MICLA

McGill Research Group Investigating
Canadian Mining in Latin America

Bellavista, Costa Rica

Key Data

Company:B2Gold, Wheaton River Minerals Ltd., Central Sun Mining, Inc. (previously Glencairn Gold Corporation and now merged with B2Gold) Operational status:suspended 2007 Materials extracted:gold Type of mine:open pit Main issues:water, biodiversity, permitting

Description

Synopsis: The Bellavista mine faced a variety of challenges to successful operation since the initial permits were issued in the mid-20th century. Community members in Miramar, Costa Rica, have opposed and protested the mining project, located 2 km away from their drinking sources, since 1996 when it was owned by Rayrock Corporation. Community members feared that the mining activities would contaminate their water supplies and induce large-scale ground movements. In 2002 the Costa Rican government declared a national moratorium on open pit mining but Bellavista was granted an exemption because it had already received the necessary approvals. In 2007, Glencairn Gold stopped operations at the mine as a precaution against a potential landslide. Two months after their pre-emptive measure, a large mudslide on the site caused extensive damage to the leach pad and recovery plant, both of which were necessary to operations. In 2010, B2Gold, who merged with Central Sun Mining (formerly Glencairn Gold), submitted a revised application to SETENA, the Costa Rican environmental agency. The application was rejected in January of 2012. The SETENA official explained that the new Bellavista project was not exempt from the country’s ban on open pit mining as new permits would have to be issued due to the extent of the revisions in the proposal.

The initial permits for exploration at Bellavista, located outside of Miramar in Puntarenas, were issued as early as 1950. Control of the mine passed through 35 different owners before Glencairn Corporation finally began extraction in 2005.[i] The previous owners, who include Wheaton River Minerals and Rayrock Corporation, were plagued by a variety of both internal and external obstacles. Among the internal issues was the problem that due to extreme amounts of rainfall, tropical mining requires extra precaution and expertise.[ii] It took four years for Wheaton River Minerals, who purchased the mine in 1997, to receive the final environmental permit to begin activities on site as a result of their lack of experience in tropical mining.[iii] Glencairn Corporation, however, who bought the mine shortly after in 2002, initiated the actual operations at the mine.[iv] Although the Costa Rican government did approve an Environmental Impact Assessment for the mine in 1986, the plans changed the type of mine from a subterranean mine to an open-pit mine before extraction began and another EIA was not conducted afterward.[v] Even before Glencairn acquired the mine, external actors, including the local Gulf of Nicoya Environmental Communities Association (CEUS) who received international support from international agencies such as Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA), Miningwatch, the Canadian Committee to Combat Crimes against Humanity, raised concerns about the impacts on the local environment and the health of surrounding communities.[vi] Despite these challenges, the site continued to be attractive to extractive companies as it is located in a ‘Zona Franca’, in which import duties and transaction taxes are eliminated and businesses are allotted a 12-year holiday on corporate income tax and a 10-year holiday on municipal and capital taxes.[vii]

Opponents of the mine were concerned about water management and the potential for cyanide and chemical leaching into Miramar’s water source, 2 kilometers away, and the Gulf of Nicoya which was not much farther.[viii] In her analysis of the mine’s environmental management, Anna Cederstav noted other risks, which included landslides, erosion and sedimentation of rivers, acid mine drainage from rock exposure, and the creation of a boom and bust economy in the area.[ix] Although Glencairn reported having implemented extreme precautionary measures in terms of water management, which included specially designed leach pads with extra detention capacity, designed to hold three times more than the record rainfall for the zone[x], local and environmental groups remained suspicious.[xi] Glencairn responded to opposition with open-consultation efforts, financing access to a new water supply, and implementing social welfare projects such as paving roads and paying for art courses for children[xii]. Some residents of the relatively humble town, which had experienced stagnant growth, suffering infrastructure, and rising crime, were initially appeased by the promise of jobs and investment that the company presented.[xiii] Resistance to the project, however, led by CEUS leader Sonia Torres, persisted.[xiv] In 2003, 2004, and 2005, when Glencairn was in the initial stage of earth-moving and testing, CEUS reported finding drinking water contamination as well as other environmental changes in Miramar.[xv] While the local group filed a series of lawsuits, international supporters attempted to launch a public campaign against the mine, both of which ultimately proved unsuccessful in preventing the operation of the mine.[xvi]

