The national security of Armenia is under threat: sulphuric acid, being formed in Amulsar, will be extremely dangerous. SOS

“The gold mine will become a huge sulfuric acid generating generator, once the covered layers are removed” – Dr. Armen Saghatelyan


Public concerns and alarms on the exploitation of Amulsar gold mine quartzite are intensifying. There are serious concerns in the professional circles. Lydia Armenia has already begun to work on the Amulsar gold mine in Vayots Dzor province and plans to get the first consignment of gold in spring next year.

It is surprising that representatives of Lydian Armenia have repeatedly refuted the fact that the mine is sulphide and the possibility of producing acid drainage, but at the same time has ordered an acid drainage management plan, which clearly states that drainage of acidic rocks can occur. In this case, gold and profits of profits can be destructive for Armenia, for nature it will definitely be devastating. In addition to the mentioned company and some officials, the Armenian Ambassador to Great Britain, former Prime Minister Armen Sargsyan and Moscow-based billionaire Ruben Vardanyan will also be responsible for the mentioned development of the events in case of non-exploitation of the mine development, which is also behind the financing of the Amulsar Gold Project :

Armen Saghatelyan, Doctor of Geological Sciences, Director of the Center for Ecological-Noosphere Research at the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia also has some concerns regarding the exploitation of the Amulsar mine. In connection with the hazards arising from the implementation of the Amulsar Gold Project (mine, plant operation, etc.), our interview below is with Dr. Armen Saghatelyan, Director of the Center for Ecological-Noosphere Studies at the RA National Academy of Sciences.

- What are the main dangers in the implementation of Amulsar gold project?

– It is obvious that during the exploitation of any mine there are many risks, because anthropogenic activity violates the natural balance. In relation to the mines, we have two types of risks: physico-technical, where there may be landscape sustainability violations, collapses, can be damaged in aquifers, etc. (a large number) and chemicals in which the environment is the natural content of the elements and the balance. The latter is more dangerous because it is more difficult to examine, more complicated, and the fight against it is also complicated. These risks include two types of risks: managed and unmanaged.

If we know that something is wrong, we can actually neutralize this risk by technical means. They are managed risks. There are risks for neutralizing, but technical means are ineffective and do not work. Obviously, these risks are the most dangerous.

- In the case of Amulsar deposit exploitation, there will be uncontrolled risks.

– Yes, acid drainage caused by oxidation of various sulphides is an uncontrolled risk. Amoulsar is a sulfide class mine where different metals are available as sulfur compounds. There are iron, copper, and other metals in metals (natural chemical compounds). At sulphide mines, including Amulsar, all natural compounds are metal and sulfur compounds. Sulfur compounds with pyrite (iron-sulfur-oxygen), chalcopyrite (iron-copper-sulfur-oxygen) and other metals.

Sulphidic mines are also known to contain gold in very small quantities. It appears as a microchannel in sulfuric minerals. Under natural factors (atmospheric precipitation, oxygen intrusion …), these minerals are beginning to oxidize and produce different so-called secondary minerals. Since the content of iron sulfide compounds in those mines is quite high, oxidized compounds of iron in different forms, in folklore, rarity (limitation of scientific terminology) arise. This rust has the ability to accumulate the tiny gold contained in the ore that accumulates in itself, creating dozens of gold, and even hundreds of times in even greater places than the concentration of gold in the undeveloped mine. In other words, in the rusted mines, unlike the unchanged, there may be high gold content in some parts.

In Amulsar, the upper horizons are strongly modified, and there are, according to researchers, high gold content. However, they cannot be in the lower horizons. It should be taken into account that the contents are very inadequate because they are the result of the secondary process and appropriate conditions are needed for accumulation. The content of gold can be somewhere high, but not 10 meters or too little, that is, not evenly distributed.

- Let’s talk about iron sulphide problem, there is an estimate of the amount of iron sulphide in Amulsar.

– I have not met such calculations in company documents. Learn more. I have not even come up with calculations how roughly how many tonnes or liters of sulfuric acid will come from subsequent oxidation of the mine, the amount of sulfuric water will already occur after human influences.

- How are sulfur waters coming from such mines?

– A simple chemical reaction occurs when water joins with these sulphide minerals, with sulfuric acid. There are formulas (elementary chemistry) that any sulphide sodium can enter into the interaction with water, resulting in one or more sulfuric acid – H2SO4.

- There is an idea about what kind of density it will generate in Amulsar.

– We can make calculations, but I have not seen those calculations in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) submitted by the company.

- How does the water get there?

– At Amulsar mine, the problem is, first of all, that the rocks are very cracked, the second is that the mine will be exploited openly, that is, a huge hole (“career”) that will play a funnel and atmospheric precipitation, and Surface flows, and ground waters, all of them will fill in the manger, which will drill all the water down to the depth. In essence, a flow of water, which includes sulfur and turning into sulfur dioxide of different concentrations, will be mixed with underground waters.

- These underground waters are connected to the Vorotan and Arpa rivers, where these rivers are fed.

