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A Gold Rush in the Abyss

William J. Broad, New York Times
Tom Dettweiler makes his living miles down. He helped find the Titanic. After that, his teams located a lost submarine heavy with gold. In all, he has cast light on dozens of vanished ships.

Mr. Dettweiler has now turned from recovering lost treasures to prospecting for natural ones that litter the seabed: craggy deposits rich in gold and silver, copper and cobalt, lead and zinc. A new understanding of marine geology has led to the discovery of hundreds of these unexpected ore bodies, known as massive sulfides because of their sulfurous nature.

These finds are fueling a gold rush as nations, companies and entrepreneurs race to stake claims to the sulfide-rich areas, which dot the volcanic springs of the frigid seabed. The prospectors — motivated by dwindling resources on land as well as record prices for gold and other metals — are busy hauling up samples and assessing deposits valued at trillions of dollars…

Environmentalists have expressed growing alarm, saying too little research has been done on the risks of seabed mining. The industry has responded with studies, reassurance and upbeat conferences…
(9 July 2012)

The High Price of Gold: Peru Mining Protests Turn Deadly

George Black, onearth magazine
No one, not even those who reap the profits, could claim that a modern gold mine is a thing of beauty. Here in Peru, sadly, it has become a thing of violence.

But let’s start with the physical ugliness. Yanacocha is the biggest gold mine in South America. Majority-owned by the Denver-based mining giant Newmont, Yanacocha begins about 20 miles north of Cajamarca, a city of about 200,000 people in the Peruvian Andes…

Now Newmont wants to build an even bigger mine, Conga, a $4.8 billion investment, just a few miles away, 12,000 feet up in a pristine landscape of bare mountains and rock walls, sparkling lakes, wetlands, and small streams.

The expansion of mega-mines in the developing world, driven by our insatiable hunger for minerals and the rising price of gold and other metals, is producing an unholy mix of environmental damage and social conflict, and Conga is the perfect illustration of the problem. Protests against the mine have been simmering for months; fortuitously, I arrived in Cajamarca just as they finally boiled over…
(5 July 2012)

How Europe is mining’s emerging market

Peter Koven, Financial Post
You won’t find a region with a longer and richer mining history than Andalucia.

Digging up rocks has been a staple of the southern Spanish territory for the past 5,000 years, and its mineral wealth attracted the Phoenecians, Romans and many others over the centuries. This is the place that gave birth to mining giant Rio Tinto Ltd., and its namesake copper mine may be the oldest in the world.

But these days, everything feels brand new…

In many of the world’s emerging mining hotspots, things are going about as badly for the companies as they could possibly go. Miners are facing randomly changing laws in Mongolia and Argentina, onerous windfall taxes in Ecuador and Ghana, and violent protests in Peru. It is hard to find an emerging jurisdiction anywhere in which mines are operating smoothly these days.

Lost in all that noise is the fact that the tired old continent of Europe, and particularly southern Europe, is making a quiet revival as a mining jurisdiction, one that is free from the chaos striking many emerging markets…
(1 July 2012)

China reshapes role in rare earths, could be importer by 2014

David Stanway, Reuters
China, the world’s biggest producer of rare earth metals, is likely to turn an importer of the vital industrial ingredients by as early as 2014 as it boosts consumption in domestic high-tech industries rather than just shipping raw material overseas.

China says it is curbing exports to redress the environmental damage done by decades of mining, but has also made clear it would prefer to be the biggest consumer of rare earths rather than the biggest producer.

China’s appetite is growing fast as it seeks to maintain its stranglehold over the group of 17 elements used in new technologies like smartphones and hybrid cars.
(10 July 2012)

Apple abandons EPEAT: Is Cupertino turning its back on the environment?

Ray Aguilera, TabTimes
The devices we get rid of when we replace them every few years disappear from our homes, but they don’t actually disappear. With very few exceptions, every piece of electronics you’ve ever owned still exists somewhere.

That’s why when Apple removed all its products from the EPEAT environmental ratings program, it came as a surprise to many. Despite frequently crossing environmental watchdogs like Greenpeace, Apple’s actually been quite proactive about the impact of its products on the environment…

Apple’s decision to remove its products from the EPEAT listing is directly linked to the drive for smaller, lighter, more powerful machines.

Removing their products from the voluntary EPEAT registry gives Apple the freedom to continue to innovate. Freed from EPEAT’s constraints on product design, they can focus on what consumers expect—delivering better devices in sleeker packages…

While it’s easy to cast Apple as the bad guy here, reality is far more complicated. As users, we’re culpable too. Faster, better, lighter, smaller. It’s what we want, but in order to get it, we have to make compromises. The question is, how much are we willing to compromise to reduce the environmental impact of the technology we rely on?
(12 July 2012)

China city scraps alloy plant after protests

Sui-Lee Wee and Ben Blanchard, Reuters
A Chinese city scrapped plans for a copper alloy plant on Tuesday after three days of protests by residents who feared it would poison them, in the latest unrest spurred by environmental concerns in the world’s second-largest economy.

The government of Shifang in the southwest Sichuan province, which initially said it would only suspend the project by Shanghai-listed Sichuan Hongda, caved in to pressure and announced the project would be stopped…

Protests turned violent on Monday when tens of thousands of residents stormed the city government headquarters, smashed police cars and clashed with thousands of anti-riot police, according to Hong Kong media…
(3 July 2012)

Video Series: Public Lands, Private Profits

Andrew Satter , Jessica Goad, Tom Kenworthy, Christy Goldfuss, Center for American Progress
Federal public lands are managed by the government on behalf of all Americans. Some of our public lands are appropriate for energy production and other industrial development, but others should instead be prioritized for values like recreation, hunting and fishing, clean air, clean drinking water, and their role in our quality of life.

The Center for American Progress, in partnership with the Sierra Club, undertook a series of video mini-documentaries that revealed three places held in the public trust that could be threatened by pending proposals to mine and drill in or around them. Grand Canyon National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and the Bridger-Teton National Forest may all be irrevocably changed if various companies’ plans to move forward with their extraction projects are approved.

(12 July 2012)