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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Portugal Extends Lithium Mine Consultation to July 24

Updated: Jul 5, 2023


(From Lusorecursos website)

 

Amidst the sustained controversy over lithium mining in Portugal, the revised plan of Lusorecursos for exploration in Montalegre, Vila Real District, is available for public consultation until July 24, an extension of 10 working days.


The president of the Board of Directors of the Portuguese Environment Agency extended the consultation from 14 calendar days to July 10, according to Participa. It is not the first time that the environment agency has extended the consultation period for lithium mining proposals.


In another development, nine community organizations and Lusorecursos Portugal Lithium terminated a protocol recently after strong criticism from the local level, according to press releases on July 4, reported Eco (July 4).


The Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) said in February that Lusorecursos had up to six months to reformulate elements of its €650 million project with an expected 13-year mining operation and a 20-year minimum lifespan of industrial facilities. The environment agency gave a favorable condition on the open pit and underground exploration project.


However, it rejected the location of the refinery due to the presence of Iberian wolves, an endangered species in Portugal, and its violation of the Municipal Master Plan (PDM) of Montalegre (due to ecological and tourism safeguards).


According to Lusorecursos' Concession for Exploration of Mineral Deposits of Lithium and Associated Minerals -- "Roman" Environmental Impact Study Submission of Additional Minimizing Measures or Environmental Compensation (June 2023):


“Regarding the location of the Mining Annex Complex (CAM), and with regard to the

Alternative A, the opinion concluded that this location was incompatible with the PDM of

Montalegre, with regard to urban rules of a non-environmental nature. For the

nature of the limitations identified, it is not legally possible to propose measures of

additional measures of minimization or environmental compensation.


“With regard to Alternative B for locating the CAM, the opinion concluded that the only

negative impact consisted in the existence of the pack of Leiranco Iberian wolf pack, whose conservation of the family group would be called into question without the possibility of effective measures of minimization. Given the environmental nature of these limitations, it is legally possible to propose "additional measures of minimization or environmental compensation".


The company’s proposed measures include “the recovery of degraded areas in the surroundings close to the pack’s distribution area”, “multidisciplinary monitoring, not only of the species, but also of its habitat and dependent biophysical components”, and monitoring of the effectiveness of the measures.


Lusorecursos’ revised proposal pointed out that “the analysis of ICNF (Instituto da Conservaçao da Natureza e das Florestas) admits, however, in its sectorial opinion, that ‘given the expected activity for the CAM (24-hour work, associated with the movement of heavy vehicles during part of the night period), it is considered that any of the alternatives proposed for the location of the CAM would have significant impacts on the Iberian wolf’, although it considers that the impact of Alternative B would be of greater magnitude due to its greater proximity to its breeding center.”


Protocol Cancelled


According to Movimento Nao as Minas, it was in the revised proposal that the protocol between Lusorecursos and nine entities became known to the wider public, reported Eco.


In a statement, the group expressed its “perplexity regarding the signing and consequent untying of the protocol,” which read that entities “representative of the local communities express clear and unequivocal support for the realization of the exploration project of the Romano lithium mine in Montalegre, recognizing its importance for the sustainable development of the region and will demonstrate this support publicly”.


The document elicited strong criticism at the local level. On July 4, the nine signatories denounced it in a statement released through social media networks:


“After listening to the local communities and associates, we found that the protocol does not meet the expectations of the local groups as well as the basic principles of the signatory entities.”


The signatories of the protocol with Lusorecursos on June 16 were Associaçao Amigos de Misarela; Associaçao do Campo (Cervos); Associaçao de Desenvolvimento de Tourem; the Baldios Association of Peneda-Geres National Park; the Pitoes Development Association; Vezeira-Fafiao Development Association; the Cervos Baldios Directive Council; the Cabril Baldios Directive Council, and the Parish Council of Cabril.


How Much Lithium, Money


Lusorecursos claimed that as much as 30 million tons of lithium petalite, which is lithium aluminum silicate not processed into lithium hydroxide, could be extracted from the site, reported Politico (April 22, 2021).


The London Metal Exchange, an HKEX (Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing) company, reported weekly prices in U.S. dollars per kilogram (907.18 kilograms in 1 ton) of lithium hydroxide: 63.50 (March 30, 2022); 60.50 (February 24, 2022); 56.75 (February 17, 2022), and 46.75 (February 10, 2022).


Lusorecursos’ proposal said that “the industrial process has an estimated value of 205 jobs, which constitute more than twice the number of jobs associated with the extraction/mine (85).


“Although it is desirable to create jobs with the local population, the specificity of some of the jobs, which require skilled labor, and also the absence of any labor available in a region with an aging population and a reduced percentage of active population, presupposes the recruitment of a workforce outside the municipality of Montalegre.”

The mining firm’s reformulated proposal emphasized:


“One of the main objectives of Lusorecursos Portugal Lithium, S.A. is to create wealth and value

in Portugal through the implementation and development of an industrial process verticalized, which begins with the mining activity, passes through the production of concentrate of lithium and ends with the installation of a refinery for the production of lithium hydroxide, as well as obtaining a product with added value, highly demanded worldwide and with growing demand for the coming decades.”


The Environmental Impact Assessment for Lusorecursos’ project began in September 2020. It was rejected outright.


In April 2021, the Minister of Environment and Climate, Joao Pedro Matos Fernandes, accused “the promoter of a lack of professionalism given the technical shortcomings of the EIA presented. He said that it would be doubtful for the project to go ahead,” reported Politico (April 22, 2021).


“The mining project would have destroyed the landscape and made farming impossible here,” said Armando Pinto, coordinator of Montalegre com Vida, the community group that spearheaded opposition to the project.


The region’s traditional integrated farming economy earned it recognition as an FAO Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System. Barroso Agro-Sylvo-Pastoral System integrates a part of Peneda Geres National Park.


The public consultation of the second Environmental Impact Assessment ended on May 10, 2022. It garnered 511 participants and 561 people following the issue on the Participa portal. According to Lusa news agency, the outcome was one of the largest participations on the online portal regarding mining projects.


The 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 also is used in batteries for telephones and laptop computers.


On May 31, Savannah Lithium was the first lithium mining firm to receive approval of its Environmental Impact Assessment in Portugal, albeit with conditions. It is also located in Vila Real District. Within nine to 12 months, it expects to submit the Execution Project Environmental Compliance Report (RECAPE) to the Portuguese Environment Agency, according to a company statement.


What seems like a simple and elegant solution for technology is fraught with hazards for traditional livelihoods and the health of people as well as the preservation of flora and fauna.


I live in the foothills of the Serra da Estrela which, until February 2022, also had been considered for lithium exploration. I oppose lithium mining in Portugal.







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