Thursday, August 13, 2015

Elizabeth May and Gold Mining in Greece

In a previous post I stated that Elizabeth May, head of Canada’s Green Party and Niki Ashton, NDP MP, had gone to Greece in 2013 and bad mouthed a Canadian mining company on behalf of anti-mining groups.  The article on Elizabeth May’s website describing the situation was full of lies and less-than-half truths. Having said that, I owe it to folks who are not familiar with the gold mining industry or with Greece to clarify why it is so.

The Canadian mining company is Eldorado Gold ( I will deal with Perama Hill first.  Three lines of lies, innuendo and bullshit, five paragraphs to refute. It is so easy to be anti anything.  You don't need facts or references, just write what sells and let others try to refute it if they can.

Perama Hill will require the crushing of one million tonnes of rock in an open-pit mine (an average of 20 tonnes must be crushed for one gold ring about 1/3 of an ounce.) This rock will then be sprayed with cyanide, which often seeps into the water table. Local mayors in the region oppose this project.

Perama Hill is located about 30 km NW of Alexandropoulos in rough country, mostly maquis and grazing land with agricultural land farther north (see link for pictures). The immediate area around the mine is relatively poor with few economic opportunities outside of small subsistence farms.  The ore body, located on top of a rocky knoll (altitude 250 meters) is small and relatively rich at between 3.13 and 3.46 grams of gold per tonne of ore. The open pit mine would eventually be 640 meters by 340 meters by 125 meters deep and contains about 11.7 million tonnes of ore.  The entire operation, pit, crusher, buildings, leach pile, tailings and overburden, everything, would cover less than 60 ha.

A Troy ounce of gold contains 31.1 grams.  A standard wedding ring 70 cm in diameter by 1mm thick and 3 mm wide would contain about 4 grams of 24 carat gold. So a ring of 1/3 of a Troy ounce (at 3.46 grams per tonne), would require 3 tonnes of ore. Even at the Kişladağ mine in Turkey where the gold concentration is 0.7 grams per tonne of ore, it would only take 15 tonnes to make a 1/3 Troy oz ring. So I am not sure what that line was supposed to prove.  Ore concentration is only of interest to the mining company – can they extract gold profitably.

The Anti-mining folks love to scare people with the word cyanide. Cyanide salts are used in solution to leach gold from the crushed ore.  You can read about the different processes of extracting gold here: How gold is extracted depends on what other valuable metals it is mixed with. In the leach process, the crushed ore is mixed with limestone to keep the pH high and the cyanide in solution.  It is piled and the cyanide solution is poured on from the top, seeps through the pile and is collected at the bottom with activated carbon used to pull the gold out of solution.  This is much safer than the old method of using mercury to extract gold from ore.  Mercury is still used in artisanal mining and is deadly to the miners and the environment.

The notion that the cyanide is going to seep into the ground water is a lie, again just to scare the ignorant.  There is a very thick very impervious membrane between the leach heap and the ground since lost cyanide means lost gold.  Nor will it disperse into the air over the leach pile as that is what the limestone is for.  Cyanide is dangerous but most of the problems happen in transporting it to the mine, such as happened to Cameco in Kyrgyzstan, so mines are very careful to keep the amount of cyanide lost to a negligible amount.

“Local mayors oppose it”.  Do they? What communities do they represent? What about the people in those communities?  Perama Hill is a no-brainer but the government was/is so scared of the anti-mining crowd, it may almost be a lost cause.

That brings us to Skouries where the fiercest opposition is directed. Eldorado Gold acquired European Goldfields and subsidiary Hellas Gold in 2012.  Hellas Gold was the owner of Kassandra Mines which include Olimpias, Stratoni and Skouries in Aristotle Municipality, Halkidiki Prefecture. Olimpias and Stratoni mines were previously owned and operated by TVX. As part of the purchase, Eldorado is cleaning up the mess left behind at both mine sites.

Chalkidiki or Halkidiki peninsula (map) is like a three fingered glove jutting down from Central Macedonia into the Aegean Sea. Agriculture and tourism is well developed in the west of the province. From west to east the land becomes more mountainous and more forested. Aristotle Municipality, the farthest east and least economically developed of the five municipalities which make up Halkidiki, is roughly 75,000 ha of which about 22% is agriculture and 77% forest, including rough grazing land and maquis shrubland.
For a detailed map of the areas and locations of Eldorado’s operating and developing mines in Europe see here and scroll down.

