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.