Niger Delta is prized by multinational corporations; chief among them is Shell, which derives approximately 10% of its global profits from the region. The oil companies have made enormous profits and enriched a succession of Nigerian regimes, but pollution is driving local people into poverty. Until Shell takes responsibility for its impact on the environment and human rights, it can expect legal actions like this one to expose ugly truths about their polluting practices. Shell must bear the cost of its environmental devastation. The alternative is daily injustice on a massive scale.

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2009
Chima Williams is a lawyer by profession. He is an activist with Environmental Rights, Action/ Friends of the Earth in Nigeria. He advocates for changes in policy and environmental regulation in Nigeria and West Africa