border review | 19 April 2012

Copper, Gold, and Water

Josh Tapper (The Star) reports on the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mines in Mongolia. Oyu Tolgoi, he writes,

is expected to balloon the Central Asian country’s GDP — an estimated $13.28 billion in 2011 — by more than 30 per cent when it starts full production later this year.

But the economic boon is also, for some, an environmental nightmare as the project will allegedly soak up valuable water resources in the already-arid Gobi. While reports vary, the mine plans to use up to 920 litres of water per second.

This is the Gobi Desert and water is scarce. Yet, Rio Tinto – the majority owner of Ivanhoe who has a 66% stake in the mines – says that there is nothing to worry about. The water used will be taken from a non-replenishable groundwater source, which would only be depleted by 20% over the course of 40 years.

This would create surplus reserves for the local population, a company spokesperson said. The company contends that by using Gunii Hooloi, it will not have to deplete limited surface water reserves used by herders.

Things in Mongolia happen at such a mind-blowing speed that making sense of such claims is very difficult. For sure, this is an issue to keep an eye on.