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Interview with the Environmental team members of Lydian international/ Geoteam CJSC.

Armen Stepanyan PhD, Environmental Manager, Lydian International Group, Doctor of Engineering, Geo-ecology, National Academy of Sciences/State Engineering University of Armenia.
Carl Nicholas, Amulsar Site Environmental Manager, MSc in Environmental Diagnosis Imperial College of London

- Environmental concerns in Armenia are more and more closely linked to mining. What part of these concerns are objective. Is the co-existence of mining and healthy environment possible at all?

Carl Nicholas:

Any human activity has a potential environmental impact.
This ranges from driving a car or building a house to major construction and even agriculture. A road construction poorly managed, or a factory poorly operated may also pose major threats to the environment. It is important to emphasize "environmental responsibility" when it comes to any industry.
In other words, one can’t state that any construction or any industry is a major threat to the environment by default, mining included. It will be more accurate to say, that if managed wrong, any activity has the potential to cause problems. Environmental responsibility is all about evaluating the potential threats and determining the best available mitigation measures. If this procedure is duly followed mining can be conducted in an environmentally responsible way, with mitigation measures developed for all potential significant impacts.

- However mining is perceived as more hazardous than any other industry, at least that is the case in Armenia. With the Government’s emphasis on mining as the major economic priority, there is a growing concern that mining will become a major source of environmental issues.

Carl Nicholas:

There are a number of countries where mining has been one of the main engines of the economy for decades, including developed countries such as Australia and Canada. Over the course of time, the mining industry, just as any other industry, has developed techniques, rules and regulations to meet environmental and social concerns. Just as a car factory decades ago would be very different to a modern car factory, so the mining industry has also developed. New techniques for the extraction and processing of minerals have been developed and significant investments in time and money have been made to improve the mechanisms to manage potential risks. Even today, the modern mining industry spends millions of dollars on research and development, to develop even safer technology to comply with and exceed the higher environmental standards that are being demanded by civil society and government legislators.
These technological advances mean that mining has become safer, more efficient and more effective. However, it is important to mention that every project is unique and every operation requires a site specific risk assessment to determine the mitigation measures that should be included in the design and operation. In case of our project, Amulsar gold mine, we are lucky to have the advantage of there being no mining activity before our discovery. As such, we do not have any legacy from the past and we can start the project by assessing and managing the potential risks and apply the best available techniques from the very beginning. 

- How can it be made sure that all the potential threats are assessed right and mitigation measures are included in the project? Are there any internationally accepted standards?

Armen Stepanian:

Leading industry practice for mining projects in emerging markets is generally drawn from the international lending community. Basically, this means that the institutions lending  money for the development of the project will impose certain standards. The most important ones are summarized by the Equator Principles (EP), a risk framework for identifying, assessing, and managing environmental and social risks in project finance transactions. These principles are based on the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Sustainability
Framework including the Performance Standards (PS). The IFC is the private investment arm of the World Bank. Many reputable international banks, financial institutions and international mining houses are signatories of these principles, which means that projects financed and/or developed by these organisations have to undergo detailed appraisa and independent reviews, completed according to international best practice.
One of the most important requirements is that of Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), conducted by independent, internationally recognised organisations. As the Amulsar project is owned by Geoteam, a 100 percent subsidiary of Lydian International, which has the IFC and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (“EBRD”) among its major shareholders, the Amulsar ESIA is being prepared in full compliance with the EP and the IFC Performance Standards.

- What’s the monitoring procedure and when do you know that the project is in compliance with international best practice.

Armen Stepanian:

Monitoring is an ongoing process to ensure the project’s environmental compliance continues as long as the mine exists.
The main objective of our operation is the safety of our staff and the health of surrounding communities. This is achieved through the establishment of a comprehensive risk assessment process regarding environmental and social impacts (ESIA). Another key objective is making sure that there are no significant changes to the surrounding environment as a result of the operation. This is achieved by regularly monitoring the air, water, soil, vegetation, wind and biodiversity throughout the life of the mine and comparing the results with pre-mine conditions. Closure of the mine with the best available rehabilitation techniques is also part of IFC and EP requirements.
Being responsible members of the society is essential for managing corporate reputation and generating shareholder value, as well as, a critical issue for a market listed company like Lydian International. This is the reason why we also join voluntary initiatives, such as the International Cyanide Management Code.
Lydian has committed to do so, because it wants the Amulsar project to comply, and where possible exceed international industry best practices. This means strict regulations for the purchase, transportation and use of cyanide for the project, to ensure the highest possible safety standards.

- Another widespread perception in Armenia is that mining mostly takes place in the so-called third world countries, and that developed countries have reduced mining operations to next to nothing due to environmental concerns.

Carl Nicholas:

If you look at the list of the world’s leading mining countries it provides clear proof that this is an incorrect perception. Among the top 10 leaders are developed countries, such as the USA, Canada, and Australia. There are mines in England, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Germany, Finland, Norway and many other developed and developing countries. I myself have worked as an environmental specialist in a number of European mining operations.
The decision to develop the natural resources of a country is dictated by economics and the ability of the mining company to comply with local environmental regulations and international best practice. This doesn’t mean that mining can be done in any area. It is a balance between the presence and quantity of the commodity to be mined, and the economic, social and environmental viability of extracting that commodity.
Fortunately decades of experience and millions of dollars spent on research and development have made it possible to manage almost any project in line with current best practice.
Many will be surprised to know that in a country like New Zealand for example, there is an operating mine situated almost in the middle of a city. Additionally there are mines on the island of Sardinia, Italy, adjacent to beaches, whilst in Australia and the USA it is not uncommon for mines to neighbor regional towns and cities. Yet, they are managed in a way that minimizes adverse impacts to both the community and the surrounding environment. Of course, as I have already mentioned, any human activity has some impact. But as an environmental team with significant academic knowledge and extensive practical experience in environmental management, our task is to make sure that these impacts are mitigated against and that the project is managed in a way which is environmentally responsible and economically viable. In this way, Armenia’s natural resources can be developed to drive investments, to benefit local communities and the country as a whole.