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).
In year 2005 local community complained about cattle dying after drinking waster water released into community stream to the company. The company sent investigation into the case, some investigators said the cattle death was caused by chemical waster released into the stream by the company but some other investigators denied the link and many farmers did not get compensation.
In April 2007, mining activities by the previous operators in the four mining license areas were stopped by the “TAR” government. In accordance with an agreement between the “TAR” government and China National Gold Group Corporation, the four mining licenses as well as the exploration licenses in the surrounding areas were consolidated under the Chinese government‟s consolidation policy for mining properties. Since then, there has been rapid expansion of the mining operations which now cover a total of 145.50km2 including a mining area of 76.19km2 and exploration covering an area of 66.41km2 at an altitude between 4,000m and 5,407m.
One of the major mining project in the Gyama copper mine, located not far from Lhasa, operated today 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 a 2010 article titled “Environmental impact of mining activity on the surface water quality in Tibet: Gyama valley,” the authors Xiang et al., firmly ascertain that “a localized severe heavy metal contamination is documented in the stream water of Gyamaxung-chu (chu means river) and wastewater treatment facilities in the Gyama valley.” It also states that “the environmental risk at the Gyamaxung-chu source area, where the measured contents correspond mainly to geochemical background was zero. However, there was a very high risk at the upper and middle parts of the stream and it appears to be both natural and accelerated by the extensive mining activities. The levels of metals (such as lead, copper, cadmium and zinc) represent the high risk for the environment, including local human populations and their livestock.” The article further goes on to say that “the great environmental concern are the many mining and processing deposits in the valley, containing large amount of heavy metals, such as lead, copper, zinc and manganese etc. These deposits 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.”
On Friday, 29 March 2013, 83 miners were killed in a mine induced landslide due to mismanagement of mine waste or over-piling of mine waste rocks on a steep V-shaped valley at the Gyama (Ch:Jiama) Copper Polymetallic Mine. The official statement about the mine landslide was obediently published by Xinhua News without the slightest hint of journalistic objectivity despite the loss of so many lives.
On September 23, 2014, more than 1000 local Tibetans of Dokar and Zibuk villages near Tibetan capital city Lhasa protested against poisoning of their rivers by Gyama Copper Poly-metallic Mine. The mine is located close to a stream that locals use for drinking, irrigation and animal feeding. But as always, the local officials conveniently declared that the water pollution in the rivers was caused by natural factors and not by the mine.
A recent news from early August 2015 in Radio free Asia warn of possible new projects coming up in the region: "Chinese road-building crews have begun cutting a new track leading to Gyama Valley near Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa, leading to local fears that a new mine may soon be built in a region already heavily polluted by Chinese extraction operations, sources say."