Open Letter Outlining the Position of Romanian Students and Researchers from Abroad Concerning the Proposed Mining Operations at Roşia Montană.
~ 14 July 2010 ~
We, the Romanian students and researchers studying at universities abroad, would like to express our utmost concern about the impending ecological and human crisis in the Roşia Montană region . Within this area situated in the western part of Romania, Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC) – a joint venture between Gabriel Resources, a multinational company with its headquarters in Canada, and Minvest S.A., a Romanian state-owned mining company – is planning to launch a large-scale open-cast gold mine operation .
Numerous national and international institutions and non-governmental organizations have repeatedly expressed their disapproval of this project. The Romanian Academy  and Alburnus Maior  (acting on behalf of the landowners from the Roşia Montană village who wish to continue to reside in this area) have highlighted the significant risks posed by surface mining operations, which entail the use of potentially harmful cyanide-based technologies. These institutions have called attention to the fact that this mining project would cause irreparable damage to the environment, as well as to the historical and archaeological heritage dating back to Roman and pre-Roman times. Churches of all denominations within the region have joined forces to openly declare their unflinching opposition to the mining operation, especially since the population within the larger Arieş Valley region has not been consulted about this project [4,5]. ICOMOS , an international organization which counsels UNESCO on cultural heritage issues, and the Romanian royal family  have adopted similar positions. In a recent report, the Ad Astra Association of Romanian Scientists has analyzed the main issues pertaining to the proposed operation and has publicly expressed its firm disapproval of the mining activities and its concern for preserving this area as a tourist destination .
Hereby, we aim to provide an overview of this mining project and its potentially devastating consequences based on the aforementioned reports and the information supplied by the company. If the project was carried out Roşia Montană would become the largest gold mine in Europe, with a total gold yield estimated at about 300 tons and a significant yield of silver and other metals. The mining project is supposed to last 17 years. It would entail the digging of four pits and a pond for waste disposal that would cover the area of two villages (Roşia Montană and Corna). The operation would result in the destruction of four mountains encompassing important galleries and vestiges from the Roman period. It would also lead to the demolition of several churches and cemeteries, as well as to the disintegration of local communities surrounding them. In addition to this, the mining operation would displace a large number of inhabitants and erase the traces of some of the oldest communities attested to have lived on the territory of Romania.
Besides the irreversible damages, largely downplayed by RMGC in the documents describing the forthcoming operations, the mining project entails a series of other major risks. Foremost among them is the disruption of the ecological equilibrium through the potential contamination of the ecosystem with cyanides and heavy metals. In spite of the advanced technology, which the company claims it will use in order to store and neutralize the residues, scientific studies show that these operations do not fulfill the safety requirements established by the European Union Directives concerning the management of waste resulting from mining activities [3,8]. Furthermore, the company does not offer sufficient guarantees against accidental leaching and contamination. Consequently, public concern over these dangers is justified: in 2000, an accident at the Baia Mare gold mine led to the spill of 70 tons of cyanide-rich tailings into the Tisa River basin, causing a major environmental disaster and contaminating the drinking water system of 24 towns in Romania, Hungary and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia . By comparison, the decantation pond from Roşia Montană would be at least 10 times larger than the one from Baia Mare and would have a tremendous destructive potential . Moreover, there are similar situations in other parts of the world, where local officials are spending significant resources on the preservation of contaminated areas after the mining companies responsible for the contaminations declared bankruptcy and failed to fulfill their obligation to cover all related damages. The gold mining operation in Yellowknife, Canada is a case in point since the project ended in disaster when the soil was contaminated with various toxic compounds . In addition to these risks, there can be medium- and long-term negative effects on the health of the population within the larger region . By the time the mining operations are suspended, the cultural and tourism potential of Roşia Montană will have been extensively damaged and the development of this region will likely come to a halt.
Based on the aforementioned arguments and our discussions with Roşia Montană inhabitants, we consider that the risks of this mining operation by far outweigh the benefits and the project should not be authorized. Moreover, if this project is followed through the Romanian state will stand to lose a lot of resources in the long run. The damaging effects of this operation on the cultural heritage of the region (these effects are extensively described in the study conducted by the Romanian Academy ), as well as its negative impact on communities that strive to keep unique traditions alive, should persuade Romanian policy makers to take a mindful decision so that the cultural significance of this area is preserved and citizens who wish to continue to reside in their native region receive their much needed support. The population of Roşia Montană has witnessed a rapid process of impoverishment since the area was designated as a “mono-industrial” zone (subsequently, this decision was declared illegal) and all attempts at developing alternatives to mining have been obstructed. The local authorities need to assume responsibility for the current conditions and seek solutions to these problems. They can collaborate with tourism agencies and non-governmental organizations, which have designed and launched long-term strategies in order to support the development of agriculture and tourism based on local traditions [4,8].
Given the current circumstances, it is imperative to take a public stance on this serious issue in order to raise awareness among members of civil society, as well as among Romanian and European policy makers, about the potential harm of the mining operation at Roşia Montană. Romanians are currently exposed to an aggressive advertising campaign sponsored by the company, which is meant to influence public opinion on this mining project. Meanwhile, RMGC is about to obtain the authorization necessary for the construction of the waste basins . As these steps are being taken, the Parliament of the European Union is considering implementing legislation that would ban cyanide-based mining .
In conclusion, we believe that the involvement of governmental institutions and mass media in authorizing and promoting a project whose legality is highly questionable needs to be morally sanctioned by the civil society and in particular by the youth, who will have to bear the consequences of such unwise decisions. Roşia Montană is neither a hypothetical problem pertaining to the distant future nor a situation that we have inherited from previous generations. If we don’t act now, in 17 years’ time – when the gold-mining operation is completed – our generation will have to face an ecological disaster and will have to deal with the problems that arise in this economically deprived region. Let us not abandon our cultural heritage for the sake of short-lived benefits! Right now, before it is too late, it is within our power to express our solidarity with those who believe in a better future for Roşia Montană, one which is based on respect for the environment, traditions and local history.
Translation from Romanian by Cristina Albu (University of Pittsburgh).
Signatories: Romanian Student Associations at Princeton University, Carnegie Mellon University, MIT, University of Minnesota, University of Chicago, Rutgers University, Arizona State University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Harvard University, Stanford University, Caltech, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Yale University; League of Romanian Students Abroad (LSRS); Global Romanian Students and Young Professionals Society (GRSPS); “Ad Astra” Association of Romanian Scientists.
*** Full list of signatories ***