Some of the largest gold reserves in Western Europe lie in Galicia and Asturias- the regions at Spain’s North Western extent. These areas have seen sporadic mining since the Romans first exploited the gold reserves. More recently multiple companies explored the area during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Today, Spain’s recent economic collapse, recession and large-scale unemployment, have created a more favourable environment for mining ventures, encouraging multinational companies to return to the nation, and Galicia, in search of gold.
In 2010 Miniera de Corcoesta S.L, a subsidiary of Canadian based mining company Edgewater Exploration, acquired rights to the gold reserves in Cabana de Bergantiños, Galicia.
The Corcoesto open-pit gold mining project was planned for a 774-hectare area about 35km from the city of La Coruña in the autonomous community of Galicia. Over the mine’s projected 13 year lifespan Edgewater claimed that the project would create 500 jobs during the construction phase and 271 jobs over the extraction period of around eight years. The mine was projected to yield 102,000 ounces of gold a year, amounting to $60 million in annual net revenue.
Promising jobs and economic growth, throughout the planning process, Edgewater sought to maintain a positive public image in Galicia. However, the company’s claims that 80% of municipalities neighbouring the project are in favour of the mine are highly contestable.
“For Galician people there will only be devastation, poverty and a few precarious jobs that will disappear in a few years…in a few years the companies will go away with everything – Galicia will be left with nothing” cited from film Salvemos Galicia de la megaminiería
Communities from the area surrounding the mine have been extremely vocal in their opposition to it. The country surrounding the proposed mining area consists of small rural economies closely tied to cattle farming and a few small towns such as Cabana de Bergantiños, Coristanco, and Carballo, and locals have highlighted serious risks to this local environment.
The planned mine would be located just 140 metres from the Allons river, a place of community importance under European environment legislation. It is also close by the Costa de Morte, an important bird conservation area.
The potential for serious ecological disasters occurring at the Corcoesto mine have been compared to other mining disasters, including the Aznalcollar tailings dam failure at the Los Frailes mine in Andalucía in 1998 that released 4-5 million cubic metres of acidic waste, polluting many kilometres of water-ways downstream. In reality however, at Corcoesto the risks are even higher. The planned tailings dam is of a much larger capacity and the proposed mine would be far closer to water systems and coastal areas.
Yes to Life, No to Mining: Resistance in Corcoesto
In 2012 an Environmental Impact Assessment for the Corcoesto mine was approved by the Galician Government who described it as an “industrial initiative of strategic interest”. According to Edgewater, Galicia is one of the “most pro-mining regions in Spain”. A primary tactic of the mining company, as is the case across the world, was to ‘divide and conquer’ opposition to the mine by offering jobs, sponsorships and funds to particular supportive local political parties.
“As we endeavor to advance and de-risk Corcoesto, I remain very pleased with the support and progress we are getting from the Galician government, at all levels…we remain firmly committed to seeing Corcoesto come to fruition as Galicia’s newest gold mine and ensure that the communities surrounding Corcoesto derive maximum benefit from a future operation” Geroge Salamis Edgewater CEO
Soon after that the mine was approved a vibrant anti-mining movement in Galicia began to grow; groups such as Adega Verdegaia, Contraminate and Sociedade Galega de Historia Natural, mobilised against the project. It was evident to these groups that this was a form of environmental neo-colonialism, whereby an international company would exploit the land and people, take mineral reserves and leave behind environmental destruction and a toxic future. The mobilising groups organised themselves into two platforms; the Plataforma Cidadá Salvemos Cabana and Plataforma Pola Defenda de Corcoesto e Bergantiños in order to present a more organised and directed campaign.
Throughout 2013, as resistance developed, the two platforms had a wide impact upon the media in Spain. Tactics included writing official complaint letters, bringing cases before the European Parliament (particularly relating to cyanide in mineral extraction), gathering signatories, organising large-scale demonstrations and using the internet to publicise campaigns with short videos and petitions. The campaign drew support from over 200 experts and members of regional governments taking a critical stand against Edgewater’s plans for the open-pit gold mine.
In a letter of solidarity sent to a campaign against toxic mining in Greece the people from the village of Cabana de Bergantiños explain how open-pit mining is a hugely environmentally and socially damaging activity. In Corcoesto cyanide has proven the most controversial issue.
It is thought that the planned mine would use 1.49 tonnes of cyanide daily, to separate gold from the rock deep underground. A drop of cyanide the size of grain of rice is enough to kill an adult human, and the chemical is toxic at even lower doses, causing cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological and other health disorders while also contaminating the air, water and soil.
A petition by change.org, and accompanying film added momentum to the movement and helped raise international awareness of this high-stakes project. The film describes how in reality fairly few people actually knew about the project and its potential effects. The mine itself would result in 392 hectares destroyed by explosives, 4,300 tonnes of cyanide and 17 million tonnes of toxic waste. All of this for 34 tonnes of gold, equivalent to one large truck load. The campaign reached over 200,000 signatures.