– Of course, underground waters have access to the surface, which occurs in the deepest places of the relief, which are the gorges. If you pay attention, most of the springs are in the valley where they go out and mix with surface water that comes from snow and rain. The first problem here is that there are no mechanisms to regulate the underground flow of these acidic waters, as it is a very complex technical issue. Secondly, the EIA report does not address any issues as regulating the acid drainage. I believe that this risk is an uncontrolled risk.

- What will be the result of acid drainage and the risk of not controlling this risk?

– First, many freshwater sources will turn into acidic water and, depending on the amount of acidity, they may no longer be suitable for irrigation, as well as for people and livestock.

Secondly. These sources will increase the acidity of the main rivers, Arpa and Vorotan, which will affect the ecological system of those rivers, and serious changes will take place. It should also be taken into consideration that everything in the nature is interconnected, the acidity of the water will change, the amount of salts solved in that water will be changed, acid water will be able to solve more salts and metals in it, that is, that water will also be poisonous and unfit for irrigation.

If the water becomes poisonous, the irrigated agricultural products will not become toxic as well.

– This is exactly what this acid drainage is dangerous not only because it has high acidity, but also because of the high acidity it solves metals in the form of free ions, including toxic elements such as lead, arsenic , chrome and so on. The higher the water acidity, the more elements will be solved in the water, and much more will be solved than in ordinary water. I would also like to mention that the area of ​​our land irrigated by Arpa and Vorotan rivers is quite large, and it should also be noted that the vineyards used for our well-known wines are irrigated with Arpa’s water.

- What did “Lydian Armenia” respond to in the press after your publication?

– He noted that there are no sulphides at all, the sulphides that are completely oxidized are 100% oxidized mines where no acid can form. However, in the EIA report they have written, there is a lake known as “Benik lake” on the surface, which is also sour, even until the mine exploitation.

Learn more. If we judge the English version of the EIA report, oxidation processes are continuing in the mine site. A foreign company, which has prepared this EIA report, has noted that there is acid drainage, as a number of sources do not correspond to the quality of drinking water, they are sour, that is, the process is described.

In addition to what I have already mentioned, in the English version of the EIA report, Erato section describes sulphates in deep horizons. Note that sulphates themselves are soluble in water (moreover, easier than sulphides), which causes sulfuric acid faster than sulphides.

It should be noted that while sulfur compounds in Amulsar mine are substantially oxidized, rust is caused by different so called secondary minerals, but they are a catalyst. There are many scientific studies in which iron oxides themselves, in turn, become catalysts and oxidize the sulphides that are not oxidized more quickly. As there are sulphides there and the rocks in the mine are also sulphidized, a faster oxidation process and sulfuric acid production will start.

Let me emphasize that these phenomena partly take place now, that is, when the mine is still isolated from external influences. Partly because of the fact that there is a clay layer on the surface, there is a layer of soil, there is no water, which does not allow much water to penetrate into the mine. Once they opened, the layers were removed, and several meters deep, the Amulsar mine would become a huge pickle generator, and it would probably not be possible to stop it. Let’s also note that this acid generator is not only one or ten years old, it will produce sulfuric acid, not only during mine exploitation, it will generate that dangerous sulfur, production of sulfuric acid may last for hundreds of years.

- What fate is expected in this case in the Spandaryan-Kechut tunnel?

– The tunnel will collapse. Part of the polluted groundwater will have direct contact with the Spandaryan-Kechut underground tunnel designed to transport Spandaryan’s water to Kechut reservoir and then to Lake Sevan. That tunnel is a reinforced concrete structure which, of course, will not endure the corrosive effects of that acidic water over time, and we will have emergency situations there.

By the way, however, if the mining operation does not cease, then it should be a state commission that will evaluate the condition of the Kechut-Spandarian tunnel, so it will find out what the situation is until the opening of the mine and the problem of acid drainage so that we can see what’s going on and compare. Otherwise, Lydia Armenia may say tomorrow that they are not guilty, and the tunnel has been in a miserable state until the start of their respective work.

In fact, this important and crucial task of documenting the current technical state of the tunnel is not fulfilled, it is not clearly documented in any document today.

The company has touched upon the possible impact of acid drainage on the tunnel in the English version of the EIA report, which is not an official document in Armenia, and in the Armenian version an attempt was made to maximize the issue, as they say, stucco and bypass. There is no word “acid drainage” at all, the problem is that an acid solution will emerge in the mine as a result of the water reaction with sulphide ore and sulfonated rocks. This issue is related not to the mine but to the rocks that will be removed from the mine. There are quite a few pyrites in them, namely iron sulphide. In this regard, it is written that such dangerous waters can be formed and how to collect these waters. Well, it is possible to collect water there, there is a technical solution, that is, it is a manageable risk. Another thing is whether they will collect it or not. However, the emergence of acid drainage at the mine, that is, the fact that the mine itself will become a huge generator of acidic waters and there is no uncontrolled risk. The acid drainage in the original mine is not manageable.

