The Paradoxes of the Rosia Montana Mining Project

29/10/2013 19:54 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

Since the beginning of September a day hasn't gone by without me reading an article either for or against the Rosia Montana mining project. I am not an expert in mining so I have tried to understand both sides of the argument (although I did talk to a former mine director in my attempt to better grasp the Rosia Montana situation).

Most articles written against the cyanide-based gold mining have a significant emotional element as the people behind this campaign believe with sturdy passion in their cause. But I must admit that the arguments supporting the project which are used by the Canadian mining Company, Gabriel Resources (owner of RMGC - Rosia Montana Gold Corporation) and borrowed by many Romanian politicians, including the President and members of the government, seem reasonable at first glance (See the article written by their communications manager a few weeks ago in the Huffington Post UK). Well, that is until you put them in context and realise the paradoxes lying behind them. Let's take them one by one:

ARGUMENT # 1: 'The use of cyanide in gold mining is routine' as 'over 95% of the world's gold production uses it'.

JUSTIFICATION: Yes, a practice widely used worldwide sounds reassuring, but...

PARADOX: Just because it is used doesn't mean it is safe. The biggest European ecological disaster since Chernobyl, involved cyanide and incidentally it happened in Romania too, in the northern city of Baia Mare in 2000. Supporters of the mining industry will say that Baia Mare mine was in use for many years before the accident. Well, it just happens that I am very familiar with the region. Baia Mare is a city surrounded by beautiful hills covered by rich forests, just like Rosia Montana, but intoxicated with pollution. I know what pollution tastes like, how it smells, how it feels. So, please stop using Baia Mare as a case to support the Rosia Montana mining project. Pollution is ghastly. Full stop.

The other argument they use in favour of cyanide is that gold mining has a direct link to 'other industries such as medicine, dentistry, aerospace, computers and telephony'. Well, the bigger picture is that only 11-12% of the world's gold production is used by these industrial sectors. The overwhelming majority of gold production, i.e. around 50%, goes into jewellery. There must be a better way of reconditioning the existing gold for developing key industrial technologies.

The other paradox behind the cyanide argument is the fact that the rich gold mining companies don't seem to invest in mining technology research. I am still to hear about a university research project on sustainable mining or more efficient recycling methods funded by one of the giants of the mining industry. Why deny future generations the opportunity to come up with a less or non-toxic technology?

ARGUMENT #2: 'The mine at Rosia Montana will create jobs'.

JUSTIFICATION: The creation of 2,300 jobs (of which only 880 are in mining) is laudable, especially in an economy that is trying to emerge from the economic crisis that has been casting its shadow over the world in recent years, but...

PARADOX: How is it that Romania's government and parliament suddenly cares so much to ensure jobs for a handful of miners when they don't seem to be bothered that every year thousands of doctors, medical staff, teachers, intellectuals, IT specialists, agricultural workers, builders, workers from all the industrial sectors leave the country because they are not able to secure a decent job in Romania ?

There is no difference between these people and the Rosia Montana miners. They all want to have a decent job in a decent Romania. So far there doesn't seem to be any implemented national strategy to stop the phenomenon of brain drain and labour outflow. Until Romania's government and president show the same concern for the rest of the Romanians being laid off or being forced to go abroad to find jobs, it's hard to trust their 'honest' intentions.

ARGUMENT # 3: 'Rosia Montana will stop existing pollution and protect the environment.'

JUSTIFICATION: What can I say, it's a statement taken from the sustainable industries textbook, but...

PARADOX: Given that it will replace four mountains with a huge cyanide waste lake I find this statement an aberration. The figures are frightening: Thirteen times more cyanide to be used at Rosia Montana than anywhere else in Europe, all deposited for eternity in a lake containing 215million cubic metres of water contaminated with cyanide. Do the gentlemen from Rosia Montana and the Romanian politicians understand what it means to protect the environment?

ARGUMENT # 4: 'The Rosia Montana project will bring $4billion to the state budget.'

JUSTIFICATION: $4billion seems a substantial amount that would boost the national economy, but...

PARADOX: How is it that suddenly the Romanian Government is fighting so hard to bring $4billion to the national budget when it was not able to set up a national strategy to absorb funds offered by the European Union on a plate? Romania ranks last in Europe for its capacity to absorb EU grants, with a rate of only 20%. Between 2007 and 2013 we took only 6.7billion Euros when we could have accessed five times more. Adding that up, we kicked away 26.8billion Euros. And then one wonders why the government suddenly makes so much effort to secure $4billion when they have closed their eyes to funds 10 times larger.

ARGUMENT # 5: 'Rosia Montana will not destroy any historic or heritage sites.'

JUSTIFICATION: At first glance it seems a cause with good intentions, but...

PARADOX : This is simply hot air. The four mountains they are planning to wipe out contain layers upon layers of unresearched history and archaeology. The report produced by a leading British archaeologist, Prof Andrew Wilson of University of Oxford, spells out clearly the reasons why the site has outstanding universal value: 'The Roman mines at Rosia Montana represent the most extensive and most important underground Roman gold mines known anywhere'.

Like I said the arguments look good on paper taken individually. But considering the government's portfolio of failed economic strategies, and the proven deceitful PR campaign run by RMGC, how can Romanian citizens trust their decision-making? It doesn't take long to realise that the arguments used by the Canadian company and the Romanian political leaders to support the mining project at Rosia Montana do not hold. But the greatest paradox of this project is that Romania's government, president and some members of the parliament ignore the countless reports produced by national and international expert bodies and organisations which bring solid evidence against the project.

It really is not rocket science when you look at the arguments. You don't even need to be an expert. It requires just a bit of logic and common sense to reach the conclusion that the mining project at Rosia Montana is simply a dirty affair.