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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Portugal: Savannah Lithium Mine Gets OK, But Opponents Say People, Nature Not for Sale

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

Boticas (Photo by Expresso)


A municipal president in Vila Real District reacted with “sadness and worry” and many residents with fury to the approval of the Savannah Lithium’s Environmental Impact Assessment, albeit subject to conditions.

Savannah is the first lithium mining firm to reach this stage in the environmental approval process of Portugal. Within nine to 12 months, it expects to submit the Execution Project Environmental Compliance Report (RECAPE) to the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA), according to the company’s statement.

Fernando Queiroga, the president of Boticas, said that the lithium mine “would jeopardize the investment of Boticas which is based on agriculture, livestock and tourism”, reported Expresso (May 31).

The municipality is not ‘for sale’,” said President Fernando Queiroga.

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 phones and laptops.

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.

United in Defense of Barroso (UDCB) said in a statement that it “vehemently repudiates” the May 31 decision, which it considers “a disrespect for environmental, human and socio-political rights” and promised that it will continue “to defend nature and protect populations from the threat of open-pit mines,” according to Expresso.

The organization pointed out that the Savannah Lithium 16-year project calls for the construction of “four open-pit mines in an area of almost 600 hectares . . . very close to the villages of Covas do Barroso, Romainho and Muro, enshrined as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).”

Dale Ferguson, Chief Executive Officer of Savannah, said in a statement:

“We are delighted that APA has issued a positive DIA (Environmental Impact Declaration) for the Barroso Lithium Project. This is an extremely important step forward, not only in the development of the project, but also in the development of the lithium raw material industry in Portugal.

“Given Savannah’s commitment to responsible practices, minimizing impact and sharing socioeconomic benefits, the company has agreed to the conditions associated with the DIA. These conditions include obtaining conditional approval to construct the proposed bypass road to join to the A24 motorway and limiting the removal of vegetation from the project area to certain months of the year.

“Others, such as not taking water from the Covas River and backfilling or partially backfilling and re-landscaping the mining areas once ore extraction has ceased, mirror plans and commitments the company has already made in its submissions to APA, our community engagement program and decarbonization targets.”

The 313-page Opinion of the Assessment Committee specifies three conditions, 43 elements, 18 measures of compensation and 180 measures of minimization to be included in Savannah’s Execution Project Environmental Compliance Report (RECAPE).

The conditions are stated as follows:

1. The project cannot affect, directly or indirectly, registered real estate or that which is in the process of undergoing registration;

2. Prohibition of taking water from the Covas River, and

3. Deforestation must be done outside of the bird nesting season (which occurs between February and August), as well as the wolf’s breeding season (which occurs between May and October).

The evaluation committee consisted of the Portuguese Environment Agency; Institute of the Conservation of Nature and Forests; Directorate-General for Cultural Heritage; National Laboratory of Energy and Geology; Commission for Coordination and Regional Development of the North; General Directorate of Energy and Geology; Northern Regional Health Administration; Faculty of Engineering of the University of Porto, and the Center for Applied Ecology “Prof. Baeta Neves” (CEABN), Higher Institute of Agronomy/Center for Applied Ecology, University of Lisbon.

The Barroso mine would be located in Boticas Municipality in the parishes of Covas do Barroso, Dornelas, and Vilar e Viveiro, but it also would cross the parishes of Canedo and Santa Marinha in Ribeira de Pena Municipality, according to Participa, the portal for the populace to voice its opinions.

In June 2020, Savannah submitted an EIA for the proposed mine. Two years later, the project received an unfavorable decision from the APA evaluation committee. It was revised and resubmitted in March.

The Public Consultation Report showed a total of 916 participants, most of whom opposed the project. The respondents included 894 of whom were private citizens and residents. Other participants included central bodies such as Turismo de Portugal, local administrations such as Comunidade Local dos Baldios de Covas do Barroso; one political party - Partida Ecologista “Os Verdes”; one company - IBERDROLA Generacion; non-governmental organizations such as ZERO – Associaçao Sistema Terrestre Sustentavel; regional organizations such as Associaçao Montalegre com Vida, and one university - CRIA-ISCTE (Center for Research in Anthropology).

In Savannah’s Environmental Impact Assessment of 2020, the firm proposed an expansion of the concession of 542 to 593 hectares. The project would last an estimated 16 years, including construction and decommissioning.

Savannah was incorporated in 2010. Having assumed an initial 75 percent interest in the Barroso mine in May 2017, it subsequently became the mine’s sole owner and expanded the project, according to the company’s website.

Savannah calculated that nearly 200,000 tons per annum of spodumene (hard rock lithium-bearing mineral) concentrate can be extracted from the mine for about 15 years, according to Euronews (April 24, 2021). It says that it can produce enough lithium for 500,000 electric cars a year, according to the Financial Times (May 31).

Savannah Lithium is a subsidiary of Savannah Resources, which is listed on the Alternate Investment Market (AIM) in the London Stock Exchange’s international market for smaller firms, reported (May 13, 2021).

On May 31, Savannah Resources climbed 31.97 percent to 4.85 pounds per share on the FTSE, its highest value since late May 2022, after announcement of the lithium mine’s conditional approval, reported Negocios. By late morning, it was up 21.09 percent to 4.45 pounds.

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