Academic steps in to help examine impacts of huge Udon Thani project but doubts remain
THE HEARTS of so many locals in Udon Thani’s Prachaksinlapakhom district are heavy because of the pending project to launch mining operations in their hometown area.
They are seriously worried about possible pollution and adverse impacts on their health.
“To tell the truth, I don’t believe in the environmental impact assessment [EIA],” Manee Boonrawd said, speaking as a leader of a movement opposing the potash-mining plan.
She said Asia Pacific Potash Corp (APPC), which was taken over by Italian Thai Development in 2006, claimed its EIA had won approval in 2000, but some academics later told locals that many parts of the said EIA violated the principles of such impact assessments.
“So, I think that even if the EIA process is completed, problems will arise,” said Manee, who is now in her late 60s.
She has already been fighting against the project to start the potash-mining operation in her hometown for about 14 years.
Inspired by Manee, locals in Prachaksinlapakhom’s Tambon Huai Sam Phad and Tambon Na Muang have joined forces in expressing a firm stance against potash mining.
Due to their strong opposition, a consulting firm hired by APPC has to date been unable to arrange serious meetings with locals in the area – known as “Prachakhom” – which is required by law.
Such meetings have already taken place in nearby tambons that the potash-mining project will also cover.
The project, if given the green light, will cover 26,446 rai (4,230 hectares) of land in Udon Thani province. Requiring a budget of more than Bt30 billion, the project will have a maximum capacity of 2 million tonnes of potash a year.
APPC is confident that increasingly advanced technology and well-prepared measures mean the mining operations will benefit both the local economy and the national economy without posing any significant threat.
Manee remains sceptical, however, because she is well aware that some pieces of information can be withheld. She said she also could not read seven English-language books that the company had given to her.
“During the past 14 years, I’ve seen a lot,” she said.
She added that some people had advised her to watch out, as her activities against such a big project might turn her into a target for attack.
“I’m not afraid of death. I am just worried that if I stop fighting against this potash-mining project, I won’t be able to die with peace of mind,” she explained.
According to her, APPC has tried to offer Bt1,000 in compensation for every rai damaged by its mining operations, if any.
“I won’t accept that,” Manee said.
Late last month, senior local officials, representatives of local residents and APPC, military officers and police convened a meeting in a bid to address conflicts or concerns arising out of the mining project.
So far, however, the company and the locals seem to have different ideas on what they agreed to do. For example, while locals’ representatives believe APPC will not carry out any activity related to the “Prachakhom” until a well-rounded academic forum takes place for all stakeholders to express their opinions on the mining operations, the firm insists otherwise.
“The firm recently told me that it has not agreed to any such thing,” said Somporn Phengkham of Chulalongkorn University’s Social Research Institute.
She has been working with locals in closely examining the project. From her examination, she has noticed that APPC does not provide clear assurances as to how it will |really deal with mullock, a waste rock by-product from the planned |operations.
“We are worried about the development of related industries,” she said.
Somporn added that APPC had initially said its mining operations might cause land to subside by between just 70 centimetres.
Major subsidence expected
“But now it says the subsidence may be to the tune of 40 centimetres,” she complained.
She also pointed out that while APPC had promised to provide insurance for locals, it planned to submit insurance certificates to the Primary Industries and Mines Department and it would be the duty of locals to prove any damages if they wanted to claim financial compensation.
“Who will pay for expenses related to the proving process?” she said.
Somporn insisted APPC should clearly identify the measures it would use to prevent any adverse impacts on local people from the mining operations.
“What will it do if their health is endangered?” she said.
In her view, locals should get well-rounded information on the project, and not just information on how good the project would be.
Santipap Siriwattanapibula from Udon Thani Rajabhat University said APPC must explain clearly how the potash-mining project would be worth all the risks.