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WORLD: Firms Are in Talks to Turn Gold Mining `Green'

The companies and environmentalists aim to agree on a set of industry standards.

by Kevin MorrisonFinancial Times
July 3rd, 2006

The world's gold mining companies have started talks with social and environmental activists on a "green" code for an industry that has for decades been one of their prime targets.

The two sides have fiercely opposed each other, with mining companies saying they are injecting money into relatively poor communities where unemployment is high and welfare is low.

In turn, environmentalists say miners are doing this by adhering to minimal environmental standards, which has resulted in some cases in the pollution of local water supplies.

Activists also claim that mining companies reinvest only a tiny amount of the money they make from exploiting the resource.

"We are keen to work with the nongovernment organizations to find a solution to these issues, and if we come up with an agreement it is going to be better for everybody," said Pierre Lassonde, the president of Newmont Mining Corp., the world's second-largest gold producer. Lassonde, 59, made his comments at the London Bullion Market Assn. conference here.

"We will have gold that is certified by the NGOs, and they will be happy that we are working to standards that they have helped set," he said.

Lassonde said gold mining companies and nongovernmental organizations had a first meeting on the prospect of environmentally conscious, or green, gold mining last month in Vancouver, Canada.

The mining industry is conducting the talks through the International Council for Mining and Metals, an industry group.

Lassonde said the goal was to have each gold mine certified if it adhered to the standards set through talks between the nongovernmental organizations and the miners.

This in turn could be used by the jewelry sector to market gold that came from environmentally friendly mines. Newmont has been the subject of protests by environmentalists, especially at its gold mine in Indonesia.

Lassonde said similar agreements had been achieved in the forestry and fishing industries. In the mining sector, diamond miners have worked with organizations on "conflict diamonds." Any agreement between gold miners and the organizations, however, will take years to achieve.

"I can't see any agreement for at least two or three years," Lassonde said. "There are a lot of issues to discuss, and we are far apart with some people on certain matters."

Environmentalists are concerned about the use of mercury in alluvial gold mining, which represents about 5% of annual gold output and is concentrated mainly in Latin America, where there are cases of mercury poisoning in rivers.

Cyanide is another contentious issue for organizations, as the chemical is widely used by the industry to strip gold from rock. Cyanide also pollutes local water tables.

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