Friday, October 28, 2011

Gold and Heritage

The El Puente archaeological site, one of Honduras' few archaeological parks open to the public, now has a foreign owned mine site located within a half kilometer.

Not that there's any press coverage. We learned about the new mine from the public statements of residents of small towns around the archaeological park who feel their environment is threatened by the development.

They write:
Considering: That in the areas around our communities there have been discovered deposits of iron and other metals that they wish to exploit without the consent of nearby towns.....

Worldwide supplies of iron ore are tight, with the biggest demand for ore coming from China. Over the last five years, iron ore prices have increased from around $31/metric ton to $177/metric ton. So iron ore might motivate international exploitation.

However, the logistics of the supply chain would argue that it is going to be uneconomical to develop iron ore deposits in Honduras for the foreseeable future.

Gold is another possibility. Gold prices have increased from $550/troy ounce to $1770/troy ounce over the last five years, making exploitation of mines potentially more profitable.

Most mines in this part of Honduras tend to be open pit gold mines, with open cyanide leach fields. They use explosives to blast the rock, then crush that rock, mound it in the leach fields, and cover it with cyanide to extract the gold.

Gold mines in Honduras don't have a good record of containing the cyanide. The San Andres mine, just beyond Santa Rosa in the Department of Copan, suffered a massive cyanide spill into the Lara river, a tributary of the Higuito river which forms the main water supply for Santa Rosa de Copan. 18,000 fish and everything in that stretch of the river was killed when the cyanide spilled.

El Puente opened to the public on January 20, 1994 and has a visitor's center and administrative offices in addition to nine restored buildings built between the 6th through 9th centuries A.D.

Open pit mines with their regular use of explosives and vast amounts of dust that they produce, are not something you would want near to a restored archaeological site like El Puente; at least, not if you want it to remain standing and attractive to tourists, which, after all, is why the park was developed.

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