Such intensive, almost reckless exploitation of copper and precious metals in Serbia requires a serious consideration of the consequences that arise, not only from the economic, but also from the ecological, social, legal, even political and security aspects.
Scattering and destroying our natural resources, stripping and depleting the earth, instead of increasing its usefulness – this will already significantly reduce the possibility of progress that we enjoy and which we are obliged to hand over to our children – greater and more developed – Theodore Roosevelt, President of the USA 1901-1909.
Despite the fact that Dundee Precious Metals (DPM), with its daughter company Avala Resources d.o.o., has been present in the area of the municipality of Žagubica since 2006, working on the Project of exploration and exploitation of gold ore on the “Potaj Čuka – Tisnica” route, it was not for a long time it is possible to find no information, communicated or published, either about the chemical or mineralogical composition of the ore that DPM intends to exploit. Only from the Study “Spatial plan of special purpose areas…” (Spatial plan of the special purpose area for the exploitation of gold in the exploration area “Potaj Čuka – Tisnica” near Žagubica; Elaborate for early public inspection, In Belgrade, September 2021), see the intention to open a mine, the method of exploitation and obtaining gold, with a hint about the presence of pyrite in the composition of the ore and its possible impact on the environment.
The chemical and mineralogical composition of the “Potaj Čuka – Tisnica” ore deposit could be calculated based on the composition of two nearby ore bodies, Tenka and Čoka Marin. Namely, in the “Potaj Čuka – Tisnica” ore body, in addition to gold and silver, we should also expect minerals of copper, zinc, lead, arsenic, iron (pyrite and arsenopyrite), cadmium, mercury and nickel. Probably some other non-ferrous metals as well.
In other words, we should also expect polymetallic ore in this mine, the exploitation and processing of which can have a correspondingly harmful impact on the environment, if complex technology is not applied that would keep under control all compounds of hazardous metals, which are created in the process of gold extraction. However, complex technology implies higher investments, higher operational costs, qualified workforce, all of which would affect the economic and environmental sustainability of the project.
A Pre-Feasibility Study (Timok Project: Pre-Feasibility Study, Zagubica, Serbia, March 2021) was recently completed, which describes in detail the mineralogy, chemical composition and technological procedure that should be applied to obtain gold, as well as the dynamics of ore exploitation and economics. The whole process.
What does the mine bring?
The mine should be opened in an untouched, almost “virgin” area. This would entail the opening of access roads, the supply of electricity, drinking water, the formation of a catchment for industrial water from the existing basin of the Tisnica and Jagnjila rivers, the clearing of land and the construction of office buildings, which would already damage the landscape in that part and affect environmental pollution (noise heavy machinery, exhaust gases, detonations…).
By opening the open pit mine, a landfill of slag and mine tailings would be formed, additionally contributing to the change of the panorama on the ground. The mine dump would grow and, after some time, due to weathering, acidic mine waters would appear at its base, as a result of the biochemical processes of pyrite oxidation and the formation of sulfuric acid. And so the pollution of the environment would begin, without the ore itself, its preparation and formation of the pile, and the beginning of the process of leaching gold by cyanization (the technology intended for gold extraction) almost never happened. Simultaneously, with the exploitation of the ore, severed underground water veins would appear in the surface mine itself, which, in contact with the ore, will create mine water of unknown chemical composition and flow, with a significant concentration of suspended particles. These waters must be pumped out, to ensure unhindered mining – and here is a new source of pollution! In other words, ecosystem disruption will occur even before the start of ore exploitation and gold extraction.
That is why one of the objectives of the “Spatial Plan…” Study sounds hollow, almost cynical: “Creating conditions for efficient activation, exploitation and processing of ore reserves from deposits within the exploration area ‘Potaj čuka – Tisnica’ as an activity that is of interest to the overall development of Serbia ” – a platitude that is often used when one wants to express the existence of some social interest, which in essence does not exist. It seems as if DPM is there to develop Serbia, and not to make a profit by exploiting gold and, after seven years (how long is the expected life of the mine), pick up part of the equipment and go to some other location, leaving the municipality of Žagubica, as a neuralgic ecological point – a huge a pile of leached ore soaked in lye; a reservoir in which the atmospherics that have passed through the pile will be collected, initially of a basic character and of unknown chemical composition; as many as six surface mines, with mine acid water at the bottom; landfills of waste mining material, from which also acidic mine waters will flow for decades. And who and how will service such a “developed” part of Serbia?!
