Using Google Earth to Monitor Mining in Tibet 3: Example of Gyama

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mining is one of the biggest topics of concern today. In the past, China could not exploit Tibet's rich mineral resources on a large scale due to lack of technology, capital and transportation facilities. Mining in Tibet was simply too expensive for China. China also lacked the political confidence to open Tibet to Western mining companies. Today, however, things have changed. With a railway line connecting the heart of Tibet, Lhasa, with the major Chinese cities all the way to Beijing, transportation of materials is cheap and easy. China has also become a global economic power and its confidence in dealing with overt Tibetan opposition is at a high. Today it is actively seeking collaboration with, or rather more accurately, it is seeking investment from Western companies to extract Tibet's gold, copper and other precious minerals. China now wants to voraciously exploit the mineral resources of Tibet and other areas such as Xinjiang to meet its skyrocketing domestic demands. China needs to create an independent resource base and Tibet is key in achieving that goal.

Big Western mining companies such as Rio Tinto have so far refrained from investing in Tibet, as a politically sensitive region. Only smaller companies willing to take the risk for potentially big profits have entered Tibet. However, their experiences have been jinxed so far. Vancouver based Continental Minerals, for example, faced the wrath of local people when two of their local employees were taken hostage and their jeep overturned and infrastructure destroyed in a protest a few years ago. Then they faced heavy criticism from Tibetan rights groups such as Students for a Free Tibet and Canada Tibet Committee. This was followed by unpleasant experiences working with their Chinese counterparts, finally being acquired at a large discount by the Gansu based Jinchuan Group Ltd last year.

In this blog post, I will share Google Earth images of the Gyama mine, which is located in Medrogungkar county near Lhasa. Tibetan Plateau blog has a post about Gyama and other mines under the title of Canada and Crimes Against the Tibetan People. For information about the mine, see a recent Vancouver Media Co-op article and Woser's article in Chinese or an English translation by High Peaks Pure Earth. For those interested in technical scientific studies about the impact of the Gyama mine on local water system, see here. Tibetan readers can see this report about about the poisoning of local waters and clashes between locals and miners.

The confluence of two rivers that form the Gyama Valley:

The main processing plant located right near the confluence and on traditional farming land. Google Earth on Tibet tip: if you find a blue colored roof, zoom in to often find something of interest:

Scarred mountains, evidence of intense drilling, which will become open pit mines of Gyama very soon:

Initial signs of open pit mine with trucks on mountain top. Notice the image was taken in November 2009:

Remember the clashes between locals and miners over water? Here's some evidence. Water being piped from river source right through the middle of people's fields:

Further upstream on the other tributary of Gyama River, you see this mine site. One of the great tools you can use in Google Earth is a time machine you can drag to see how the site looked at different times. Notice this image below was shot on December 17 2007, when the tailings pond is mostly empty and the open pit mine is not as deep:

Fast forward the image to the latest version of Nov 4 2009, and you can see the tailings pond filled and the mine dug much deeper:

Continue to go further upstream, and you will find this suspicious site. Are those soldiers standing together on the NNE of the blue structure? You can also see houses, vehicles and construction machinery:

Go further upstream and you will find this frightening sight. Huge areas covering several mountains have been drilled to prospect minerals here. I hope I am wrong but this is most likely the Qulong Copper Deposit, which was reported by the China Geological Survey in 2009 to contain at least 9 million tonnes of copper, plus molybdenum and silver. The Gyama mine, by comparison, has proven reserves of 2.2 million tonnes of copper. According to the International Mining, February 2010 issue (page 40): "In copper, the most famous deposit is Qulong, according to Chen Renyi and Xue Yingxi of the China Geological Survey. They say “With proved reserves of nearly 9 Mt, Qulong will soon be the largest copper deposit in China, and the perspective reserves are over 14-18 Mt.”"

If you follow the zig zag roads of this mine site to the West, it will curiously end near these two lakes, one of which is dry. Were they thinking of using these two remote lakes (5190 meters) as dumping sites for wastes?

These images are examples. The Tibetan Plateau is littered with mine sites, especially smaller sites. I will refrain from inundating this post with GE images. Look for these yourselves and please share information.

