Update: Amulsar Gold Mining Project Sees Additional Construction

Screenshot from drone photo of recent construction at the Amulsar Project’s HLF (source)

In August, Bellingcat published an article about Lydian International’s plans to start a large-scale gold mining operation at the Amulsar mountain in Armenia. For the first piece, we chose to focus mainly on satellite imagery and show how Lydian’s construction of its heap leaching facility (HLF) has progressed just south of the village of Gndevaz. Heap leaching is the process by which precious metals are extracted from rock by leaching solvents, in this case cyanide. As we described in our previous article on the Amulsar project:

Cyanide heap-leaching, or gold cyanidation, is not a rare process, as it is used in the vast majority of gold mining and production operations. However, there have been disastrous consequences on the ecosystems of several countries after accidents. One such example took place in January 2000 in Romania, when the byproducts of gold mining (which included cyanide) spread throughout nearby farmland and rivers, including into the Danube, causing what the BBC called the “worst environmental disaster since the Chernobyl nuclear leak.” However, we do not have to look back almost seventeen years to see the potential consequences of using cyanide heap-leaching in the gold production process, as “more than a million liters of cyanide solution entered nearby rivers” after an accident took place at the Veladero gold mine in Argentina in September 2015. Environmentalists in Armenia fear that Lake Sevan and nearby reservoirs could suffer a similar fate if an accident were to occur.

Because of the danger of this process, it is vital that the construction and use of the Amulsar HLF facility is closely observed.

Satellite Imagery of Recent HLF Construction

Above, in satellite images provided by Planet, we can observe recent construction of the cyanide heap leaching facility (HLF) from August 1 until September 27, 2017. We can highlight the specific portions of the facility that have been changed by referencing a map published by Lydian International of the planned construction of the HLF.

Planned construction at the HLF, from Lydian documents (click to view full-size)
Key to Lydian’s map laying out planned construction at the HLF (click to see full-size)

One of the most visible is the Northwest Diversion Channel (C-3). The March 2017 technical report on the project published by Lydian specifies that this channel, along with others set to be constructed, are meant to “divert storm and snowmelt runoff from upstream catchments away from the pad and collection ponds.” (page 256). While the report provides few additional details on the site’s runoff channels, Lydian’s water management plan for the Amulsar Project can be found on pages 274-278 in the technical report.

There has also been progress made in the construction offices in the south part of the image (PL-6A) — we can see this in both the satellite image and media released by Lydian themselves. A drone video recently shared on Lydian’s YouTube channel shows the southern portion of the HLF construction site, including the “Construction Offices” (PL-6A) that are labelled as “Office Complex” in the clip.

©2017 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0

In the meantime, the construction of the HLF and other industrial facilities in the area are still in an early stage, with only makeshift buildings and warehouses erected thus far. We will continue to monitor the HLF site for future construction.