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Ecological incident: GOK in the reserve

Is mining in Urup Island threatened by rare species of animals?

Ecological incident: GOK in the reserve
Photo: shutterstock
The total reserves of gold in the Kuril Islands are estimated at almost two thousand tons. However, the public refers to its production in the region sharply negative. Residents of the Kuriles are afraid of the deterioration of the ecological situation. The greatest resonance was caused by the construction of a gold mining enterprise on the island of Urup, where before that there was a reserve. What environmental risks are gold mining in Urup and what measures are taken to minimize them, the EastRussia correspondent found out.
The island of Urup, which is part of the Great Kurile Range, has not had a permanent population for a long time. Until 1875, Russian colonists tried to learn it with varying success, but then the government of Alexander II exchanged the Kuriles for the Japanese part of Sakhalin, and Urup began to belong to Japan.
During the Second World War, the Japanese built an island airport, two roads and a concentration camp, which contained prisoners of war. At the concentration camp there was a nursery for the breeding of foxes. After the surrender of the Japanese garrison in 1945, the foxes scattered over the island and fled. Now they form the basis of the local terrestrial fauna.
In 1945, Urup again became Russian, and border guards were deployed here. In 1958 territory and water area of ​​the island received the status of a reserve - in the coastal waters live rare species of marine mammals listed in the Red Book: sea otters, Kuril seals - anthraves and sea lions.
In 2003, the island was suddenly deprived of the status of the reserve, and it immediately began to conduct geological exploration work - detailed exploration of the Ainsky gold deposit, discovered in the Soviet era. The license for its development was received by the company "Kurilgeo".
The reconnaissance confirmed: the island really has significant reserves of gold and silver. In 2008, they were put on the state balance. Next, a project for the development of the Ainsky deposit was developed, and in 2012, a gold mining enterprise was set up in Urup.
The construction of industrial facilities on the territory of the former reserve caused a flurry of negative publications in the press. Environmentalists were extremely concerned that the natural habitat of Steller sea lions, sea otters and anthur would be threatened. Under the petition for the inadmissibility of gold mining on the island, more than 11 thousand people from 76 countries of the world have subscribed. The document was sent to the presidential administration, but there was no response from Moscow.
Numerous appeals to the prosecutor's office and other departments also did not yield any results. Inspections were conducted, "Kurilgeo" was caught on minor violations. The enterprise, not challenging the decisions of the controlling bodies, paid the imposed penalties.
"We see what happens to natural ecosystems where gold mining is intensive," says Dmitry Lisitsyn, head of the Sakhalin Environmental Watch NGO. A typical example is the gold mines on the Sakhalin river of Langeri. There, gold is extracted from the forties of the last century. Thirty-odd kilometers of the channel have been turned into a lunar landscape. There is no vegetation, the forest is destroyed, the river is divided into shallow channels. In floods, the water in them rises sharply, and the banks collapse. As a result, the river becomes turbid, and salmon can not spawn in it. Previously, pink salmon, keta, coho salmon, sima came to spawn in Langer ... Now spawning grounds are covered with mud.
Ecologists are convinced: something like this can happen with Urup. Several species of marine mammals listed in the Red Book may be at risk.
"The activities of the gold mining company in Urup can lead to disastrous consequences, in particular, to pollution of the coastal area," Dmitry Lisitsyn believes. - Such production is associated with huge environmental risks.
The first and, perhaps, the most serious of the possible risks is the ingress of poisonous chemical reagents into the coastal waters. Gold on Urup is extracted by heap leaching method. The rock is blown up in the quarry, and the ore is taken to special sedimentation tanks where it is treated with cyanide solutions. If there is a serious leak, then there will be no one to protect the ecologists - there will be no seals on the island.
In the company "Kurilgeo" assure: getting toxic chemicals into the soil and groundwater is simply impossible - the technology of production completely excludes it. It is safe and meets all existing environmental standards.
- Under the technological ponds, where the process of leaching of gold occurs, a special waterproofing pillow consisting of layers of compacted clay and a film screen is made, - explains the press service of "Kurilgeo". - Under this screen, control pipelines are laid. They end with wells, from which a water sample is continuously collected for chemical analysis. That is, if there is at least the slightest leak, this will be immediately known, and all necessary measures will be taken.