This blog post is the third in a series to advocate the use of Google Earth to monitor development projects inside Tibet.

You can easily locate the sites shown above on Google Earth by tracking the coordinates (latitude and longitude) shown at the bottom of the images.


Tendor said...

thank you Tashi la, this is enlightening, frightening, and outrageous.

Ymke Koperberg said...

I can't express in words but I feel powerless, sad, terrible, unfair, angry about what is going on. Good that you share this pictures.

John Isom said...

A couple of technical suggestions for this already excellent set of images:

Adding a Google Earth image at the beginning that shows the mine, immediate surroundings and Lhasa would provide a geographic context, for readers not familiar with the precise locations.

Second, if you can number your images, and then use a second "macro-reading" GE image of the overall area to show the numbered locations that would also help readers see the larger picture.

Anonymous said...

I am glad that China can get it from mines inside the country and save some foreign currency.

CJ Plourde said...

Hello, thanks for the wonderful blog! How sad that the Tibetans are suffering these attacks upon their persons, their land, and their traditions. I feel so angry as a Canadian/American because I am now learning of the exploits of several Canadian mining companies in the Tibetan plateau. According to scientists, the eco diversity of the Tibetan landscape is as rare as the eco diversity of the Amazon jungles, who would have thought! As a C/A I will try to bring attention to the Canadians about this matter. Canadians are more ecologically minded than Americans and we are smaller, so there may be hope. Thanks for this. I want to see and hear more about the Kirti attacks. It is so sad.

CJ Plourde said...

Great story. Thanks for your work. As an American and Canadian I am now realizing how many Canadian companies are mining in Tibet. I hear, read a scientific paper and realized that the Tibetan plateau is very special. The scientists were saying that it is equal, its biodiversity, to that of the Amazon jungle. I am encouraged that other people are starting to learn about these issues. We must help the Tibetans, whose lives are lived in Terror! I am very angry that the US and western media are not carrying the stories of the atrocities and the torturing and attack of Kirti monastery. Of course, I think America sees China as a friend, and it is frightening that they still, after 30 years, do not see just what and who China is! It is a monster!

Anonymous said...

Not only are Canadian companies benefiting from this suffering - so are the British. A friend of mine had a monastery in Tibet. Approximately 6 years ago, the Chinese decided to target him. His monastery had silver deposits. He was nearly murdered over this situation and forced to escape Tibet, which fortunately he did. You need to put pressure on these companies and any government who dares to invest in this criminal activity.

Konchok Rangdrol said...

Unfortunately, both American and Canadians are investing in China. That is all we want, as Americans, is a cheap chair, something to buy, it doesn't much matter that people are suffering in Tibet, or anywhere else for that matter. That is the real truth. Remember, USA gave China the "Most Favoured Nation Status" several years ago. The mining companies have all but destroyed jungles in the Amazon and now they are targeting Guatemala, and other places. True, British are also involved, but mostly American and Canadian companies there. I am not sure what anyone can do. Americans seem totally unconcerned about anything that happens that does not touch them personally, as such they lack empathy for those who are suffering under totalitarian regimes like China, Israel, etc. And yet, the Americans pride themselves on being "Christian" and loving... It is really sad.

Even worse, for Tibetans, the Chinese have been rounding up Tibetan nomads, taking their animals, and forcing them off the lands they have been roaming for 1,000 years and forcing them into community housing! This is like what the German Nazi party did to the Jewish communities. It is nothing short of genocide. And, the Chinese government is now installing officials in EACH Tibetan monastery, so that they can have more control over the people, and their practices. It is so totally disgusting that I have no words for it. It is no wonder the monks have been setting themselves on fire. I know that no one else could live in these situations. I hope some day American and the west will take a truly humanitarian interest in what has happened in Tibet, but it is already too late. More than 1.4 million have died, scores more tortured, beaten, disappeared, and killed. More than 9,000 monasteries have been totally destroyed which means that thousands of monks and nuns have been forced into exile or have returned to live as householders in the community. IN any case, I will stop writing, I get too sad.