EARTH Thailand

Report claims poisonous leak at Phichit gold mine

The Nation 01 March 2018 | PRATCH RUJIVANAROM

Akara disputes study as international arbitration proceeds, with govt accused of expropriation.

A STUDY on the first tailing storage facility (TSF1) of Akara Resources’ Chatree gold mine in Phichit confirmed that it leaked – but the committee investigating issues at the mine has decided to postpone the disclosure of the report for 10 more days.

The committee to investigate and solve conflicts about environmental and health issues at the Akara mine held a meeting at the Primary Industries and Mines Department yesterday to discuss the conclusions of the working group inspecting the leakage of TSF1, which was led by Naresuan University researcher Tanapon Phenrat.

One of the independent members of the committee, Somlak Hutanuwatr, said it had been revealed at the meeting that Tanapon’s working group had confirmed leakage from TSF1, and the conclusion could be used as evidence for the government in arbitration proceedings against Kingsgate Consolidated Ltd, the Australian mother company of Akara Resources.

“This finding result is very important, as it proves that toxic substances from the mine contaminated the nearby environment and caused sicknesses among the local people,” Somlak said. “From this finding, we can also assume that the cyanide-contaminated water that was found in paddy fields near the gold mine leaked from TSF1.”

According to earlier reports, a suspicious spring in a paddy field near the gold mine was found in June 2015, and a research team from Naresuan University found traces of cyanide in water samples. Another suspicious spring was discovered in November last year and local people found polluted water in their paddy fields.

In both cases, Akara and the Industry Ministry claimed there was not any leakage from the gold mine’s tailing facilities and the pollution in the water had originated naturally.

“This study result is very significant as important evidence for the Thai government in the arbitration proceedings, because it can prove that the Thai government ordered the gold mine’s closure order based on the valid fact that the mine had environmental and health impacts,” Somlak said.

Earlier last November, Kingsgate Consolidated resorted to arbitration proceedings, as the company claimed that the Thai government had unlawfully expropriated the Chatree gold mine. The arbitration proceedings are now in the preparatory stages, with a search for a neutral party to settle the dispute. 

Somlak said the committee decided not to officially publicise the report and to postpone its disclosure date until about March 10, due to objections from the company and an incomplete appendix.

Meanwhile, Akara Resources released a statement stating that yesterday’s meeting of the investigation committee was to update the progress of the working group on TSF1 leakage inspections, not to hear the conclusions of the research.

The statement added that Tanapon’s findings about leakage at TSF1 could not be counted as a final conclusion, because his inspection methodology was questionable and had been criticised both by Akara and another group of academics.

The statement also highlighted that the report had been edited more than 30 times, adding that many words used in the report were ambiguous and could cause misunderstanding among the public. The company has compiled 257 pages of objections to the report, which will be publicised in the next 10 days.

Akara’s head of corporate affairs, Cherdsak Utha-aroon, said that due to these issues he did not think the report could be used in the arbitration proceedings