Although the Costa Rican government placed a moratorium on open-pit mining in 2002, Glencairn was allowed to execute their plans as their permits preceded the ban.[xvii] In December of 2005, commercial gold extraction began at Bellavista.[xviii] That year, the safeguards put in place by Glencairn appeared to be sufficient, as they were able to withstand the record rainfall that occurred.[xix] In May 2007, however, they began to notice cracks in the leach pads, which contain cyanide.[xx] Fearing the likelihood of a landslide, they decided to close the mine in July of the same year, in order to do remedial work including rinsing the cyanide from the site.[xxi] Two months after project’s suspension, after the company saw a 70% drop in their stocks, Glencairn wrote a press release confirming that they had successfully reduced cyanide concentrations and any likelihood of adverse environmental impacts, despite evidence that the land was still creeping (also known as subsidence) by about a centimeter a day.[xxii] In October, the month following this press release, there was a landslide at the Bellavista mine.

The landslide irreparably damaged many of the mine’s facilities.[xxiii] The company released a statement that no employees had been injured and that no cyanide had been released into the environment.[xxiv] Others, however, recorded that the breakage in the artificial membrane containing the artificial lagoon caused severe cyanide pollution of and metal leaching into underground water and surrounding soils.[xxv] This kind of contamination poses severe the health of nearby humans and animal life, especially considering that around 10 thousand inhabitants rely on a water source near the mine location for drinking water.[xxvi]  Further, the disruption to the soil caused by a landslide of that magnitude could have caused deleterious effects on soil quality and sedimentation and pollution of rivers.[xxvii] The environmental costs of the disaster have been estimated at US$10 million, but Glencairn Corporation only set aside an environmental guarantee of US$250,000, far from the minimum required for adequate environmental remediation.[xxviii] The town of Miramar was highly disturbed by the incident and feared that the company would flee without any tangible remedial response.[xxix] Glencairn Gold, however, did not leave and in fact tried to find ways to eventually reopen the mine. In 2009, Glencairn Gold, which had by that time changed its name to ‘Central Sun Mining’ merged with B2Gold.[xxx] Following the recommendations of national authorities and international environmental auditors, Central Sun invested over US$12 million in implementing changes to their operation.[xxxi] A plan to start production anew was presented in 2010.

Throughout this time, CEUS was active in resisting the potential reopening of the mine. In 2011, protestors led by group Caminantes por la Vida walked for miles on a road unsuited for pedestrians all the way to the site of the mine demand a halt to gold exploitation and extraction.[xxxii] In 2013, information surfaced that Wheaton Regional Minerals had previously filed a lawsuit against the state in an attempt to restart operations at Bellavista, following a series of denied appeals to reopen the mine in a new location and with new methods.[xxxiii] The government officials rejected their original proposals as they found that the changes made to the project were so profound that it should effectively be considered a ‘new’ mine, subject to the moratorium passed in 2002.[xxxiv] In January of 2012, the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunication as well as the Technical Secretariat of the Environment decided not to reopen the case and declared that the process of environmental assessment should be terminated and the project as well.[xxxv] As such, it appears that this mine will not be permitted to resume operations.

Bibliography

[i] (Whyte, J. (2006) Bellavista Makes it to Commercial Production. The Northern Miner. http://www.northernminer.com/news/bellavista-makes-it-to-commercial-production/1000201596/

[ii] Cederstav, A. (2000). Análisis del Plan de Gestión Ambiental Proyecto Bellavista AIDA, Asociación Interamericana para  la Defensa del Ambiente. http://www.aida-americas.org/sites/default/files/refDocuments/Informe%20de%20AIDA%20a%20SETENA%20sobre%20proyecto%20de%20Bellavista.pdf. ; Sherwood, D. (2008) Mine Disaster at Miramar: A Story Foretold Tico Times News. http://www.ticotimes.net/2008/01/18/mine-disaster-at-miramar-a-story-foretold.

[iii] Chavez, P. (2014). Mina Bellavista Bellavista – Miramar (Costa Rica) Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade (EJOLT). https://ejatlas.org/conflict/bellavista-miramar-costa-rica.