The previous feasibility study mentions, however, the complete reclamation of the mining works and bringing the terrain to its original state, although it does not explain how this should be carried out. Reclamation is an expensive procedure, and we tend to make things worse, and to do more damage than it is, or would be.
The planned mine “Potaj Čuka – Tisnica” and the planned area for the formation of the heap for leaching would be at a significantly higher altitude than Mlava. It is located in a karst area, on the edge of the Kučaj-Beljanica National Park, where there are large natural reservoirs of drinking water. Are we going to ignore this fact and open a mine in spite of it in order to “develop Serbia”? As things stand, I’m a skeptic. Will some rare plant and animal species that are found in that area of Serbia be sacrificed, as indicated by biologists (M. Paunović et al.,
“Basic report on the state of biological diversity in the area of realization of the mining project Avala”; IBISS, April 2014)? They probably will, because mining and wildlife conservation have never gone hand in hand. In the area of Žagubica-Gornjak-Ždrelo there are archaeological sites, witnesses of our cultural and historical heritage, about which potential concessionaires will also not be too sensitive, if the state does not discipline them. And we are witnesses that there is usually no state there or not enough of it.
Čoka rakita – a newly discovered gold site
Just mentioning the use of cyanide in the common world sets off a warning light in the consciousness. It is not the cyanide solution that should be shouted at. It will be taken care of, because it is the carrier of gold, so any spillage of the solution would be a loss for the concessionaire. After the exploitation of the heap, and the adsorption of cyanide metal complexes, the remaining free cyanide will be transformed into some cyanate – benign form. The question is what to do with the lye? These are large volumes. What would be the costs of its neutralization? Who will service it and what about the salts formed during neutralization? These are just some of the implications that the opening of the “Potaj Čuka – Tisnica” mine will cause to this part of Serbia.
Beta Agency recently reported the statement of the Minister of Energy and Mining about the discovered gold deposit at the location of Čoka Rakit in the atar of the municipality of Žagubica, and that “the potential is significant”; that technological tests were carried out and that a “pure gold concentrate, with a utilization of 93 percent” was obtained.
There are no other data, but it can be assumed that the geological, mineralogical and chemical tests have been completed, or are nearing completion, as soon as the technological tests are done. The fact that we are talking about gold concentrate implies that, at the industrial level, the ore will be floated, and the gold concentrate will be further processed, either by smelting and then electrolytic extraction, or by leaching and further processing of the alkaline solution to metal. Without prejudging, it seems that ZiJin Mining Group will play an important role here, either in its existing form as Serbia ZiJin Copper d.o.o., or as a newly founded derivative that will appear as a potential concessionaire.
The consequences of the management of copper and gold mineral resources – questions without answers
Does Serbia need more copper and gold mines, in addition to those already sold to the Chinese in Bor and Majdanpek, in the atar of Žagubica – on the edge of the national park, where nature is still untouched and rich in plant and animal life; where natural reservoirs of drinking water are located; where are there valuable archaeological finds over 15 centuries old? In an area where people have lived for centuries from animal husbandry, use of forests and agriculture, and where would they still live if the state created favorable conditions for the development of these economic branches? Or are we witnessing a large sale of Serbia’s strategic raw materials, and for what? Also, before a decision is made to grant a concession to anyone, for the opening of any new mine of gold, copper, lead, zinc… shouldn’t a balance be drawn up of how much Serbia collected from Serbia ZiJin Copper d.o.o. and ZiJin Mining, which recently miners in Serbia, and to establish their profit?
Let’s be clear, the mining of metallic or non-metallic raw materials, if it is not in the direct function of the development of the country, its infrastructure, its chemical industry or processing metallurgy, i.e. energy, is very harmful from the aspect of managing natural resources; it brings the country into a colonial position, and leaves the posterity with a bleak future of hired labor. The profits will be collected only by concessionaires and a few others, and the host country will only be left with the consequences of mining. Therefore, whoever needs copper, gold, boron, lithium, calcite or anything else, have a field in their yard, which is bigger than Serbia – muvoserine on the globe.
Such intensive, almost reckless exploitation of copper and precious metals in Serbia requires a serious consideration of the consequences that arise, not only from the economic, but also from the ecological, social, legal, even political and security aspects. Think about it!