Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian met with senior government and law-enforcement officials on Wednesday for further discussions on the future of a controversial gold mining project in Armenia disrupted over a year ago.
The meeting focused on the Armenian government’s response to the results of an environmental audit of the project conducted by a Lebanese company, ELARD.
During a video conference with Armenian officials moderated by Pashinian last week ELARD experts said they cannot definitively evaluate environmental dangers of the project launched by the British-American company Lydian International. They claimed that Lydian had submitted flawed and incomplete information to regulatory authorities about its plans to mine gold at the Amulsar deposit 160 kilometers southeast of Yerevan.
ELARD sent a written report to Armenia’s Investigative Committee earlier in August. According to the law-enforcement body, the report concluded that Lydian’s operations would pose only “manageable” risks to the environment.
Pashinian said at the end of the video conference 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 said the decision will be announced by September 4.
Grigorian spoke at Wednesday’s meeting chaired by Pashinian and attended by other cabinet members as well as the heads of the Investigative Committee and three other law-enforcement agencies and Central Bank Governor Artur Javadian.
A government statement on the meeting did not say whether Grigorian believes that Lydian should go through another licensing process that would probably take several months. It only cited him as saying that Lydian had presented inaccurate “starting data” before being granted its mining license in April 2016.
“There is no final decision yet [on the new impact assessment,]” Pashinian’s spokesman, Vladimir Karapetian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “The environment minister presented the existing situation, and I think that the decision will be made by the cabinet.”
Karapetian said the situation will become clearer in the coming weeks.
According to the statement, Pashinian and the officials discussed “procedures” for the possible conduct of a new environmental impact assessment, “legal aspects of the issue” and “the emergence of new ecological factors.” Pashinian then told the relevant state bodies to “work in a coordinated manner for having a comprehensive analysis and complete data for the investigation,” the statement added without elaborating.
Lydian rejected ELARD’s verbal comments on Amulsar and accused the Beirut-based consultancy of misleading the Armenian government on August 30. It again argued that its environmental impact assessments had been certified by more authoritative Western experts.
All roads leading to Amulsar have been blocked by several dozen protesters since June 2018. They want the government to pull the plug on the project, saying that it would contaminate water, air and soil in the area.
Lydian, which claims to have invested $400 million in Amulsar, maintains that it would use modern technology that would prevent damage to the ecosystem. The company has repeatedly demanded that the authorities put an end to what it sees as an illegal blockade. In March, it threatened international legal action against Armenia.