[iv] Chavez, P. (2014). Mina Bellavista Bellavista – Miramar (Costa Rica) Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade (EJOLT). https://ejatlas.org/conflict/bellavista-miramar-costa-rica. ;

Whyte, J. (2006) Bellavista Makes it to Commercial Production. The Northern Miner. http://www.northernminer.com/news/bellavista-makes-it-to-commercial-production/1000201596/

[v] Westra, L. and M. Vilela (2014). The Earth Charter, Ecological Integrity and Social Movements, Routledge.; AIDA. Colapso de Mina y Revisión Débil. AIDA Americas Asociacion Interamericana Para La Defensa Del Ambiente. http://www.aida-americas.org/es/colapso-de-mina-y-revisi%C3%B3n-ambiental-d%C3%A9bil-la-mina-bellavista-de-miramar-costa-rica.

[vi] Schneider, Lynn (2007). Earthworks. Earthworks Factsheet Bellavista Mine Background. Washington D.C., Earthworks. https://www.earthworksaction.org/files/publications/FS_bellavista.pdf.

[vi] Kosich, D. (2007) Glencairn Gold says Bellavista cyanide mitigation measures are successful. Mineweb. http://www.mineweb.com/archive/glencairn-gold-says-bellavista-cyanide-mitigation-measures-are-successful/.; Whyte, J. (2006) Bellavista Makes it to Commercial Production. The Northern Miner. http://www.northernminer.com/news/bellavista-makes-it-to-commercial-production/1000201596/

[vii] Whyte, J. (2006) Bellavista Makes it to Commercial Production. The Northern Miner. http://www.northernminer.com/news/bellavista-makes-it-to-commercial-production/1000201596/.

[viii] Schneider, Lynn (2007). Earthworks. Earthworks Factsheet Bellavista Mine Background. Washington D.C., Earthworks. https://www.earthworksaction.org/files/publications/FS_bellavista.pdf. ; Sherwood, D. (2008) Mine Disaster at Miramar: A Story Foretold Tico Times News. http://www.ticotimes.net/2008/01/18/mine-disaster-at-miramar-a-story-foretold.

[ix] Cederstav, A. (2000). Análisis del Plan de Gestión Ambiental Proyecto Bellavista AIDA, Asociación Interamericana para  la Defensa del Ambiente. http://www.aida-americas.org/sites/default/files/refDocuments/Informe%20de%20AIDA%20a%20SETENA%20sobre%20proyecto%20de%20Bellavista.pdf.

[x] Whyte, J. (2006) Bellavista Makes it to Commercial Production. The Northern Miner. http://www.northernminer.com/news/bellavista-makes-it-to-commercial-production/1000201596/

[xi] Chavez, P. (2014). Mina Bellavista Bellavista – Miramar (Costa Rica) Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade (EJOLT). https://ejatlas.org/conflict/bellavista-miramar-costa-rica.

[xii] MiningWatch

[xiii] AIDA. Colapso de Mina y Revisión Débil. AIDA Americas Asociacion Interamericana Para La Defensa Del Ambiente. http://www.aida-americas.org/es/colapso-de-mina-y-revisi%C3%B3n-ambiental-d%C3%A9bil-la-mina-bellavista-de-miramar-costa-rica.; Sherwood, D. (2008) Mine Disaster at Miramar: A Story Foretold Tico Times News. http://www.ticotimes.net/2008/01/18/mine-disaster-at-miramar-a-story-foretold.

[xiv] Whyte, J. (2006) Bellavista Makes it to Commercial Production. The Northern Miner. http://www.northernminer.com/news/bellavista-makes-it-to-commercial-production/1000201596/. ; Chavez, P. (2014). Mina Bellavista Bellavista – Miramar (Costa Rica) Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade (EJOLT). https://ejatlas.org/conflict/bellavista-miramar-costa-rica. ; Sherwood, D. (2008) Mine Disaster at Miramar: A Story Foretold Tico Times News. http://www.ticotimes.net/2008/01/18/mine-disaster-at-miramar-a-story-foretold.

[xv] Schneider, Lynn (2007). Earthworks. Earthworks Factsheet Bellavista Mine Background. Washington D.C., Earthworks. https://www.earthworksaction.org/files/publications/FS_bellavista.pdf.

[xvi] Whyte, J. (2006) Bellavista Makes it to Commercial Production. The Northern Miner. http://www.northernminer.com/news/bellavista-makes-it-to-commercial-production/1000201596/.  ;

Schneider, Lynn (2007). Earthworks. Earthworks Factsheet Bellavista Mine Background. Washington D.C., Earthworks. https://www.earthworksaction.org/files/publications/FS_bellavista.pdf.

