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Gyama Mine and Landslide accident, Tibet, China


Description:

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."[1]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Gyama Mine and Landslide accident, Tibet, China
Country:China
State or province:Tibet Autonomous Region
Location of conflict:Gyama 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 commodities:Silver
Copper
Gold
Zinc
molybdenum

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The 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:14550
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:More than 1000 people
Company names or state enterprises:Tibet 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 actors:Tibet Autonomous Region, China
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Environment and Development Desk, Tibet Policy Institute

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Pastoralists
Forms of mobilization:Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches

Impacts

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
Other Environmental impactsMining 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-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsDeath of cattles

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Repression
83 miners lost their lives due to the landslide
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain: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 & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Scarring the land, scraping the wounds, TSERING DHUNDUP
http://www.india-seminar.com/2013/644/644_tsering_dhundup.htm

China Gold International Resource Reputational Risk Report
http://www.sft-canada.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/CGIR-Reputational-Risk-Report.pdf

[1] Radio Free Asia, Tibetans Fear New Mine is Planned For Polluted Gyama Valley
http://www.rfa.org/english/news/tibet/polluted-08052015161804.html

Environment Desk blog
http://tibet-edd.blogspot.in

Save tibet, Disaster in Gyama draws attention to impact of mining in Tibet
http://www.savetibet.org/disaster-in-gyama-draws-attention-to-impact-of-mining-in-tibet/

Tibet.net, LANDSLIDE IN GYAMA MINE: natural or man-made?
http://tibet.net/2013/03/landslide-in-gyama-mine-natural-or-man-made/

Wikipedia on Gyama mine landslide
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_Gyama_Mine_landslide

Tibet.net, FULL REPORT on Gyama mine "ASSESSMENT REPORT OF THE RECENT LANDSLIDE EVENT IN THE GYAMA VALLEY"
http://tibet.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/AR-Gyama-9-April.pdf

Stop Mining in Tibet
http://stopminingtibet.com/

New York Times, Fatal Landslide Draws Attention to the Toll of Mining on Tibet
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/03/world/asia/deadly-tibetan-landslide-draws-attention-to-mining.html?_r=0

Landslide Induced by Frenzied Mining at Hometown of Songtsen Gampo is said to be a “Natural Disaster” By Woeser
http://highpeakspureearth.com/2013/landslide-induced-by-frenzied-mining-at-hometown-of-songtsen-gampo-is-said-to-be-a-natural-disaster-by-woeser/

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Photo Gallery from 2011
http://highpeakspureearth.com/2013/landslide-induced-by-frenzied-mining-at-hometown-of-songtsen-gampo-is-said-to-be-a-natural-disaster-by-woeser/

Meta information

Contributor:Environment & Development Desk, Tibet Policy Institute
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2099

Images

 

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

Waste pond at mine site

Waste from mining, photo taken in 2011. Source: http://highpeakspureearth.com/2013/landslide-induced-by-frenzied-mining-at-hometown-of-songtsen-gampo-is-said-to-be-a-natural-disaster-by-woeser/

River pollution

River polluted by waste from Gyama mine