In recent years there has been a shower of applications in Spain for the opening of a multitude of new mining operations. This is for two main reasons. The first and foremost is the great price rise that most metals have experienced in recent years, some of them multiplying their value by up to five in the last 15-20 years. The second reason is in the technological improvement that has taken place, which allows the extraction of the mineral at a lower and lower cost. Both factors have made mining operations with low mineral concentrations profitable. To this must be added the fact that there is also a very important component of financial speculation, in all matters relating to new authorizations for mining operations.
In this way, we find that it could be economically feasible to put into operation in Spain a good part of the mines from which mineral was extracted during the last centuries, and that are now abandoned, even exploiting the dumps themselves. old mines. In addition, there are large areas in which, due to their low concentration, no mineral was extracted, and which could now be profitable. In fact, deposits have been put into operation that ceased to be exploited several centuries ago, or that were even abandoned in Roman times.
The current cheapness of earthworks means that the vast majority of the new planned mines are intended to be exploited in the open pit, so that the environmental and social impact would be even greater than that of the previous exploitations that, in the case of the metals were mostly gallery. To give us an idea: a conventional metal mine basically consisted of a gallery in the middle of a mountain side, with some dumps that were located next to the exit of the gallery. And on that mountain there could also be forests, villages and farmlands. The new open pit metal mining differs a lot from this model, since it basically consists of literally eliminating that mountain, with everything that exists in it, processing all the material.
Another element to take into account would be the extraction techniques of the mineral, which in materials with a low concentration of the same usually involve the use of chemical compounds in large quantities, which can seriously contaminate the soils and the water environment, even irreversibly.
For all this, we can affirm that we are facing an environmental threat of enormous magnitude, which could mean the total destruction in the coming years of tens of thousands of hectares of great natural value throughout a good part of our geography, which it would become siliceous Spain. In fact, according to the Mining Cadastre of the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, there are currently more than 1,500 project files for new metal mining operations being processed in our country.
For the management and regulation of this mining boom in Spain, we only have the current Mining Law, an obsolete law, approved during the dictatorship, and that inexplicably has not yet been modified. This law, pre-constitutional, since it is from 1973, and clearly unconstitutional due to its content, favors at all times the interests of mining companies, without taking into account environmental aspects, which ignores them, and at the expense of some fundamental rights of citizens, including property rights. This law, which seems to have been specifically tailored to mining companies, is clearly acting as a claim for many international companies, sending the message that Spain is a “mining paradise.”
For this reason, and to avoid the great ecological and social disaster that this mining boom would produce in our rural environment, it is essential and very urgent that the current permissive Mining Law be reformed, in such a way as to take into account the conservation of the natural environment and the rights of the populations living in the affected areas are respected.
In order to guarantee the preservation of our natural environment, it is essential that the new Mining Law contemplates the total exclusion of mining activity from all areas of natural interest in our country, starting with the Natura 2000 Network, the natural river reserves, the discharge basins of drinking water catchment places, etc.
The new Mining Law should exclude bottled mineral water from its scope, which should become the public hydraulic domain. It should not be forgotten that access to drinking water is a human right, established as such by the UN in 2010, and it is also an essential element for the maintenance of ecosystems, which is why it is anachronistic and very problematic that it is followed in Spain considering a mining resource.
The new legislative text should modify the public consultation procedure established in the current norm, in such a way that it is transparent, with reasonable deadlines and promotes maximum citizen participation. Likewise, mining permits should only be granted when the restoration plan, transportation, electricity and water studies, etc. have been approved. The establishment of a fairer tax that reflects the exploitation of a non-renewable public resource should also be considered, since the current tax rate is only 1%, being one of the lowest in the world. Finally, to avoid obtaining permits for “hunting-rights” and speculative mining companies, guarantees should be established in the new law that prove the economic and technical solvency of the holders of mining rights.
In this way, serious environmental and social damage would be avoided in a good part of our country, it would be achieved that all the water would be a public hydraulic domain and, as such, it would be treated; and, to a large extent, it would be possible to rationalize mining activity, both in terms of fiscal contribution and transparency and citizen participation. We need to bury the current Mining Law, outdated and typical of the dictatorship in which it was born, and replace it with a new modern Mining Law, which takes into account environmental and social aspects, more in line with a democratic country like ours.