Change.org film of movement against Corcoesto
The Plataforma pola defensa de Corcoesto e Bergantiños , filed legal action against Edgewater’s proposed project, citing that it would destroy 770 hectares of ancient forest and cause lasting and irreversible damage to Spain’s environment. According to newspaper El Pais, Edgewater had acknowledged that its project would generate about 17 million tones of metal waste including dangerous levels of arsenic and nickel, likely to end up in water systems used by local communities. Similarly over 1.1 million litres of water would be used daily, equivalent to the average consumption needs of 6,500 people. However on the Edgewater company website, none of this information is displayed, CEO George Salamis claims that Edgwater “firmly believe there are no bases for these claims.”
On the 15th of October 2013, the Galician regional government announced that the gold mining license for Corcoesto was to be renounced. Signalling a shift in the regional government position, for reasons that the project lacked the necessary economic foundations and technical requirements. In 2013 Edgewater’s position on the Toronto stock exchange plummeted almost 90%. The official position for its refusal has been for economic reasons, although pressure from resistance groups has been central to halting the project. Similarly it is argued that the growth and mobilisation of the movement against the Corcoesto mine seriously eroded the Galician Government’s public image.
However, Edgewater is looking for investors with the necessary capital investment to continue the project. George Salamis, Edgewater CEO, writes that the company is in negotiations with interested parties in advancing the project. The Galician Government stated that Edgewater needed to provide evidence of $30million euro funding, and Salamis states “these criteria have not been complied with, and therefore the permitting applications have been cancelled. Once the company complies with the criteria, it can re-apply for all remaining permits”.
“We remain firmly committed to advancing the Corcoesto Gold Project. We understand the final criteria that are necessary to obtain all of the remaining permits to advance the project to construction and production. To assist in achieving the final permitting requirements we are now in very advanced discussions with a party we believe is the best potential partner to advance the Corcoesto Gold Project”. George Salamis Edgewater CEO
Both the Plataforma Cidadá Salvemos Cabana and Plataforma Pola Defenda de Corcoesto e Bergantiños encourage the populations to remain vigilant, and to continue working for the defence of territory and landscape central to cultural identity.
Follow the ‘Corcoesto’ tag for more news and information as this resistance continues
Spanish language film documenting proceedings at Corcoesto:
A film entitled Treasury Corcoesto documents the progress and resistance to extraction in Galicia (http://www.corcoesto.com/)
Link to Presentation (in Galician) http://www.slideboom.com/presentations/814426/PRESENTACION_CORCOESTO
References and Further Reading
Ban Cyanide (2013) Critical Economic Situation of Edgewater. http://bancyanide.eu/critical-economic-situation-edgewater/
Contraminate (2013). Press Release on the Motion Against Corcoesto Mine. November 27 2013. http://www.contraminate.org/?p=2261&lang=en
Edgewater Exploration. (2011). Environmental Impact Assessment http://www.edgewaterx.com/i/pdf/Corcoesto_EnviroImpact.pdf
Edgewater Exploration (2013). Spain Corcoesto Gold Project. Presentation: http://www.edgewaterx.com/i/pdf/2013-03-12_CorcoestoTechnicalPresentation.pdf
Edgewater Exploration (2013). Socio-Economic Impacts of Corcoesto Mine. http://www.edgewaterx.com/i/pdf/4_Estudio_Impacto_Socio-economico.pdf
Goicoechea, S. (2013). Water is Worth more than Gold: Environmental Justice Victory over the Corcoesto Gold Mining Project (Spain). EJOLT. http://www.ejolt.org/2013/11/water-is-worth-more-than-gold-environmental-justice-victory-over-the-corcoesto-gold-mining-project-spain/
Gold Investing News (2012). Environmental Impact Assessment for Corcoesto submitted by Edgewater. http://goldinvestingnews.com/23090/environmental-impact-assessment-for-corcoesto-submitted-by-edgewater.html
Jamasmie, C. (2012). Canadian Edgewater faces criminal accusations over gold project in Spain. Mining: Your Source for Global Mining News. August 11 2012. http://www.mining.com/canadian-edgewater-faces-criminal-accusations-over-gold-project-in-spain-45628/
Salamis, G. (2014). Edgewater Exploration Ltd provides update on Corcoesto gold project in Spain. Mbeni Information Services. http://www.mbendi.com/a_sndmsg/news_view.asp?I=147982&PG=15
Salvemos Cabana. (2013). Solidarity from Galicia, Spain, Against Toxic Mining in Halkidiki. http://antigoldgr.org/en/2013/11/08/solidarity-galicia-spain-against-toxic-mining-in-halkidiki/
Sociedade Galega de Historia Natura (2013). A research paper corroborates pollution by arsenic in the Anllóns riverbed due to the ancient Corcoesta gold mine. http://sghn.org/Actuacions_Xeral/Mineria/Corcoesto_gold_mine_project.html