One of the many images coming out of protests to Savannah Resources' plan for an open pit mine in Covas do Barroso. Facebook / Unidos em Defesa de Covas do Barroso
One of the many images coming out of protests to Savannah Resources' plan for an open pit mine in Covas do Barroso. Facebook / Unidos em Defesa de Covas do Barroso

Lithium wars: Residents call to reject Savannah Resources revised mine plans

PM has been promoting “largest lithium deposits in Europe”

The conundrum of a government intent on mining lithium, and communities dead against it continues this week with the association united in defence of Covas do Barroso (UDCB) calling today on Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) to reject the reformulated project for the proposed Barroso lithium mine, in Boticas, which obtained “a record” 912 submissions in its recent public consultation.

Public consultation of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the Barroso mine, proposed by British-based Savannah Resources for Boticas, in the district of Vila Real, ended yesterday, with the record number of submissions pouring in over the ‘participa’ online platform.

In the first procedure for this long-proposed open-pit mine, in 2021, saw only 166 comments submitted.

Says UDCB, the changes “are clearly insufficient to silence the protests of the local population, specialists and protectors of the environment and biodiversity”, and it is “unacceptable” that reformulation of the project “has been allowed” in view of all the “inevitable impacts”.

Savannah first submitted an EIA for the Barroso mine in June 2020. Two years later, the project got a thumbs down from APA’s assessment committee, leading to it being re-submitted.

As Lusa news agency explains, the British company has already said it expects the project to get the go-ahead this time, and obtain its environmental licence in 2024.

Locals have cited, and continue to cite, “the significant negative impacts” mining will have on the landscape, way of life, water quality and fauna (particularly “the threat the project represents for the Iberian wolf”).

UDCB has been in touch with ‘experts’, such as Steven Emerman, international consultant on environmental impacts of mining projects, who was “alarmed by the lack of safety precautions in a project that has ideal scenarios to be successful” and warned that the “installation of tailings storage near rivers, as the company plans, is not considered good practice, and is even prohibited in some jurisdictions, such as China”.

Emerman also said that the United Nations Environment Rapporteur, David Boyd, considered that the project “clearly violates the right to a healthy and sustainable environment”.

The Ecologist Party “Os Verdes” (“The Greens”) are also staunchly behind the “no” to lithium exploration in Covas do Barroso, considering reformulation of the project “should never have happened and lacks legitimacy”.

The Greens have warned of “the environmental destruction this mining project will bring to the Barroso region” putting themselves “on the side of local people“, who, they argue, “deserved greater transparency” in a process that has been dragging on for years.

For the minority party (as for local people), “there are no minimising or compensatory measures that can mitigate the impacts that the mine will have on an area of excellence in environmental terms“, highlighting the “loss of biodiversity and destruction of the landscape”, the “unprotection of protected species, particularly the Iberian wolf” and the “disastrous consequences for the health of the local population“.

The Barroso mine is estimated to have a life span of 17 years. The planned concession area is 593 hectares.

Savannah Resources CEO Dale Ferguson meantime has pledged that: “Savannah is committed to developing the Barroso lithium project in a responsible manner that minimises impact on the natural environment so that the environmental benefits of lithium are maximised. We are also committed to creating socio-economic benefits that can be shared both locally and nationally.”

As for the potential economic benefits of the project, Savannah highlights the “215 direct long-term jobs and more than 2,000 indirect and induced jobs in the operational phase”, the creation “of a foundation with a budget of €500,000 per year available to support community projects and initiatives” and the “increase in the gross value of national production by €420 million during the investment phase (construction) and by €210 million per year during the operation phase”.

Source material: Lusa