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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Covas do Barroso Sues State Over Lithium

Updated: Apr 23, 2022

David Archer, chief executive officer of Savannah Resources, which has a contract, recently contested, for one of the most advanced lithium extraction projects in Portugal.


As the May 10 deadline nears for public consultation on lithium mining exploration in Montalegre, another mining company in Portugal is embroiled in a lawsuit and a third updated its contract to become more transparent.

Since July 2015, Participa is the official portal where the public consultation processes run by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Action are made available. It states that it aims to encourage informed participation. (Please see instructions below).

Participa is an opportunity to speak out on the proposed Romano mine at the Portuguese-Spanish border. Lusorecursos Portugal Lithium S.A. is the proponent of this project.

The anticipated increased demand for electric cars has propelled lithium into the category of “white gold” as mining companies compete for extraction contracts around the world. The light metal is used in batteries for phones, laptops as well as electric cars.

Due to its large lithium deposits, Portugal is being touted as the key player in the European Union’s transition to green energy. Currently, the European Union is wholly dependent on imported battery-grade lithium in an increasingly competitive global market.

Meanwhile, there has been sustained opposition to lithium mining from citizen and environmental groups and municipal presidents, who argue that their livelihoods and heritage would be destroyed by this activity.

I live in the foothills of the Serra da Estrela, and I oppose lithium mining in Portugal.

Savannah Resources

The parish council of Covas do Barroso in the municipality of Boticas filed a lawsuit against the State over the exploitation of lithium in the Barroso mine in Tras-os-Montes, reported Lusa news agency in Jornal de Negocios (February 11).

After “years of struggle and realizing that something was not right in the authorization process” regarding the Barroso mine, the parish council of the district of Vila Real decided to take legal action, according to Jornal de Negocios.

The lawsuit was filed in the Administrative and Tax Court against the Portuguese State and the Ministry of Economy.

A local group, United Association in Defense of Covas do Barroso (AUDCB), had warned the mining company: “We will not let them pass,” according to Publico (May 22, 2021).

The mine is located in the parishes of Dornelas and Covas do Barroso. The planned concession area is 593 hectares.

Savannah Resources is the company promoting the mine, which is one of the most advanced lithium extraction projects in Portugal.

With the legal case, the parish council of Covas do Barroso intends to annul administrative actions, such as the addition of lithium to the mineral deposits to be explored in that territory, and the expansion of the planned area, which was carried out through an addendum to the pre-existing contract, reported Jornal de Negocios.

“This is a process that violates legal norms, granting the promoter rights in lithium that were never legally attributed to him,” maintained the parish council.

“The promoters insist on extending the scope of a concession to a mineral that was never at the origin of the concession, also expanding the areas, which violates the rights of third parties,” read a statement.

“Contacted by Lusa, the Ministry of Economy and Digital Transition (METD) said that on the first of this month (February), it was cited to contest the action brought by the parish council of Covas do Barroso.

“The plaintiff intends to challenge acts and contracts in which the Directorate-General for Energy and Geology (DGEG) took part, which took place in 2016. METD is mentioned in this process because the concession contract was, at the time, signed with the Ministry of Economy, which supervised the DGEG. As is known, the DGEG is now supervised by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Action, and the METD, therefore, does not have any intervention in the matter or any comment to make,” said the ministry according to Jornal de Negocios.

The company, Savannah Resources, said that it constituted itself as a counter-interest in the process through its subsidiary in Portugal, Savannah Lithium.

The parish council explained that in 2006 the State and Saibrais – Areias e Caulinos, S.A. signed a concession contract for the exploration of mineral deposits of feldspar and quartz for an area of 120 hectares under the name Mina do Barroso, having been “only approved” by the Environmental Impact Statement for those two minerals, according to Jornal de Negocios.

The parish council said that in 2016 an amendment to the 2006 concession contract was signed by the company and the State “maintaining the legal obligation inherent to the concessionaire and the obligation to carry out the exploration works in accordance with the Environmental Impact Statement” issued previously.

