Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian cited the need for further evaluation of possible mining operations at Armenia’s Amulsar gold deposit on Friday after a Lebanese-based consulting firm raised more questions about its environmental audit of the project.
Joined by Armenian government and law-enforcements officials, lawmakers and Armenian executives of the British-registered mining company Lydian International, Pashinian held on Thursday a video conference with experts from the ELARD consultancy contracted by his government in February. The experts were asked to give additional explanations of ELARD’s report on the Amulsar project submitted to Armenia’s Investigative Committee earlier this month.
The committee cited the report as concluding that toxic waste from the would-be mine is extremely unlikely to contaminate mineral water sources in the nearby spa resort of Jermuk or rivers and canals flowing into Lake Sevan.
According to the law-enforcement agency, ELARD found greater environmental risks for other rivers in the area but said they can be minimized if Lydian takes 16 “mitigating measures” recommended by ELARD. Lydian expressed readiness to take virtually of all those measures.
ELARD experts offered a different interpretation of their report during the video conference, however. They said that they cannot definitively evaluate the Amulsar project’s potential impact on the environment because Lydian had submitted flawed and incomplete information to the Armenian authorities.
“We could not evaluate that because of all the flaws,” one of them, Nidal Rabah, said during the two-and-a-half hour discussion publicized by the government on Friday. “[Lydian’s] social and environmental assessment, research and investigation are not credible,” he added.
This left some of the Armenian lawmakers participating in the video conference wondering why ELARD proposed the “mitigating measures” if it thought that Lydian’s project is flawed.
For his part, Hayk Grigorian, the head of the Investigative Committee, maintained that based on the ELARD report his investigators have no grounds to indict anyone in their criminal inquiry into a government agency that gave the green light for the Amulsar project in April 2016.
The inquiry was initiated by Pashinian shortly after environmental protesters began blocking in June 2018 the roads leading to Amulsar. It was meant to establish whether government officials dealing with Amulsar had withheld important information from the public.
“Mr. Prime Minister, no information was concealed,” said Yura Ivanian, the chief investigator also present at the discussion.
Pashinian seemed unconvinced by these assurances. “Why is it that ELARD experts saw flaws in that data [provided by Lydian] while our Environment Ministry officials did not?” he asked.
Grigorian replied that the flaws alleged by ELARD can be “neutralized” if Lydian takes the safety measures contained in the report.
Concluding the discussion, Pashinian said that the government will now wait and see whether the Armenian Ministry of Environment decides to order Lydian to draw up another environmental impact assessment and submit it to a relevant ministry division for approval. Environment Minister Erik Grigorian confirmed that the decision will be announced by September 4.
Commenting on the video conference on his Facebook page on Friday, Pashinian said it exposed “a number of new circumstances which require investigation and evaluation.”
Meanwhile, Lydian’s chief executive in Armenia, Hayk Aloyan, described the conference as “the most unprofessional discussion I have ever been to in my life.” In a social media post, he claimed that the ELARD experts have “zero or limited experience in the mining sector” and “couldn’t explain what standards were breached by the company.”