[xvii] N., V. L. (2011) Manifestantes se arriesgan al marchar en vía a Caldera. La Nacion. http://www.nacion.com/nacional/comunidades/Manifestantes-arriesgan-marchar-via-Caldera_0_1207079343.html.

[xviii] Schneider, Lynn (2007). Earthworks. Earthworks Factsheet Bellavista Mine Background. Washington D.C., Earthworks. https://www.earthworksaction.org/files/publications/FS_bellavista.pdf.

[xix] Whyte, J. (2006) Bellavista Makes it to Commercial Production. The Northern Miner. http://www.northernminer.com/news/bellavista-makes-it-to-commercial-production/1000201596/

[xx] Schneider, Lynn (2007). Earthworks. Earthworks Factsheet Bellavista Mine Background. Washington D.C., Earthworks. https://www.earthworksaction.org/files/publications/FS_bellavista.pdf.

[xxi] http://www.mineweb.com/archive/glencairn-gold-says-bellavista-cyanide-mitigation-measures-are-successful/

[xxii] Sherwood, D. (2008) Mine Disaster at Miramar: A Story Foretold Tico Times News. http://www.ticotimes.net/2008/01/18/mine-disaster-at-miramar-a-story-foretold. ; Kosich, D. (2007) Glencairn Gold says Bellavista cyanide mitigation measures are successful. Mineweb. http://www.mineweb.com/archive/glencairn-gold-says-bellavista-cyanide-mitigation-measures-are-successful/.

[xxiii] Chavez, P. (2014). Mina Bellavista Bellavista – Miramar (Costa Rica) Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade (EJOLT). https://ejatlas.org/conflict/bellavista-miramar-costa-rica.

[xxiv] http://www.reuters.com/article/costarica-glencairn-idUKN2435152820071025

[xxv] Westra, L. and M. Vilela (2014). The Earth Charter, Ecological Integrity and Social Movements, Routledge. ; Barran, J. (2008). Crucitas gold mine controversy: a lopsided roundtable. Peace and Conflict Monitor, Peace University. http://www.monitor.upeace.org/innerpg.cfm?id_article=568

[xxvi](2007). Costa Rican Gold Mine Shuts Down Under Threat of Toxic Pollution, Asociacion Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente.

[xxvii] AIDA. Colapso de Mina y Revisión Débil. AIDA Americas Asociacion Interamericana Para La Defensa Del Ambiente. http://www.aida-americas.org/es/colapso-de-mina-y-revisi%C3%B3n-ambiental-d%C3%A9bil-la-mina-bellavista-de-miramar-costa-rica.

[xxviii] Schneider, Lynn (2007). Earthworks. Earthworks Factsheet Bellavista Mine Background. Washington D.C., Earthworks. https://www.earthworksaction.org/files/publications/FS_bellavista.pdf.; Chavez, P. (2014). Mina Bellavista Bellavista – Miramar (Costa Rica) Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade (EJOLT). https://ejatlas.org/conflict/bellavista-miramar-costa-rica.

[xxix] Chavez, P. (2014). Mina Bellavista Bellavista – Miramar (Costa Rica) Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade (EJOLT). https://ejatlas.org/conflict/bellavista-miramar-costa-rica.

[xxx] Sherwood, D. (2008) Mine Disaster at Miramar: A Story Foretold Tico Times News. http://www.ticotimes.net/2008/01/18/mine-disaster-at-miramar-a-story-foretold.

[xxxi] N., V. L. (2011) Manifestantes se arriesgan al marchar en vía a Caldera. La Nacion. http://www.nacion.com/nacional/comunidades/Manifestantes-arriesgan-marchar-via-Caldera_0_1207079343.html.

[xxxii]N., V. L. (2013) Minera Bellavista recurre a tribunal para reactivar operación. La Nacion. http://www.nacion.com/nacional/Minera-Bellavista-tribunal-reactivar-operacion_0_1362663769.html.

[xxxiii] Ibid.

[xxxiv] Ibid.

[xxxv] Ibid.

 



Timeline of Key Events

2009
2007
2007
2002
2002
2002
2002
1997
1991
1951