Portugal’s first lithium mine gets environmental approval

Anti-mining campaigners brace for ‘more coming down line’

The Barroso lithium mine, proposed for the borough of Boticas, in the district of Vila Real, has finally won the favourable environmental impact statement it needs to move forwards. 

In spite of fierce local (and specialist) opposition, Portuguese environment agency APA has issued its conditional approval, which includes a ban on water abstraction from the nearby River Covas, construction of a new access road to the A24 motorway, and the allocation of royalties to the local municipality.

For UK-based company Savannah Resources this is the moment the company has been working relentlessly for, for many years.

It is also the first time that a lithium project in Portugal has been given environmental approval.

Savannah’s CEO Dale Ferguson has told Lusa: “As is natural in these type of approvals, the DIA (environmental impact statement) foresees compliance with a set of conditions, measures and compensations (…) these conditions guarantee that the project will be developed responsibly and that the socio-economic benefits will be shared with all stakeholders”

Mr Ferguson dubbed APA’s positive decision “an extremely important step, not only for the development of the Barroso lithium project, but also for the lithium raw materials industry in Portugal“.

The various conditions “reflect the plans and commitments that the company has already made in its submissions to APA, as well as the community engagement programme and decarbonisation objectives,” he said.

Thus, next steps involve “the main economic studies of the project, including the publication of an updated scoping study, early in the second half of 2023 and reworking the Definitive Feasibility Study“.

The company submitted its first bid for favourable environmental approval in June 2020, getting a thumbs-down two years later. Under Article 16 of the legal regime for Environmental Impact Assessments , the project was then reformulated and resubmitted for consideration.

Explain reports, the Barroso mine is estimated to stay in action for 17 years. The concession area foreseen is 593 hectares and has been hotly contested by local associations, environmentalists and even the local borough council.

For these anti-campaigners, today is a very dark day. More so for what it means about future lithium mine projects. As investors have been remarking over Twitter, for example, “We know they know Northvolt well and GALP… Am sure Northvolt and GALP may well be first in line for supply deals (…)  there are many new players that will be interested in such close supply chains – excited to see how this plays out… Proximity to Sines port is key, and there are lots of planned projects around”, runs the buzz.

This in spite of expert warnings that lithium “is not the answer”.

For now, social media groups are commiserating with each other, and considering what next in the way of action to try and preserve what in this case is classified as ‘world agricultural heritage’ landscape, and should, in the minds of local people, be left intact.

APA, for its part, justified its decision saying that the “use of lithium, when carried out under environmentally and socially responsible conditions, has the potential to generate an economic opportunity in the territories where the mineral deposits are located, as well as to promote the associated industrial cluster, enhancing energy transition, creating jobs and national added value.”

The environmental agency added, “given the potential occurrence of this mineral in our territory, it is important to ensure conditions for the exploitation of this resource of public domain, ensuring the necessary safeguarding of environmental requirements.”

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