Volta Grande, Brazil
Belo Sun is currently trying to attain the proper permits and licensing to build what will be Brazil’s largest gold mine, with a predicted mine life of 10 years (2). Belo Sun has control of a 1,305 sq. km. area, and mining is planned in three main areas: Ouro Verde, and the North and South portion of Grota Seca (1). Historically these areas were illegal artisanal mining sites, but Belo Sun has forced artisanal miners out of the area (3). Farming squatters in the mine area were also paid to leave (2).
Although the mine is still in the exploratory phases, with construction slated to begin in 2014 (4), its proximity to the Big Bend of the Xingu River in the Pará region of northeast Brazil (5) has raised multiple issues concerning water contamination, and potential effects to the river’s fish species (including some endangered species). For one, a technical report made by Belo Sun states that soil in the area contains lead, and arsenic, which if released during the mining process would change the water quality in the area near and downstream from the mine. The company will also use cyanide leeching as part of the mining process, raising concerns of cyanide runoff into the river (2). While the mine does have a waste management plan, as presented in its EIA, the company has presented different numbers regarding estimated gold reserves causing government officials and activists alike to question the viability of the waste management plan (6).
The Brazilian government has also expressed concerns that no studies have yet been done on how the mine could affect the area’s indigenous populations (6). Many NGOs, namely Amazon Watch and International Rivers, share the government’s concerns, and 44 organizations from both Brazil and the international community have signed a letter expressing their opposition to the proposed mine (8). Two populations are of particular concern, the Arara and Juruna people, both of whom live within 10 kilometers downstream of the Volta Grande mine site (5).
The construction of the mine has also been linked to the Belo Monte dam, upstream from the mine sight. The construction of both the dam and the mine will stress the Xingu’s fish populations, some of whom are endangered (7), and the dam will keep the river at a consistently low level, to help the mining process (1). This is especially relevant considering the Arara and Juruna’s dependence on the river for fishing, drinking water, and transportation to Altamira (9).
Most recently, on November 21, 2013, a Federal Judge in Altamira suspended Belo Sun’s environmental licensing process over questions surrounding the Environmental Impact Assessment’s validity and legality since it does not address potential effects on indigenous communities in the area (10). This was quickly appealed by the company and overturned. On December 2, 2013, the Environmental Council of the Pará State approved the EIA, granting the company its Preliminary License (11). It does not appear that the company made any changes to the EIA.
1. n.p. “Volta Grande.” Belo Sun Mining Corp. Belo Sun Resources. n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2013.
2. Lavoie, Chantal, et al. “Pre-feasibility Study on the Volta Grande Project, Pará, Brazil, NI 43-101 Technical Report.” Prepared for Belo Sun Mining Corp. 21 June 2013. Web. PDF File. 27 October 2013.
3. Eaton, Mark. “Belo Sun Completes Acquisition of Surface Rights at its Volta Grande Gold Project, Brazil.” Belo Sun Mining Corp. Belo Sun Resources. 28 May 2012. Web. 20 October 2013.
4. Belo Sun Mining Corp. “Belo Sun Fact Sheet.” Belo Sun Mining Corp. Belo Sun Resources. August 2013. Web. PDF File. 20 October 2013
5. n.p. “Organizações da sociedade civil se mobilizam contra licenciamento de mineradora no Xingu.” Instituto Socioambiental. Instituto Socioambiental. 8 October 2013. Web. 22 October 2013
6. Ministério Público Federal no Pará. “MPF adverte Secretaria de Meio Ambiente e Procuradoria do Estado do Pará contra licença à Belo Sun.” Ministério Pública Federal no Pará. MPF. 9 November 2013. Web. 17 November 2013.
7. Amazon Watch, et al. “Canadian Mining Project Seeks License Despite Environmental Irregularities.” Amazon Watch. Amazon Watch. 10 October 2013. Web. 22 October 2013.
8. n.p. “Public Sign-on Letter: Belo Sun No!” Amazon Watch. Amazon Watch. 20 September 2013. Web. PDF File. 22 October 2013.
9. Smith, Michael. “Brazil’s All-In Bet On Amazon Dams Jeopardizes Economic Growth.” Bloomberg Businessweek. Bloomberg L.P. 11 April 2011. Web. 27 October 2013.
10. Eaton, Mark. “Belo Sun To Appeal Decision In Respect of the Licensing Process.” Belo Sun Mining Corp. Belo Sun Resources. 21 November 2013. Web. 3 December 2013.
11. Eaton, Mark. “Belo Sun Receives Environmental Approval for the Development of Its Volta Grande Gold Project, Brazil.” Belo Sun Mining Corp. Belo Sun Resources. 2 December 2013. Web. 3 December 2013.