Youth Demonstrating at Yayaso
Photo: Ghana Chronicle
Wikileaks recently released a new batch of cables that expose Denver-based Newmont Mining’s negligence before and after a cyanide spill at their Ahafo gold mine on October 8 2009. The cables reveal that Government of Ghana went as far as to accuse Newmont of an attempted cover up, and criticize the company for a series of “blunders” following the spill.
What does this mean for Newmont, which is looking to push through another major mine in Ghana?
The cable from the Accra Embassy highlights Newmont’s understated response to the initial spill. Newmont had initially insisted that no contamination had spread from the spill site. However, the breadth of the contamination was grossly underestimated. Cyanide was found in local water sources where families washed, and hundreds of fish were found dead, floating in contaminated water.
The cable lays out Newmont’s problematic response to the spill as follows:
- Mine managers took 24 hours to notify Newmont’s management in Accra, and it took Newmont over 2 days to notify the Ghanaian authorities;
- Newmont choose to use an “inherently unsafe” overflow “event pond” that violated standard international mining practices;
- There was little to no monitoring of the water level of the processing pond into which the cyanide spilled, and an electronic sensor failed to signal when the pond overflowed;
- Newmont failed to contain or trace the spill once the cyanide solution escaped from the processing pond and into neighboring properties and bodies of water.
Ultimately, Newmont paid $5 million in compensation to the Government of Ghana for the cyanide spill in January of 2010. These cables come to light at a time that Newmont is pushing another gold mine in Ghana, the Akyem mine, amidst allegations of forced displacement and digging up of sacred burial grounds, which Newmont vehemently denies.
What lessons has Newmont – and Ghana – learned from the experience leading up to and following the cyanide spill at Ahafo? How can communities near Ahafo and Akyem trust that Newmont will not repeat this pattern of negligence? Newmont is one of the largest gold miners in the world and has a responsibility to learn from its mistakes at Ahafo, and to do better.
At a time when gold is trading at record prices, Newmont has the opportunity to lead in the transformation of the mining industry: with safe environmental standards, fair labor practices, strong community engagement, and prior and informed consent from those communities. Newmont can, and must, choose this path for its operations in Ghana, and around the world.