Civic movement demands end of public consultation process for lithium exploration in Serra d’Arga

Civic movement SOS Serra d’Arga is demanding an end to the public consultation process opened over lithium mining planned for the hillsides due to changes in the law designed to protect protected areas. 

These law changes came in as a result of pressure from across the political spectrum (both left wingers and PSD centre right) . 

As the movement explains, they include “changes that meet the needs of the population, namely with the exclusion of areas that are part of the national network of protected areas, areas included in the Natura 2000 network and areas classified under an instrument of international law as either Biosphere Reserves, Ramsar sites (inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List) and important World Agricultural Heritage sites”.

The final version of the law contains “a reinforcement of the hearing and participation of municipalities and parishes, with the obligation to carry out at least one public clarification session in each municipality and parish covered”, yet this consultation and hearing of parishes was not allowed for in the text of the original decree-law”.

Whether SOS Serra d’Arga will be successful remains to be seen, but their initiative comes as one of the greatest authorities on lithium reserves in Portugal, university professor Carlos Leal Gomes told a debate in Viana do Castelo which ran into the early hours of this morning there is seriously “not enough” lithium in Serra d’Arga to interest large investors

Mr Leal’s actual words were: “Large companies will have no interest in this situation. Small prospecting companies may appear, which have no vocation for mining but which may be hoping to benefit from project transactions…”

This is not the ideal, he stressed, reinforcing the idea that extracting lithium from the Serra will be “a lot of work” for little gain.

The meeting also heard from Mário Machado Leite, of the national laboratory of energy and geology, who explained where this process is ‘going wrong’.

“When the (government’s) lithium group says there are eight areas in the country where lithium exists, the whole country believed we were going to have nine lithium mines, or more. This is not possible. If we have one mine, we will probably be successful…”

The issue is that the lithium that exists in Portugal “is in hard minerals, and needs to be diluted to enter the manufacturing process of lithium compounds that are used in batteries” (for electric vehicles, among many other things).

Exploration of lithium from hard minerals “is four to five times more expensive, for each unit of lithium produced, than lithium from brine”, he explained. “Portugal does not have any brine. The large brine reserves exist in South America and in Australia”.

In Machado Leite’s expert opinion, Serra d’Arga is not a good prospect in terms of “worldwide competition” for the extraction and production of lithium.

SOS Serra d’Arga and many other citizens groups that have sprung up to try and protect their territories from explosive excavation will be praying that this level of expert opinion spares hundreds of hectares of Portugal’s irreplaceable natural heritage.

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