Rocky Mountain News – Feb 4 2006
Newmont responsible on environment, Greenpeace co-founder says
February 4, 2006
As I sit with Emanuel in the backyard of his new house in Ntotoroso, Ghana, surrounded by his wife, children, in-laws and mother, the enterprising dad explains through an interpreter how his family hasn’t looked back since coming to the new settlement. He operates a home-based business, has managed to purchase some nearby farmland, and volunteers as chairman of the water sanitation committee, overseeing the process that ensures safe drinking water for his family and neighbors. In short, Emanuel and his family are feeling optimistic.
As a life-long environmentalist, a co-founder of Greenpeace and for almost two decades a critic of the fear-mongering tactics of that organization and others like it, I am astonished by the recent spate of reports in prominent media, critical of U.S. mining companies such as Denver-based Newmont Mining and its operations in Ghana and Peru.
I’ve seen first-hand the developments in infrastructure and skills that companies committed to sustainability like Newmont can bring about. It’s for that reason my organization has partnered with Newmont, and that’s how I know such one-sided reports are particularly off the mark.
So-called investigative journalism is increasingly full of factual errors and innuendo and often fails to report the company’s successes along the way to its becoming a leader in sustainability and a catalyst for change in developing countries. As a result, responsible companies such as Newmont are vilified. In the end, it is the local villagers who stand to lose the most – a decent living wage.
New housing at Ahafo and Ntotoroso in Ghana is the result of Newmont’s enormous contribution of resources and progressive thinking to the resettlement project. Resettlement principles, policies, procedures and rates were determined through a collaborative multistakeholder process. The company consulted with district and regional town and country planners and designed 37 resettlement house types to meet the community’s needs. Owners were able to customize their new homes.
Collaboration is centered around the Resettlement Negotiation Committee, a group that includes representatives of community members, traditional authorities, district and regional governments, nongovernmental organizations and the company.
Homes provided in new settlements are far superior to the structures they replaced. If reporters actually visited these regions, they would know this, and if they had any concern for the villagers, they would report the truth rather than make a mockery of it.
Cyanide has also fallen victim to media misrepresentation. There hasn’t been a single mention of steps taken by companies to manage cyanide, and short shrift is given to the International Cyanide Management Code, organized under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Program and the International Council on Metals and the Environment. The code focuses on the safe management of cyanide at every stage: transportation procedures; on-site storage and use in the recovery of gold; decommissioning of cyanide facilities; accident prevention; worker health and safety; emergency response and training; community dialogue; public reporting; and stakeholder involvement.
Companies that adopt the code must have their mining operations audited by an independent third party. This measure has resulted in real change across the industry. No mention has been made of the fact that all modern cyanide leach operations are based on re-circulation systems with double heavy-gauge plastic liners and leak detection. Anti-mining articles seem to imply that cyanide is being spewed into the environment when this is not the case.
Nevertheless, readers should know that cyanide is present in the environment and naturally available in many plant species. Cyanide toxicity is not widespread due to its low persistence in the environment. Cyanide breaks down in sunlight and is not accumulated or stored in any mammal studied. There is no reported bioaccumulation of cyanide in the food chain – that is, it hasn’t been shown that cyanide is passed up the food chain from one organism to the next.
World leaders in mining are constantly refining environmental safeguards and enhancing social programs. I challenge any reporter to visit Newmont’s relocation settlements in Ghana and Peru. Hard-working men such as Emanuel – and his extended family – are living proof that Newmont operates with integrity and respect.
Since my entry into the global environmental movement in 1971 – and especially in the last decade – mining has contributed significantly to a more sustainable world economy, and key beneficiaries of this progress are mining workers, families and communities. How unfortunate the media is missing such an important part of the sustainability discussion.
Going for gold
Newmont’s Ahafo gold mine in Ghana is scheduled to deliver its first gold production in the second half of 2006.
• Investment: (estimated) $410 million to $435 million
• Employment: 600
• Operating costs: (estimated) $200 to $220 per ounce
• Gold reserves: (estimated) 10.6 million ounces
A consultant to Newmont, Patrick Moore is a co-founder of Greenpeace and chairman and chief scientist at Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. (www.greenspiritstrategies.com) in Vancouver, Canada. He recently visited Newmont operations in the U.S., Peru and Ghana at the invitation of the company.