Viet Nam News
HÀ NỘI — The central province of Hà Tĩnh’s Department of Science and Technology (DoST) proposed shutting down Thạch Khê iron mine – the largest of its kind in Southeast Asia – to protect the environment.
The proposal was issued at a conference on assessing the situation and efficiency of the mine, held by the Việt Nam Mining Coalition and the Việt Nam Union of Geological Sciences in Hà Nội on Friday.
According to Director of Hà Tĩnh’s DoST Đỗ Khoa Văn the mine covers a large area in six coastal communes in Thạch Hà District. It is estimated to have 544 million tonnes of iron ore reserves.
In 2007, in order to meet the demand of domestic steel mills, the Government decided to begin mining activities at the site. The investor was Thạch Khê Iron Joint Stock Company, including nine shareholders with chartered capital of VNĐ2.4 trillion (US$102.7 million), of which the Vietnam National Coal and Mineral Industries Group (Vinacomin or TKV) was the main shareholder.
The project was estimated to cost VNĐ1.59 trillion, which included the cost of relocating 3,000 households.
In 2009, the company began testing open-cast coal mining, but stopped in 2011 when the Government decided to suspend mining operations at the site. Văn said the decision was a temporary measure by the Prime Minister to deal with problems in the implementation process. The suspension was intended to allow time to restructure the enterprise and investment capital, complete the design and solve site clearance issues.
In a document issued on November 16, 2017, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) said that after ten years of implementation, the project had problems related to technology, safety and the environment.
MoNRE said it was necessary to solve these problems in a thorough, scientific manner. This would involve the stabilisation of mine banks to prevent landslides and finding solutions for mine drainage and salinity.
“The view of Hà Tĩnh Province is that we should stop the project to protect the environment, rather than changing the environment for economic development at all costs,” said Văn. “We must consider the benefits, aspirations and justifiable interests of people in the project site.”
Deputy general secretary of the Việt Nam Union of Science and Technology Associations (VUSTA) Lê Công Lương said the legal basis for re-starting the project was not yet complete amidst emerging new environmental protection requirements.
“The project’s economic efficiency is low when we have to invest so much to protect the environment, prevent landslides and ensure drainage,” Lương said. “The use of resources is not high and there is not yet a feasible plan to consume products.”
If technological solutions are not feasible, natural disasters or complex geological problems will cause landslides, flooding the mines and leading to financial losses. At the same time, the project will greatly affect the road infrastructure and local port. Lương said the investors had not found a satisfactory method of transporting iron without the risk of pollution.
VUSTA proposed continuing the project if the investors would solve environmental and technological problems as well as ensure its social-economic efficiency.
“If the problems were solved, it would be necessary to develop the project area into a township tied to coastal tourism like Cửa Lò in the neighbouring province of Nghệ An,” said Lương.
Phạm Quang Tú, a representative from Oxfam Việt Nam, said the mine still drew mixed opinions from ministries, agencies and Hà Tĩnh Province in terms of its economic efficiency, environmental concerns and social impact.
“The Prime Minister assigned the relevant ministries and the People’s Committee of the province to re-evaluate the project in the first quarter of this year; however, the participants have not been able to reach an agreement,” said Tú. — VNS