Romania’s Gold Rush: mining risks (06/03)

Despite tragic lessons of the past, the Romania is about to destroy the cultural, economic, and environmental balance of an area considered an ecological and archaeological paradise. At risk is Rosia Montana, an area in the Apuseni mountains of West-Central Romania.

In 2000, the Tisza river and its tributaries became flowing rivers of death as cyanide from an Australian-run open-pit gold mine leaked into the environment. Now the entire region has come under the speculative gaze of the government and foreign investors, who hope to make a fortune mining gold in the region. Despite the warnings of many economists and independent mining experts who feel the project is not viable, it’s another disaster waiting to happen.

Some view it as a scam of a type previously seen in Indonesia. Even the World Bank has declined to invest in the project.

Opponents of the scheme argue that the national interest, not to mention the safety of Romanianas, isn’t being considered. The main beneficiary would be Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, a joint-venture between a state-owned company, Minvest, and Gabriel Resources, a Toronto-based company registered offshore in Barbados and Jersey. Without any previous mining experience, Gabriel Resources already has grabbed 80 percent of the project.

According to the agreement, the government would get a mere two percent of any profits generated by the mine, and relatively little of the promised $400 million investment will be spent in Romania. Beyond that, the environmental price vastly outweighs any profits — explosions day and night for years, hills transformed into massive craters within a toxic, sterile desert.

The 2000 cyanide spill connected with the Australian-run mine affected not only Romania but also Hungary and Serbia. Yet lethal cyanide compounds — about 16,000 tons a year — would again be used to extract gold from the pulverized rock. An unlined, open lagoon would hold some 250 million tons. This not only poses a serious environmental risks, it also contravenes European Union law. The lake of poison would be only six miles upstream from a town of 13,000 people.

The cultural landscape would also be altered beyond recognition. Several villages are located on the site of the proposed open-cast mine. As a result, almost a thousand dwellings would be demolished, including historic buildings and a church. Smallholdings that have provided hundreds of families with their livelihoods for centuries would be destroyed.

More than 2000 people would be uprooted and relocated, most against their wills. Critics point out that there has been no formal consultation process with local residents. This contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights, which Romania signed.

The projected costs don’t include necessary environmental controls. But the risks are both environmental and political. The Romanian government is defying EU requirements and regulations at a time when it is still negotiating for EU entry.

If Eurocrats in Brussels are serious about protecting Europe for future generations, this is the time for them to flex some muscles. The natural and cultural heritage of Romanian and her neighbors are being gambled away, and, if the plan proceeds, the next environmental disaster will be larger and more severe than the last, undoubtedly crossing the EU border along the Romanian frontier.

The effects of such a disaster would be irreversible. Apuseni is rich in more than gold; it has forests, good terrain for grazing animals, beautiful scenery, and a rich history. A viable future could be built on eco-tourism, agriculture, timber products, craft enterprises, and appropriate light industry. Such alternatives are preferable to the development path currently being pushed, one based on short-term goals and a single industry that will take profits out of the country and leave, in its wake, a toxic desert where life will never be the same.

John Horvath is a TF contributing writer covering Europe and corresponding author for the on-line zine Telepolis ( in Germany. He can be reached at