People-power sees Australian mining company pull out of lithium exploration in Alto Minho

The combined forces of three borough councils have put paid to plans by an Australian company to mine for lithium in ‘protected areas’ of the Peneda-Gerês national park.

Fortescue Metals Group has conceded that it has decided to revise the areas in which it seeks to mine and “alter a series of requests according to this analysis”.

The inference, between the lines, is that this is not an end to Fortescue’s focus on Portugal and the country’s lithium potential – and it may not be an end to lithium mining in the protected natural park, either.

Campaigners who joined up to fight the incursion have already scheduled an awareness walk for Sunday May 12 as a way of showing the continued antipathy towards any mining in the area.

Talking to Lusa, Ludovina Sousa said the walk will stand as a symbolic protest to give visibility to this people’s movement that, in her words, is “trying to stop the greatest threat ever to have overshadowed the Serras da Peneda and Soajo”.

The civic movement of which Sousa is an organiser has already amassed over 9,600 members and raised a petition signed by more than 9,300 people – the text of which warned that consequences of lithium exploration would be “devastating”, compromising public health, the natural environment and cultural heritage.

Conservation group Quercus has hailed Fortescue’s withdrawal for this bid, saying the way in which fossil fuels are being substituted by lithium ion batteries is “unsustainable and does not correspond to the urgent need for the planet to face the serious climatic alterations ahead as well as the issues of loss of existing biodiversity”.

Quercus warns that Fortescue still has a number of other active lithium mining requests, which it will be ‘closely monitoring’.

And this is the point where texts conclude that only last month, economy minister Pedro Siza Vieira announced that the government means to launch eight new lithium exploration contracts in Portugal by the end of the year.

Says Lusa, Siza Vieira “guaranteed that these operations would not compromise the health of populations or the environment”.

“World demand for lithium – used in the production of (electric) car batteries and plates used in the manufacture of household appliances – is increasing, and Portugal is recognized as one of the countries with sufficient reserves for economically viable commercial exploitation” concludes the news agency.

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