Location of the proposed Mina do Barroso (From Savannah Resources website)
Aside from legal and ecological concerns, the Public Prosecutor’s Office disclosed a surprising admission of a lithium mining firm: destination of its product could be China, which would not help to reduce external dependence of the European Union’s lithium supply, reported Lusa news agency in Correio da Manhã.
Making the European Union less dependent on imported lithium has been the main argument for mining in Portugal. The firm, Savannah Resources, features website pages with headings, Supplying European Lithium for Europe’s energy transition and Lithium Battery initiatives in Europe. According to the company's website:
"Savannah is making strong progress in engaging with the European Union's Lithium Value Chain Initiatives, such as the European Battery Alliance, including its industrial development program EBA250 and EIT (European Institute of Innovation and Technology) RawMaterials to position Mina do Barroso within the wider European lithium industry," said David Archer, CEO of Savannah Resources.
(Archer stepped down in July 2022 after the Portuguese Environment Agency delayed its decision on the proposed mine and ordered the company to revise its environmental assessment plan within six months.)
The majority of the world’s lithium is mined in Australia and South America, and more than 97 percent of it is refined in China, reported Inside Climate News (November 7, 2021).
Public Ministry Seeks to Annul Lithium Mine Permit
The Public Prosecutor’s Office (MP) called for the annulment of Savannah’s environmental report for a proposed lithium mine in the country’s only United Nations Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System. The Portuguese Environment Agency defended its conditional approval but said that it would analyze the Public Ministry’s opinion.
Savannah Lithium’s Environmental Impact Declaration (DIA) “suffers from the defect of violating the law” and “should be annulled”, the Public Ministry (MP) said in a document released by the Municipality of Boticas, in Vila Real District, on February 8, reported Lusa news agency in Correio da Manhã (February 8).
The Public Ministry responded to a legal action brought by the Parish Council of Covas do Barroso, in Boticas Municipality, in September 2023, against the Portuguese Environment Agency and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Action, reported Expresso (February 8).
Portuguese Environment Agency Defends Itself
The Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) responded on its website on February 9:
“The environmental impact assessment (EIA) procedure was carried out in accordance with the legal terms of the respective legal regime. . . A multidisciplinary Assessment Committee was appointed which, despite being coordinated by APA as the competent EIA authority, included eight other entities and several specialists, with competence and vast experience in the technical matters that are now referred to by the Public Prosecutor’s Office. . . .
“Without prejudice, this Agency is analyzing the aforementioned opinion and, in due course, will decide whether it is justified, under due procedural terms, to present a response to it.”
Savannah “Ready to Respond”
Savannah Resources noted on its website on February 9 that it “will make further announcements regarding the lawsuit as appropriate”. Savannah Lithium is a subsidiary of Savannah Resources.
In a written response sent to Lusa and reported in Expresso (February 8), Savannah said:
“The MP’s opinion, which was made public today through the Portuguese press, is part of the ongoing judicial process. Savannah recognizes this development, which is part of the normal
judicial process, and is ready to respond to the MP’s concerns within the scope of the ongoing legal process at the first opportunity.”
Municipality President of Boticas
Fernando Queiroga, president of the Municipality of Boticas, said that the Public Ministry’s conclusions “give even more strength to the fight against lithium exploration” and “demonstrate that the population’s arguments against the mine are completely legitimate”, reported Lusa news agency in Correio da Manhã.
Two Lithium Firms
Amid sustained local, national and international pressure to reject two mining projects in the northern province of Tras-os-Montes, the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) approved conditionally the Lusorecursos Portugal Lithium plan for the Romano mine in September 2023 and the Savannah Lithium proposal for the Barroso mine in May 2023. The Barroso mine would be located less than 15 kilometers from the Romano mine.
Savannah was the first lithium mining firm to achieve environmental approval in Portugal. It expected to submit the Execution Project Environmental Compliance Report (RECAPE) to the Portuguese Environment Agency within nine to 12 months after its September 2023 Environmental Impact Declaration (DIA) approval.
