Gyama Mine and Landslide accident, Tibet, China

Destroying the landscape, polluting the rivers, taking away pasture land, and causing deaths to its mine workers. Read about mining expansion in occupied Tibet by Chinese companies.


Due to its tectonic formation and settings, Tibet has 132 different types of mineral resources, like copper, gold, coal, crude oil, natural gas, chromite, arsenic, asbestos, aluminum, iron ore, boron, potassium, lead, zinc and lithium. Following China’s occupation of Tibet in the 1950s and the opening up to systematic exploitation of Tibet’s rich minerals, big mining companies have shown great interest in investing there. According to the Article 9 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, Tibet’s resources are state assets available to be exploited to meet the needs of national development. Over the past sixty years, however, mineral exploitation has evolved from a marginal endeavor to a major phenomenon in China’s economic growth driven by industrialization and urbanization. As early as 1951, geological surveys were conducted and by 1991, a 3,600m long zone of copper-lead-zinc mineralization zone had been delineated. Between 1991 and 1999, number 6 Geological Brigade (Brigade 6) of the Tibet Geology and Mineral Resource Bureau conducted detailed exploration work. Based on this work, 4 mining licenses were issued to; a. Gyama Township (began operations in 2004) b. Lhasa Mining Company (began operations in 1995) c. Brigade 6 (began operations in 2003) and d. Tibet Huatailong Mining Development (began operations in 2005).

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Basic Data
NameGyama Mine and Landslide accident, Tibet, China
ProvinceTibet Autonomous Region
SiteGyama Velley near Lhasa
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Mineral ore exploration
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Specific Commoditiesmolybdenum
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe Gyama mine is in Medrogungkar (Ch: Maizhokunggar) County of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), located within the Gangdise Porphyry Copper Metallogeny Belt in central Tibet, about 68 km from Lhasa (Figures 1a &1b). It is currently owned and operated by Tibet Huatailong Mining Development Company Limited, a subsidiary of China National Gold Group. It is a large scale polymetallic deposit consisting of copper, molybdenum, gold, silver, lead and zinc with the potential to become China‟s biggest copper producer in 10 years.

According to the company‟s assessment report, Gyama Copper Polymetallic Mine will have a total of 4 open pit mines and two underground mining areas (Figure 2). Open pit mines include, Niumatang (Depth: 610m, life: 8 years, Status: operational), Tongqianshan (Depth: 290m, life: 3 years, Status: operational), South Pit (Depth: 539m, life: 8 years, Status: Started in 2013) and Jiaoyan (Depth: 495m, life: 21 years, status: starting in 2020). Production has gone on since 2010 at a rate of 1.8 Mtpa ROM (Run Of Mine) ore at two open cut pits: Tongqianshan and Niumatang. The two underground mines are North Areas (life: 29 yrs) and South Areas (life: 21 yrs and starting in 2023).5

The Mining Company is expected to get an average net cash flow of $120 million every year for the 31 years of LOM (Life of Mine). The key minerals produced are copper (Cu), gold (Au), silver (Ag), molybdenum (Mo), lead (Pb) and zinc (Zn). The contributions of these mineral ores to gross revenues are 75%, 11%, 7% and 6%. The mine is expected to get an annual production of 176 million pounds of copper, 35 thousand ounces of gold, 2.7 million ounces of silver and 2.3 thousand tonnes of molybdenum
Project Area (in hectares)14550
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected PopulationMore than 1000 people
Company Names or State EnterprisesTibet Huatailong Mining Development Company Limited (CNGC or China Gold) from China - Mining, retail, contract engineering, irradiation sterilization
China National Gold Group Corporation (China Gold) from China
Relevant government actorsTibet Autonomous Region, China
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersEnvironment and Development Desk, Tibet Policy Institute
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Forms of MobilizationOfficial complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Mine tailing spills, Waste overflow
Potential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Groundwater pollution or depletion
OtherMining and processing deposits in the valley containing large amount of heavy metals, such as lead, copper, zinc and manganese are prone to leak its contaminants through seepage water and erosion of particulates, and pose therefore a future risk for the local environment and a potential threat to the downstream water quality
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
OtherDeath of cattles
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCriminalization of activists
83 miners lost their lives due to the landslide
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.There has been loss of pasture land for nomads, poisoning of local streams, death of cattles, death of 83 miners. Everytime, the government in collaboration with the mining company denied justice and sided with the mining company.
Sources and Materials

Scarring the land, scraping the wounds, TSERING DHUNDUP
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China Gold International Resource Reputational Risk Report
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[1] Radio Free Asia, Tibetans Fear New Mine is Planned For Polluted Gyama Valley
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Environment Desk blog
[click to view], LANDSLIDE IN GYAMA MINE: natural or man-made?
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Save tibet, Disaster in Gyama draws attention to impact of mining in Tibet
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Wikipedia on Gyama mine landslide
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New York Times, Fatal Landslide Draws Attention to the Toll of Mining on Tibet
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Stop Mining in Tibet
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Landslide Induced by Frenzied Mining at Hometown of Songtsen Gampo is said to be a “Natural Disaster” By Woeser
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Media Links

Photo Gallery from 2011
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Other Documents

River pollution River polluted by waste from Gyama mine
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Waste pond at mine site Waste from mining, photo taken in 2011. Source:
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Rescue operations after the landslide Rescuers on Saturday headed to the disaster site to search through debris at a gold mine after a mudslide in the Gyama Valley in Tibet on Friday buried 83 people. Credit Color China Photo, via Associated Press
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Meta Information
ContributorEnvironment & Development Desk, Tibet Policy Institute
Last update27/02/2018