“Since prospecting and exploitation of the lithium mineral had not been approved in the contract dated May 12, 2006, the amendment to the contract could not include the allocation of any minerals other than feldspar and quartz,” explained the parish, stressing that it “could never have been awarded the concession of lithium mineral exploration”, reported Jornal de Negocios.

Furthermore, the parish council said that “there could not have been any change in the cadastre registration CC-DM-032 to C-100, nor have the planned area of 120 hectares been changed to an area that exceeds 500 hectares."

The parish council said that it is “facing a drastic change” in terms of mineral deposits and areas, and that “the impact of these changes is enormous”.

Like its population, the parish council had never heard about lithium prospecting. It pointed to the destruction of an ecosystem “perpetuated over centuries” and of a “priceless natural wealth” that has been recognized as a World Agricultural Heritage site, according to Jornal de Negocios.

Savannah Resources had signed a partnership agreement in May 2017 for prospecting and research in Barroso but became full owner of the mine in June 2019.

In the meantime, the company announced a decarbonization plan to implement in Barroso in the second quarter of 2022, reported Observador (March 7).

The decarbonization plan is in partnership with the Portuguese consultancy, Ecoprogresso, of Grupo Quadrante, accustomed to dealing with multiple aspects of environmental management, such as carbon management and strategies for mitigating and adapting to climate change.

“By initiating a decarbonization strategy at the Barroso lithium project in northern Portugal, Savannah Resources is taking another step to ensure that lithium supplied to the European value chain results in the production of zero-carbon lithium-ion batteries,” said Savannah Resources in a statement sent to the media.

According to Observador:

“After the public consultation of the Environmental Impact Study (EIA) regarding the expansion of the Barroso mine, which took place between April and July 2021, the final decision of the Environmental Impact Assessment should be announced shortly by the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA).

“If the decision is favorable, the company will be able to proceed with exploration.”

In the meantime, the multinational ABB (Asea Brown Boveri), based in Zurich, has signed a memorandum of understanding with Savannah Resources to participate in the Barroso lithium project.

“Under an early-stage agreement, ABB will apply its technical expertise to design production control, processing solutions for lithium concentrate production and integrated spodumene mining operations in line with Savannah’s goal of carbon-neutral operations by 2030,” said Savannah Resources in a statement according to Expresso (March 30).

Savannah Resources plans to work on binding agreements with ABB regarding electrification, automation and digital solutions, said the company according to Expresso.

On February 21, Savannah Resources announced the finalization of the process flowsheet to produce spodumene concentrate at the Barroso mine.

“Minsol Engineering, a leading metallurgical consultant, is satisfied that the flowsheet, which has been tested and refined over the past eight months is now finalized and ready to be adopted for detailed engineering studies as part of the project’s definitive feasibility study (DFS) and implementation,” said a Savannah Resources statement.

Portugal Fortescue

The company, formed from an Australian mining giant, updated its 2019 contract for lithium exploration in the three Bragança municipalities of Macedo de Cavaleiros, Mirandela and Vinhais on October 28, 2021, reported ECO (November 4, 2021).

The new rules imply more local participation, economic benefits for the people and environmental regulations, according to the Directorate-General for Energy and Geology (DGEG), reported ECO.

Two of the three municipal presidents were unaware of the contract changes.

The mayor of Vinhais, Luis Fernandes, a teacher of History and Portuguese, told the news agency, Lusa, that he did not know anything about this issue but added that he had received an email from the company requesting a meeting with the municipality.

The 59-year-old mayor of Macedo de Cavaleiros, Benjamim Rodrigues, a doctor with a specialty in orthopedics, also said that he had no idea about the legislative changes. He considered the 2019 contract to be only a study of existing mining resources.

The 48-year-old president of Mirandela, Julia Rodrigues, a licensed veterinarian, applauded the changes that required greater local participation.

“We always ask for the involvement of parishes and people and for clarification sessions to explain what they intend to do,” Julia Rodrigues told the news agency, Lusa, according to ECO.

ECO (November 4, 2021) reported:

“The president (of Mirandela) recalled that, two years ago, she was also surprised when the company started working on the ground and the population alerted and questioned the municipal council about the movement of machines and workers.

“She said that on that occasion, there were several local due diligence, but there were no further contacts with the company, which the president hopes will happen now.”

