HÀ TĨNH – The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has raised concerns over the controversial Thạch Khê Iron Ore Mine in central Hà Tĩnh Province, saying the mine should not restart operations due to environmental risks.
Hoàng Văn Thức, deputy head of the ministry’s Việt Nam Environment Administration said the ministry shared the concerns of the provincial authority. Last month, Hà Tĩnh Province proposed shutting down the mine to protect the environment instead of temporarily halting operations.
The ministry has sent a proposal to the Government to stop the mine, he said.
The Thạch Khê Iron Ore Mine, the largest of its kind in Southeast Asia, covers a large area in six coastal communes in Thạch Hà District. It has an estimated volume of 544 million tonnes of iron ore reserves.
The mine is invested by Thạch Khê Iron Joint Stock Company. The project was approved for the first time in 2007 with capital of more than VNĐ9.9 trillion (US$437 million). By 2013, the project was adjusted with capital of over VNĐ14.5 trillion ($639 million).
Operation of the mine was suspended in 2011 to deal with problems during the implementation process, including restructuring the enterprise and investment capital, completing the design and solving site clearance.
In the period between 2008 and 2011, the investor exploited 3,000 tonnes of ore at a depth of 34m.
Thức said the ministry had approved the environmental impact assessment of the project in 2008 and the adjusted version when the project resumed operations in 2013 after a period of suspension.
By the end of 2017, the ministry co-operated with relevant ministries and sectors to re-examine the risks of environmental pollution as per the Government’s requirement.
After revising the overall documents, the ministry found that the design of the project was only eligible to reach a maximum depth of 145m underground instead of 550m as designed.
As a result, the ministry suggested the mine halt operations due to safety concerns, he said.
Thức also said that the project should be replaced in case it was evaluated to be ineffective and have a negative impact on the environment.
Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc has assigned the Ministry of Planning and Investment to collect opinions from relevant ministries and Hà Tĩnh Province and report to the Government’s Party Committee for solutions.
In December, authorities in Hà Tĩnh Province proposed shutting down the iron ore mine. This was the fourth time the authority has raised concerns over the project.
Đỗ Khoa Văn, director of the provincial Department of Science and Technology said the possibility of environmental catastrophes such as polluted sea water and earthquakes caused by the ore mine was quite high.
After the completion of mining, the mine pit would be renovated into a large reservoir with a capacity of up to hundreds of millions of cubic metres. This would put pressure on the shore and mine pit, triggering earthquakes in this area.
In addition, untreated waste water, which was discharged directly into Thạch Hải Beach, would cause environmental issues.
The project has not yet evaluated the impact on degrading fresh water sources in the aquaculture and fishing areas in Thiên Cầm, Thạch Bằng and Thạch Hà and landslides in neighbouring districts, he said.
In September 2018, the Ministry of Planning and Investment said it shared the same viewpoint, saying the mine should be closed. – VNS