Letter to the investors of Tunsgtène du Narbonnais Company

The European Water Movement co-signed the following letter.

Stop Mines 81
La Métairie Haute
81260 Fontrieu - France
stopmines81 (at) laposte.net

Fontrieu, 8 June 2020

To the investors of Tunsgtène du Narbonnais Company

Copy to President, Prime Minister, Minister of economy and finance, Minister for ecological and solidarity transition, of the French Republic; Tungstène de Narbonnais Company

Dear Sirs,

You have expressed a wish to invest in the Tungstène du Narbonnais Company by applying to the French government for a prospective licence (« la Fabrié ») in august 2018, aiming to exploit local tunsgten ore.

The mining industry and its repercussions are well-known here. The mines that have been operating here in the past have led to a series of scandals due to their effects on the environment and on the health of the local residents : Saint-Salvy (zinc), Montroc (fluorine), Salsigne (gold).

Thus a wide array of local and national groups have ranked up as soon as the project was made public.

Mining operations are first and foremost detrimental to one vital resource : water.

The galleries need dewatering, then water is used in huge quantities for ore treatment and thus implies monitoring heavily-polluted tailings and other residues. Historical mines are turned local rivers into lifeless gutters around Saint-Salvy while others around Montroc require massive investment in order to contain post-mine pollutions.

Tungstène du Narbonnais’s project is therefore unacceptable due to the presence of precious water resources. There are three streams surging locally among which one flows across the Pessols wetland into the Agoût, which is a NATURA 2000 labelled valley. Our springs, be them privatedly owned or communal, are strongly protected. What is more, many on-site and nearby wetlands are under growing public scrutiny due to their hydraulic, physical, biogeochemical, ecological and, of course, economic functions.

Mining operations have proven detrimental to natural hydrological functions leading to the loss of drinking water resources.

Mining operations imply monitoring huge amounts of waste rock and tailings which need to be stored in dams. We are aware of the risk of several mine drainage and dam failure/leakage. The impacts locally would be so destructive that such a project cannot be considered.

What would they be ?

The prospective license is located in a biodiversity hotspot which contains more than 500 animal and vegetal species. Among these, 113 are protected at world, national, regional and local institutional levels. 17 species are labelled as endangered among which a rare specie of freshwater mollusc. Mining prospection and operation thus implies a unthinkable risk for these vulnerable species. What is more, the Agoût Valley is directly threatened with water pollution which would have dire repercussions on at least 30 species, half of which are officially protected. 

What other impacts ?

Prospection, mining and post-mine pollutions endanger our fields and agricultural lands, hence the historical fabric of our local economy which rests more and more on organic farming. As elsewhere, French agricultural lands are heavily threatened by soil destruction and urbanization and the prospect of their further degradation is not acceptable. Many famers around Fontrieu rely on direct-to-consumer selling networks and benefit from the commercial aura of our well-preserved region. Their various productions (meat, cheese, flour, vegetables, honey…) are perfectly sustainable. Among these,beekeeping particularly relies on the current excellent quality of habitats and ecosystems. The prospection area contains important bee populations, considered as « environmental watchdogs » and a large number of beekeepers are working locally. Ecosystems degradation is therefore incompatible with their activity.

And we are well aware that heaps of minewaste remain poisonous centuries after mine-closure, since generations of inhabitants in the Orbiel Valley have endured this terrible legacy.

Mining the area implies the liberation of an uncontrolable and fatal poison : asbetos. This mineral is present in the geological layers and the ledges that you intend to drill, as shown by the academic data on local geology (Jean-Luc Séverac (1982) Etude géologique, minéralogique et géochimique des minéralisations en tungstène de Fumade (Tarn) Thèse de doctorat de 3e cycle, Université Paul Sabatier Toulouse ; Dominique Couilloud (1988) Etude pétrographique, minéralogique et géochimique des skarns à tungstène de Fumade (Tarn), Thèse de doctorat en métallogénie, Université Paul Sabatier, Toulouse). The type of asbetos found locally is called tremolite, belonging to the amphibole family and is undoubtedly carcinogenic and mutagenic, thus extremely hazardous to both the miners and the local population. At the safety level you will have to meet the stringent requirements prescribed by French law which prohibits the exploiting, transforming and selling of asbestos. Considering the quantities of waste produced which will need to be stored on site, we will have to deal with a major pollution in the long run, as our long mining legacy has taught us in the region, particularly in Salsigne and the Orbiel Valley which have been contaminated for over 30 years.

Prospecting and mining here also means operating in a fully hostile environment : more than 80 % of the parties affected by your project will say NO and will do everything in their power to stop this operation. 

The local population will not be lured by the prospect of jobs and prosperity offered by the mine, which have always vanished once the operations have ceased. We are demanding and creating longlasting and sustainable jobs of a very different kind here.

A mine here would dramatically upset the widely acclaimed quality of life which we enjoy in our mountains and would ruin the natural landscape which attracts tourists locally. A number of B&B are operating near and around the prospected site. The holiday-makers who come here are attracted by the peaceful natural environment, the beauty of the lanscape and its rich biodiversity. Therefore a mine site and a processing plant are incompatible with rural tourism. This is a vital resource for our local economy, and will we look after it. 

Times are changing. What used to seem eternal has now become fragile. We will soon be confronted with climate change, drought and desertification of the regional plains of Southern France. Our mountains act as their natural water tower.

More generally, society is more and more aware of the links between consumer’s society and the mining industry, and our organization is active in shedding light upon these connexions. Extractivism, as it is put forward by our government or practiced elsewhere in the world, must cease. Climate change leaves us no choice and extractivism is no solution but part of the problem. We cannot accept the destruction and degradation of natural assets that we are really borrowing our children and grand-children.

This is why our struggle is starting here and now and we are asking you to cancel your project. It will never materialize. Save your money. As you may have noticed during your visit here, we already have everything we need. We are already investing considerable time and money into fighting your project, supported by many organisations and institutions. We are pledging to oppose it step by step by every means necessary, including legal proceedings and lawsuits.

Rest assured, investors, of our unwavering will.

Signed by :

Association Stop Mines 81, ADDEVA 81 (local organisation defending the victims of asbetos), APIFERA (association for the knowledge and preservation of nature), ARVIEE (organisation on the use of energy), Association Des Terres Minées 3 , Ban Asbestos France, CALELH (association for the environment and the quality of life), Confederation paysanne du Tarn (farmers trade-union), Association Eau Secours 34, European Water Movement, Gratte- Papiers (investigation and data analysis on mining), Association Henri Pézerat (national organisation on health and safety on the workplace), Association Nature et Patrimoine Centre Bretagne, Nostra Montanha (organisation for the preservation of rural lands), Association Attention Mines !, collectif Douar DiDoull, collectif Vigil'Oust, collectif Or de Question !, Rouez Environnement, Union Protection Nature Environnement (federation ol local environmental organisations, FNE81), Stop Mines 23, Stop Mines Salau, Mr José Bové (European deputy from 2009 to 2019)