- After the Spandaryan-Kechut tunnel decay, these waters containing sulfuric acid will flow to Lake Sevan …

– These waters will still go to Kechut, which is destroyed by this or that scale, and if after that they try to move the Kechut reservoir water to Lake Sevan, then there will go sour water, which will probably ruin the Arpa-Sevan tunnel over time. That is to say, the problem of collecting additional fresh water of strategic importance in Lake Sevan, which should be a priority for Armenia, should not be forfeited in the initial stage of the Amoulsar mine development project. We will leave our heirs a very serious problem – a very sadistic heritage. Let’s leave a huge acid-generating generator that will produce sulfuric acid-containing water, which, in its greater amount, than the conventional water, solves the heavy metals, lime and groundwater, land areas, fruits and vegetables and fruits and vegetables, People fed by them.

- And the mentioned reservoirs, Arpa and Vorotan rivers, Lake Sevan will be able to live in such poisonous or polluted environment.

– I do not know, but before the opening of the mine it is necessary to carry out very serious researches, very clear calculations, which are quite labor-intensive and costly, which should be done, but not done.

- Do you have preliminary calculations or ideas as to how many thousand cubic meters of acid water will be generated annually?

– We cannot calculate, as it requires a lot of information that is not available in the company’s documents. It can be assumed that as a result of atmospheric precipitation there will be about 40,000 cubic meters of water, ground and industrial waters are not included there. It must also be taken into account that in case of an impact, the hydrogeological conditions may change, there can be an additional inflow.

- As the Director of the Ecological-Noosphere Research Center at the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, who have you officially informed about this?

– I have not officially informed that as our center is a state institution and as a state institution, we have not received an assignment, an order or at least a questionnaire for the project. With regard to other issues, mines, such as the Sotk mine, we have received such instructions from the government and reported on the results to the government. In this case, although there is a large risk, adequate and alternative research and evaluation has not been carried out.

- In this interview, you have informed the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia, his advisor on nature protection, the chairman of the expert committee of the Lake Sevan, about the dangers and the expected damages in your interview.

– And by what mechanism would I inform them informally?

- During private conversations.

– I did not have private conversations with them. Can I say that I have been informed by mass media? We work openly, and any non-governmental organization, the media that appeals to us, tries to answer their questions, raise their voices, but if the government does not appeal, what can I say?

- In the Scientific and Technical Council adjunct to the Minister of Nature Protection of the Republic of Armenia you presented the problems you mentioned very little before.

– Yes, I’ve been present there by Minister Artsvik Minasyan several months ago, and the minister was present too.

- How did the Scientific and Technical Council react to your report?

– A decision was made to transfer the raised issues to Lydian Armenia, mentioning that there are such questions as acid drainage, sulphidation, etc., and expecting an exhaustive response from the company. The company replied or not, or what the answers gave, I do not know.

- We talked about the emergence of acid drainage, its danger, expected losses, but acid drainage is the only danger in the case of exploitation of Amulsar gold mine, or is there any other risks and dangers?

– There are risks to be managed, except for acid drainage, uncontrolled risk may also be the seismic situation as I am not sure they are correctly calculating the amount of seismic hazard. However, in this respect you should talk to seismic experts. There is a somewhat sophisticated space, and may be different seismic points.

- What can you say about the spread of powder containing heavy and toxic metals in the course of mine exploitation, the bulk of it will actually be within the range of up to 1 kilometer, as presented in the EIA report?

– In my opinion, all the resolutions and calculations they have submitted are in serious need of revision and review, as there is some dishonesty in that whole process.

- In case of exploitation of Amulsar gold mine, “Jermuk” mineral water can have negative impact, whose sources are not far from the mine.

– I cannot answer this question unambiguously, different specialists approach the issue in different ways, express different positions. There are geologists who say there is a direct connection, mine exploitation can harm the entire melt regime, and “Jermuk” mineral water sources will be damaged, but Lydian Armenia insists that their calculations will not be absolutely harmless : I think that the possible damage cannot be ruled out.

- In other words, the planned explosions and the drilling of the “Jermuk” mineral composition cannot change.

– The point is that explosions can lead to some resonance phenomena. The geological structure itself is very complicated and can be layers that can shake and vibrate with resonance and bring it far enough, up to the point where the sources of Jermuk mineral water are far from Amulsar, about 10 Miles away. This danger cannot be ruled out, and in order to be sure whether there will be any impact, harm or not, serious research by other engineers is needed. According to Lydian Armenia, the Amulsar mine site is a completely separate geological block, which is not linked to the Jermuk mineral water, but it is not so, no geologist will not accept it.

- If the tremors are resuscitated in Jermuk, then the mineral water sources may be lost.

– Yes. Water regime can also be violated. It is very difficult to predict any effects on these complicated water-soluble systems. Let’s remember what happened to the Artesian Basin of Ararat Valley, which caused so much damage. It’s a big question how it will be restored and what will happen. The consequences can be supposed, but they are not predictable. In this regard, one has to approach the problem in the following way: if there is a danger, then we should not do it, but rather say what we will do and then we will see what will happen. Because there is a chronic irresponsibility in our country, they think that we will do tomorrow, who will remember what we have done, for example, in the mining industry so far who has responded to something serious?

The interview is made by Arthur Hovhannisyan
Translation by Ashot Gareginyan




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