Gold mine reopens in northern Thailand to the dismay of residents

Picture courtesy of Reuters.

A gold mine has reopened in northern Thailand shocking locals who say the mine had poisoned their livestock, produce, and themselves.

According to the Straits Times, the Chatree complex in Pichit province was closed more than six years ago due to health and environmental concerns. Now, despite legal disputes and protests by villagers, the controversial gold mine is back in operation.

In 2016, the open-cut mine was ordered to halt operations due to its suspected negative effects on the environment. Its owner, an Australian company Kingsgate Consolidated, then launched a lawsuit seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for its closing.

However, after negotiations, the government agreed to reopen the mind in 2022. A Thai subsidiary, Akara Resources, operates the mine, which is Thailand’s most prominent.

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Akara Resources mining manager, Rob Kinnaird, says the reopening of the mine would boost the area’s economy, but nothing was said about the previous environmental and livestock concerns.

“It means we can expand and employ more people. There are more opportunities to help the local communities by investing in their livelihoods as well.”

Kinnaird says the mine currently employs 280 workers, but that number could more than double in the coming years. The reopening of the mine coincided with the rising price of gold to US$2,000 an ounce for the first time in a year.

But, the price and payoff of reopening the mine may not be worth it to locals. Around a decade ago, locals became alarmed when mass blood testing found some residents had elevated levels of heavy metals, including manganese, arsenic, and cyanide.

The company, however, denied the increased levels were produced by the mine, saying arsenic and manganese occurred naturally in the area. But, Thailand’s Industry Minister shuttered the mine for the “benefit of society.”

The Minister said that there was not a conclusive link between the mine and villagers’ health issues. But, concerns continue over the noise of the mine blasts and dust, which can cause respiratory illnesses.

Kinnaird responded to the concerns by saying that the company would monitor the noise and the effects on villagers’ health.

Nattavud Pimpa, a Thai academic, characterised the mine’s closing as a “lesson in failed community management.”

He went on to say that it seems the company had “learnt to engage deeply with the community.” His comments come as Akara’s general manager of sustainability, Cherdsak Utha-aroon, noted that some royalties from the mine would be donated to a support fund and health-monitoring programme.

Chatree has produced more than 1.8 million ounces of gold and 9 million ounces of silver between the years 2001 and 2017. It has employed around 1,000 locals in the past, with many expressing relief that the company will be reopened.

Despite the potential health consequences, former employees say they were shattered when the mine closed as they had no other means of earning an income.

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Ann Carter

Ann Carter is an award-winning journalist from the United States with over 12 years experience in print and broadcast news. Her work has been featured in America, China and Thailand as she has worked internationally at major news stations as a writer and producer. Carter graduated from the Walter Williams Missouri School of Journalism in the USA.

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