The spent poisonous solutions are each time reapplied with the necessary reagents and reused. That is, toxic substances do not merge anywhere, but are used in a closed loop. Solutions are mixed by automation, which minimizes the human factor.
"Heap leaching technology, which is used for processing ore, is currently the most progressive, it allows, with observance of technological regulations and environmental standards, to work with minimal intrusion into the natural environment," the press service explains.
Now "Kurilgeo" is implementing an international industry standard in the field of gold extraction by heap leaching method. It is called the International Code of Cyanide Use (ICMC). In 2015, the company passed a certification audit, and the experts recognized that the work with dangerous substances is well organized here, the storage of reagents is carried out in an appropriate manner. All containers with cyanide solutions in the factory, as well as external pipes containing cyanide, are equipped with secondary winding and emergency pallets. Also, the certification commission noted that the plant does not produce scheduled discharges into surface waters.
The second risk factor, which ecologists say is the storage of toxic substances and explosives. Urup is located in a seismically hazardous area, and in the event of an earthquake, hazardous substances can poison the soil and water.
The company "Kurilgeo" are convinced that this risk is more likely hypothetical than real.
“The specialists of the Institute of Marine Geology and Geophysics of the Far East Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences conducted a seismic zoning of the construction sites of the mining and processing complex,” explains the company's press service. - As a result of the analysis of seismic and geological conditions of the heap leaching site, 9-grade earthquakes were designed.
Explosives are stored at a considerable distance from the industrial site - the warehouse is located several kilometers away from it.
"Each of our objects has passed state expertise," the press service explains. - And they were recognized as being in compliance with all existing safety standards. The warehouse of explosives is built in such a way that fire breaks are made even along technological driveways.
When storing chemical reagents, strict safety requirements are also observed. Toxic substances are stored in sealed factory containers. On the territory of the warehouse solutions are not mixed - this happens on the industrial site. Thus, the risk of leakage or evaporation of hazardous substances is virtually excluded.
"The technologies we use do not in general imply the accumulation of hazardous waste, the company does not have tailings, waste landfills and other facilities for their disposal," the press service stresses.
Among the environmental threats, which creates industrial production on the island of Urup, experts note and anthropogenic load. At the Ainsky deposit, shift workers work, which produce not only gold, but also basic household rubbish. Waste and domestic sewage pollute the environment, threatening the integrity of the island's ecosystem.
In "Kurilgeo" explain: the company is doing everything possible to reduce the anthropogenic load. Thus, a strict regime for controlling the exit of workers outside the camp is established. Unauthorized travel around the island is excluded. A special order forbids access to the coast and lighting fires.
With regard to domestic wastewater, a comprehensive modernization of the whole water supply system of the mining and processing complex is underway. Modular sewage treatment facilities are being replaced with more modern and high-performance ones.
In general, over the five years that have passed since the start of the development of the Ainsky deposit, the company "Kurilgeo" has worked well on the image. Its leadership emphasizes that environmental friendliness and security are their top priorities. Now the industrialists have another iron trump card - data on the monitoring of the number of seals, which is annually carried out by the Institute of KamchatNIRO. In the report of the head of the laboratory of marine mammals S.I. Kornev says that from 2000 to the present, the number of marine animals in the water area of ​​the island and their distribution have not changed.
It is difficult to judge how objective these data are, since representatives of independent environmental organizations can not get to the island. Accordingly, they can only believe in the word "Kurilgeo" and "KamchatNIRO". And this is the main difficulty in implementing public environmental control over the activities of the gold mining company.
- There is no regular communication with Urup, - Dmitry Lisitsyn explains. "In order to get there, you need to charter a ship." It costs a lot of money, we simply can not afford it. It is possible to make high-resolution satellite imagery. Thanks to them we learned that, for example, some industrial facilities are located in the water protection zone. According to the law, it is necessary that the distance to the water is at least 500 meters, and the objects of "Kurilgeo" are in 400 meters from the surf line. But this is only particular. In order to really control the scale of the company's impact on the environment, it is necessary to visit Urup on a regular basis. And this is impossible.
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