Greenpeace Founder Lauds 'Sustainable Mining'

Issue 43, May 2013

Greenpeace co-founder Dr. Patrick Moore, appointed in March as a director of Vancouver based Astur Gold, says sustainable mining is not a contradiction in terms. “It's easy to perceive mining as simply destructive, because you take the diamonds, copper or gold and all you’ve done is made a disturbance, but we haven’t even scratched the surface of the earth’s crust.”

He says he first heard the phrase in 1982 from Tom Burke, then executive director of Friends of the Earth, now an adviser to Rio Tinto. “When I heard that term a light went on and I realised that the real challenge was to incorporate the environment into policy priorities at a corporate and public level.”

He has since worked in an advisory role for Newmont Mining and says the industry has changed immeasurably. “You might think biodiversity is all that green crap you have to get through to get at what you think is valuable underneath,” he told mining groups 20 years ago, “but you’ve got to embrace it, because you’ve got to figure out how to put it back.”

He now says that mining juniors are as proactive as majors in their environmental efforts. “What I see from Vancouver is that juniors are taking on the sustainable message very seriously in their exploration work. They are the first wave that local people see and if they’re a bunch of rednecks, that is the tone that is going to be set.”

Dr Moore, who wrote his thesis on BHP Billiton’s Island Copper mine in British Columbia, says many environmentalists and “corporate guys” soon merged. “In the early ‘80s, we looked like a bunch of hippies, but the corporates started dressing down and we realised that if you’re going downtown, you want to at least have a jacket on.”

Moore’s emphasis at Astur Gold, in the permitting stage at its Salave gold project in northern Spain, is on future reclamation. He points to oil sands extraction as an improbable exemplar. “It is radical disturbance similar to an opencast coal mine, but if you look at the areas that have been put to bed, it’s back to a boreal forest, with native flowers and shrubs.”

Astur has committed not to using cyanide, but to ship concentrate to a smelter after flotation. Moore aims to help create a model sustainable mine. “Consumption can be done in a way that doesn’t cause permanent damage.”

“If they’re a bunch of rednecks, that is the tone that is going to be set.”
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