For the past year, thousands have been opposing the mines by holding large demonstrations and protests. Concerns focus on the impact the mines will have on water, old-growth forests, agriculture, tourism, and the social cohesion of their communities. … The Skouries project will extract gold and copper from both open-pit and underground mines. There has been mining in Halkidiki for about 2500 years, but, until now, it has been small-scale and underground. … Eldorado Gold has started work, installing razor wire around the site, bulldozing trees, and digging up two streams to construct a tailings pond.

There was anti-mining opposition in Greece before Eldorado got there and it increased dramatically afterwards. Where ever fear could be stirred up by anti-mining NGOs, they were there with disinformation. The political situation in Aristotle Municipality lent itself to anti-mining emotion. Aristotle with municipal capital at Arnaia, in 2011, was formed from three municipalities, with municipal capitals at Arnaia, Megali Panagia and Ierissos. Those who were used to wielding clout in the little municipalities found themselves on the outside looking in in many cases.

The three mines, and the employment opportunities that went with them were all in what was Arnaia municipality.  The opposition to the mines comes from the other two, led by Ierissos. It was dangerous for anyone to go to Ierissos that would be recognized as supporting the mines.  Vandals destroyed equipment at the minesite, hence the razor wire (and I am surprised the armed guards were not mentioned).

Skouries Mine is located several km SE of Paleochori in the middle of forest (see link for pictures).  Some 300 to 400 ha will be clear cut to accommodate the operation.  They were not “bulldozed”; they were and are again logged, prior to cleaning up with bulldozers.  The forest issue has been jumped on by opponents.  Greece cooks and heats its homes with firewood.  It is a huge industry and cannot meet demand.  Bulgaria is a major supplier of firewood to Greece.  Forests are critical and are managed to the hilt.  Trees are cut on a 30 year rotation. “Old growth forests” is a joke.  There are likely no old-growth forests in Greece, in the sense of hundreds of years old, never touched by humans.

Mining has been carried out in Aristotle municipality for 2500 years; silver and gold from there financed Alexander in his world conquering spree.  It is a lie that is was all small scale.  Stratoni and Olimpias mines were large commercial ventures and in the scheme of things, the Skouries mine is pretty small potatoes too if you compare it to Kişladağ Mine in Turkey (see link for pictures). The mine will be 1/3 open pit and 2/3 underground.  It is the open pit that has people scared as they have no experience with them.

Two deep gullies will be plugged and partially filled with overburden and then tailings from the open pit.  The streams that ran through those gullies were not “dug up”; they were rerouted so they could make their way to the sea unpolluted.  As the gullies are filled, they will be covered with topsoil and planted back to trees.  Once the mining of the open pit is finished, the material from the underground mining will be used to refill the pit, which will be covered with topsoil and planted to trees. 

Water pollution is another critical area in mine development.  Underground mining has to deal with the high groundwater in the area.  It will be pumped from wells and redirected so it also flows to the sea unpolluted.  The fish are safe; the tourists are safe.

Agriculture is another concern.  Opponents claim that dust from the mine will pollute everything for hundreds of kilometers. Dust is a major issue.  It is far more dangerous than the cyanide everyone is so afraid of but the mine is also well aware of dust problems. The explosives used at Kişladağ to break the ore so it can be hauled to the crusher do not produce the huge dusty explosions you might expect, with rocks and dirt flying everywhere. The explosives used lift the rock about 30 cm and that is all; a ripple and it settles right down.  And there are water trucks everywhere constantly spraying roads to keep the dust to a minimum.

Opponents are welcome to go to Turkey to see the Kişladağ mine in operation and meet with the locals but to my knowledge no one has taken them up on their offer.  Facts must not get in the way. “Our place is too small for this kind of development. It is not we who are saying ‘no’ to mining. It is the trees, the streams, the land itself that says “no”.  Isn’t that sweet?

For more information, the Hellas Gold website is also good. . It is in Greek but at least in Chrome, the “translate to English” does a not bad job of making it readable.

Why do I know these things?  Because I was there. And as the Director of Hellas Gold's Enviromental Section, who was instrumental in designing Skouries, said "This is our home, our families have lived here for generations.  Do you think we would do anything to damage our home?"


  1. I would agree with you except having been in that line of work for over 20 years I know first hand what companies can do to the environment. Their concern is not with the lives of the locals or even those of their own workers, it's about the bottom line. They will cheat on the rules and when caught will deny everything. When they finally do have to pay up fines are small compared to the profits they've reaped. Just the cost of doing business they say. They've relied on people like me to clean up the mess they've left with the bill sent to the taxpayer.


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