Portugal Fortescue signed a contract with the state in 2019 for prospecting and research of lithium, tin, tungsten, gold, silver, lead, zinc, copper and other associated metals and mineral deposits in the three municipalities of Bragança.

There are three parts of the new legal regulation:

1. “Fulfillment of the most demanding standards of environmental sustainability in the activity of extracting resources from the public domain of the State, while guaranteeing, at the same time, its maximum economic value for the benefit of the country;”

2. “The reinforcement of the availability of information and public participation, as well as the reinforcement of the intervention of municipalities, ensuring greater transparency of administrative procedures;”

3. “The fair distribution of the economic benefits of exploitation between the State, the municipalities of their location and their populations.”

The mineral ore contract maintains its initial purpose of prospecting and research in an area greater than 254 square kilometers for three years with the possibility of extending the term for another two years, reported ECO.

The company obtained the license by providing a financial guarantee of 13,000 euros which requires an investment of 356,000 euros in its three years of validity and a further 100,000 euros for each year of the extension.

During the term of the contract, the company must pay the Directorate-General for Energy and Geology an annual amount of 12,800 euros, and it retains the exploration rights if minerals with commercial potential are discovered on the land.

Another contractual obligation is to hire “Portuguese employees, namely the technical staff”, involve partners and the local community, start regional environmental studies and present estimates of existing mineral resources.

“The region of Tras-os-Montes is one of the richest in geological resources and in the district of Bragança, specifically, there are 16 contracts between the State and mining companies for the exploration or study of this potential.

“According to information provided by the DGEG, six of these contracts are for prospecting and research and 10 for the design of exploration in almost all of the municipalities in the district of Bragança.

“In the prospecting contracts, there are authorizations to search for lithium, gold, silver, tin, chromium, lead, cobalt, zinc, antimony and other metals in the municipalities of Macedo de Cavaleiros, Bragança, Vimioso, Mirandela, Vinhais, Vila Flor and Alfandega da Fe.

“The 10 exploration contracts are for quartz in Vinhais and Carrazeda de Ansiaes, iron in Torre de Moncorvo, and talc in Bragança, Vinhais and Macedo de Cavaleiros.

“In Macedo de Cavaleiros, five licenses have been granted for the exploration of talc, an activity of several decades of history in this area of the northeast Tras-os-Montes.”

Lusorecursos Portugal Lithium S.A.

Lusorecursos Portugal Lithium S.A. is the proponent of the proposed Romano mine at the Portuguese-Spanish border.

The project calls for mixed open-cast and underground mining as well as the construction of a hydrometallurgical plant for processing the ore. The expected lifespan of the lithium mining operation is 13 years, and the industrial facilities are expected to have a minimum lifespan of 20 years.

During the implementation phase, 100 jobs are expected to be created, while in the operational phase, 376 direct jobs are planned: 85 in the extraction process; 205 in the industrial process and 86 in other activities. The Environmental Impact Assessment added that there would be the creation of more indirect jobs.

How to Participate

Many local groups and an umbrella group, Movimento ContraMineraçao Beira Serra, have held informational meetings, demonstrations and collected signatures on petitions against lithium mining in the country.

For public participation in lithium mining exploration at the proposed Romano mine in Montalegre until May 10, register here. You can voice your opinion, follow the issue and receive updates, and/or share the information. Related documents also are available on the page.

First, you must register if you have not already done so. If you have, go to #8:

1. Click on Registo in the upper right-hand corner,

2. Click on Individual;

3. Fill in your name, email, password, confirmation of a password and, from a dropdown menu, your concelho (municipality);

4. Tick the Agreement with Conditions on the bottom left-hand corner;

5. Click Submeter (Submit) in the bottom right-hand corner;

6. You will receive an email;

7. Choose the issue that ends with Romano;

8. There are three mustard yellow boxes: Participiar (Participate), Seguir (Follow) and Partilhar (Share);

9. Click on the first and choose from a drop-down menu. Click on DISCORDANCIA if you object to the proposed mine and CONCORDANCIA if you support it.

10. You may add text;

11. Click on Submeter;

12. Done.

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