A major gold mining project launched in Armenia by a Western company poses only “manageable” environmental risks, a senior law-enforcement official who has investigated it insisted on Monday.
The official, Yura Ivanian, also stood by the investigators’ conclusion that the Armenian Ministry of Environment Protection did not break any laws or regulations when it formally allowed the company, Lydian International, in 2016 to develop the Amulsar gold deposit.
“The assessment of the environmental and social impact on the mine’s exploitation received a positive conclusion from the Ministry of Environment Protection without any violation of the law,” Ivanian told a news conference.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian told Armenia’s Investigative Committee to look into the legality of Lydian’s mining license shortly after he came to power in May last year. The law-enforcement agency was specifically supposed to find out whether ministry officials misled people living near Amulsar about "dangerous risks" posed by the project.
The Investigative Committee chief, Hayk Grigorian, said on August 15 that it has no grounds to indict anyone as a result of its inquiry led by Ivanian. Grigorian cited the findings of an environmental audit of the Amulsar project commissioned by the Armenian government and conducted by a Lebanese consulting firm, ELARD.
In its final report submitted to the investigators, ELARD concluded that toxic waste from the would-be mine is extremely unlikely to contaminate mineral water sources in the nearby resort town of Jermuk or rivers and canals flowing into Lake Sevan.
The 200-page report says that gold mining poses greater environmental risks for other rivers in the area. But it says they can be minimized if Lydian takes 16 “mitigating measures” recommended by ELARD.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian pointed to these conclusions when he indicated on August 19 his intention to enable Lydian to the restart the multimillion-dollar project disrupted by protesters more than a year ago.
Armenian environmental activists denounced that statement. They said that in fact ELARD gave a negative assessment of the project’s impact on the environment.
This led Pashinian to announce on August 23 that he will seek additional explanations from the ELARD at a video conference that will be held this week. Visiting communities surrounding Amulsar, said he will press the Lebanese environmental consultants to give “clear-cut answers” to lingering questions about the safety of Lydian’s operations.
“Although the [ELARD] audit refers to a number of shortcomings and omissions [in the Lydian’s project] its overall conclusion must be put into context,” said Ivanian.
The investigator stressed the importance of the 16 safety measures recommended by ELARD and essentially accepted by Lydian. “The mitigating measures are reasonable and adequate, and if they are implemented along with additional measures the environmental risks will be manageable,” he said.
Asked what will happen if those risks turn out to be serious after the start of open-pit mining at Amulsar, Ivanian said Armenia’s laws allow authorities to monitor and ensure Lydian’s compliance with environmental regulations.