The French government will open a public debate on 3 April on the Montagne d’Or, a largely controversial gold mine project in French Guyana. But WWF France demands that the project be abandoned and calls for a move toward an ecologically and socially sustainable development in the overseas department.
“WWF France has demonstrated that…Montagne d’Or is both an ecological disaster and an economic mirage. The public debate should be an opportunity to remind us that this project is very far from being the best development option for Guyana and Guyanese and that another model of sustainable development and job creation is possible”, said Pascal Canfin, General Director of World Wildlife Fund France.
The public debate about whether the project should go ahead is to be conducted under the auspices of the French government until July 2018 and will bring together all stakeholders – promoters, companies, communities, associations and citizens.
French Guyana is an overseas department of France on the northeast coast of South America, composed mainly of tropical rainforest.
Since the start of the 1990s, French Guyana has seen an increase in gold mining due to rising gold prices on international markets and the development of new mechanised techniques imported from Brazil.
Led by the Russian multinationals Nordgold and Canadian Columbus Gold, the Montagne d’Or project is to exploit gold in the Guyanese rainforest, in an area situated between two biological reserves. It would be the first industrial mine in French Guiana and by far the largest gold mine on French territory.
By its magnitude and the processes used, Montagne d’Or would have a disastrous impact on the environment, WWF France, and other environmental organisations argue.
They also fear that if France authorises the exploitation, it would set what they see as a disastrous precedent for similar projects in the future.
57,000 tons of explosives
According to WWF France, the company plans a total deforestation of 1,513 hectares including deforestation of primary forests with a high ecological value of 575 hectares. The organisation also quoted the operator who said that to extract the gold, 57,000 tons of explosives, 46,500 tons of cyanide and 195 million litres of fuel will be needed in the coming 12 years, the time-scale set for this project.
A pit with a volume equivalent to 32 Stade de France [the national stadium of France with a seating capacity of 81,338, which makes it the sixth-largest in Europe] will also be dug on the site where more than 2000 plant and animal species have been inventoried, including 127 protected.
Beyond the environmental impacts inherent to the project, the WWF France also cited numerous industrial risks such as dam failure, acid mine drainage, transport and handling of hazardous materials, or landslides.
WWF France called the Montagne d’Or an economical nonsense for the development of Guyana and a gulf for taxpayers’ money. “In its economic report based on the information provided by the developer himself, WWF France has shown that the project alone engulfed at least 420 million euros of subsidies, or 560,000 euros in public funds for every 750 direct jobs announced”, the organisation argued.
“This money must on the contrary benefit promising sectors such as agriculture, fishing, forestry or tourism and ensure an inclusive and sustainable development of Guyana”.