Savannah’s Environmental Impact Assessment proposed an expansion of the concession of 542 to 593 hectares. It would last an estimated 16 years, including construction and decommissioning.
Savannah’s annual production would provide enough spodumene (hard rock) lithium concentrate for an estimated 500,000 vehicle battery packs, according to the company’s website.
“There are many inconsistencies and many illegalities in this process,” said Fernando Queiroga, president of the Municipality of Boticas, agreeing that the Portuguese Environment Agency should annul the project, reported Lusa news agency in Correio da Manhã.
PM Cites Concerns
The Public Prosecutor’s Office cited a list of its concerns with Savannah’s Environmental Impact Declaration, including the proposed mine’s potential deleterious effect on the UN designation; the cumulative effect of Savannah’s proposed project with the nearby Lusorecursos’ proposed mine; danger to the endangered and protected Iberian wolf, and the management of mining waste.
In its document, the Public Prosecutor’s Office highlighted that expansion of mining activity would risk the degrading of the United Nations’ distinction of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System. The area is the country’s only such recognized site: in the world, there are only 60 of these resilient and biodiverse landscapes, sustainably managed through traditional knowledge of the community.
Degradation could result in declassification, which violates the international commitments that the national government has made to the FAO to protect, support and increase the quality of life in the region.
The Public Prosecutor's Office also said Savannah's Environmental Impact Declaration does not consider the cumulative and real effect of its project along with that of the nearby Lusorecursos Portugal Lithium's proposed Romano mine in Montalegre Municipality, Vila Real District. Lusorecursos project is a 13-year mining operation with a 20-year minimum lifespan of industrial facilities. Lithium mining is planned for 637.5 hectares of which 29.7 hectares would be open pit. The concession is 825.4 hectares.
Regarding the Iberian wolf, the Public Mnitry pointed out that the planned minimization measures "lack demonstration of effectiveness". The Iberian wolf gained endangered status from Portugal in 1990. It is the only species of Portuguese fauna that has specific legislation protecting it.
The Public Ministry's document stated that Savannah's Environmental Impact Declaration violates current legislation, which does not allow the disclosure and exploitation of mineral resources in the territory of the FAO's Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System. The firm's environmental declaration also conflicts with the objectives of community financing of the FAO program and financial support of the Common Agricultural Policy (PAC) of the European Union and the PAC Strategic Plan 2023-2027 (PEPAC) for Portugal.
Savannah's Environmental Impact Declaration does not assess correctly the management of mining waste, according to the Public Ministry. It does not define the risk of vulnerability to accidents and catastrophes of six planned dams nor the contamination of the Covas River and groundwater.
Savannah's project was presented as an expansion, but the Public Ministry understands that it is "a set of new sub-projects, which were not analyzed in the DIA, and whose effect, intensity and complexity go far beyond the area to be expanded".
Prime Minister António Costa's Resignation
In November 2023, nine associations and movements had demanded the immediate cancellation of all lithium mining projects in Portugal, whether they were in the, prospecting, evaluation or exploration stage, according to Lusa and reported in Correio da Manhã (November 8, 2023).
The collective's reaction followed the resignation of Prime Minister António Costa who took this action after it was confirmed that his government was being investigated for corruption linked to lithium mining proposals in the north as well as a hydrogen plant and data center in Sines in the south, reported Expresso (November 9, 2023).
In a televised speech to the country, Prime Minister Costa said that the position of head of government is not compatible with any suspicion of his integrity, but that he leaves the office witrh a clear conscience.
Where I Stand
The increased demand for electric cars has propelled lithium into the category of "white gold" as mining companies compete for exploration and extraction contracts around the world. The light metal also is used for batteries in phones and laptop computers.
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.
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.
ean Union less dependent on imported lithium has been the main argument for mining in Portugal. Supplying European Lithium for Eu energy transition and Lithium Battery initiatives in Europe are headings on website ages of Savannah Resources.