Friday, April 19, 2013

Romania demands more financial guarantees for gold mine

BUCHAREST, April 18 (Reuters) - Romania is pressing for more financial guarantees before it issues a key environmental permit for Europe's biggest open cast gold mine, a move which could further delay a project stuck in limbo for 14 years.

Canada's Gabriel Resources aims to use cyanide to mine for 314 tonnes of gold and 1,600 tonnes of silver among a cluster of villages in the Carpathian mountains known as Rosia Montana.

The plan has drawn fierce opposition for its potential environmental impact.

The environment ministry wants two additional financial guarantees from Gabriel, which operates through its local unit Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC), in which the Romanian state also holds a 19 percent stake, it said on Thursday.

RMGC proposes four gold quarries over the mine's lifespan, which would destroy four mountaintops and wipe out three out of 16 villages while preserving Rosia Montana's historic centre.

The project has been valued at $7.5 billion based on a 2007 study that used an average price of $900 per ounce of gold. Gold traded on Thursday around $1,390 per ounce.

The ministry did not give the specific amounts it wanted as guarantees, saying they need to be agreed with the firm, but said they referred to handling extraction-related waste and accountability in case of accidents and were in line with European Union legislation.

"It must be stated that environment authorities and the national agency for mineral resources are also focused on setting other types of guarantees," the ministry said in a statement to Reuters.

Civil rights and environmental groups and neighbouring Hungary say the plan would destroy ancient Roman mine galleries and villages and could lead to an ecological disaster.

Leftist Prime Minister Victor Ponta and Environment Minister Rovana Plumb were openly against the project before they came to power, but have since softened their stance and are now saying it needs careful assessment.

As part of its environmental impact assessment, RMGC has estimated mine closure and environment repair costs at $127.6 million, the ministry said.

The ministry said the committee in charge of issuing the environmental permit - the most important hurdle remaining before the mine could start operations - has not yet been created. Ministries were reorganised after a December parliamentary election.

In Rosia Montana, an impoverished community of some 2,800 people where a state-owned gold mine closed in 2006, most people say they support the project which they hope will restore jobs.

At a December referendum on the mine, a majority of those who voted supported the mine but turnout did not reach a required level to make it valid.

Gabriel did not reply immediately to an email from Reuters seeking comment. (Editing by David Cowell)

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