Canadian Potash Company Faces Constitutional Hurdles, Community Opposition in Thailand
Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Resources Ltd. (APR) is facing both constitutional challenges and vigorous community opposition to its plans to exploit the Udon Thani potash concession in northeastern Thailand. APR holds 90% of the concession and wants to exploit the resource through underground mining.
Local communities fear widespread subsidence, salt contamination of agricultural land, and groundwater contamination. "While potash mines in Canada operate at depths of more than 1km underground and have rarely caused subsidence problems, APR will mine at depths of less than 350 m beneath densely populated agricultural communities. The geology above the salt deposits is not stable and subsidence is almost certain to occur. It is predicted in the Environmental Impact Assessment prepared by the company and independent geologists also warn of the dangers," says Dr. Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada.
Dr. Sasin Chalermlap, a geologist and environmental engineer at Rangsit University in Bangkok, has evaluated the mining project plans and presented his findings to a provincial committee appointed to investigate the potential impacts. He states that "if mining were to be carried out beneath hard rock the potential for land subsidence is slim, however in the Northeast [of Thailand] there is claystone, which is a soft rock and the mining will be carried out under agricultural area so the impacts will be great."
Protests over damage done by exploration began in 1993 and have gained considerable momentum with currently over 1000 people from 21 villages within the proposed mining area, joining regular protest marches and rallies at the provincial hall, local temples and in Bangkok in front of Parliament house. According to Mr. Suwit Gulapwong of the Northeastern Mineral Resources Management Committee, the site has been effectively blockaded for the past six months by local villagers. A permanent banner protesting the mine has been installed and villagers stop company officials from driving up to the site. Mr. Gulapwong, who has been working closely with local residents, reports that villagers are also chasing away consultants and company officials whom APR sends to talk to them. Community events have been declared "no go" zones for APR officials and villagers have chased APR employees out of an office that was recently established in one of the villages.
While the protests remain peaceful government officials and local district heads have threatened several community members with arrest for voicing their concerns. "Conflict within the community is growing rapidly. Several local influential businessmen are being awarded construction contracts by the company in return for gathering support for the mine from other villages," says Mr. Gulapwong. He adds, "If this mine goes ahead I foresee great conflict within the community. People are afraid that the impacts will effect their children and grandchildren and that their agricultural based livelihood will be destroyed."
On two occasions villagers traveled to Bangkok to submit petitions to the Canadian Embassy requesting that it ensure the Canadian company follow the same social and environmental standards as required in Canada.
Sayamol Kaiyoorawong, Director of Project for Ecological Recovery based in Bangkok, is working with the local communities and says that Canadian standards are not been followed: "The company did not pay compensation for damages caused by exploration activities and so the community cannot believe that they will solve problems that will occur as a result of the mining activities.There is no guarantee that the mine site will be rehabilitated after mining ceases as no Assurance Fund has been set aside. I understand that this is a basic legal requirement for mine operators in Canada. APR has taken advantage of weak environmental laws in Thailand and has not prepared decommissioning and rehabilitation plans to the social and environmental standards required were it operating within Canada."
Ms Sayamol also stressed the lack of public consultation and participation on the part of the APR. "During the exploration stage neither the company or government informed villagers of the drilling activity nor gave information about the type of mine that was to be built. They only talked about how rich the people would become and increased job opportunities."
APR also faces political opposition. As there has never been a large-scale underground mine in Thailand, this project necessitated an amendment to the Minerals Act. After being rejected several times, the House of Representatives in Thailand passed the amendments on August 21, 2002. On August 23, 2002, seventy-seven Senators, who argue that the amendment violates landholder property rights under section 48 of Thailand's constitution, filed a petition requesting the Constitutional Court to assess whether the new Minerals Resources Bill contradicts the charter. The Constitutional Court has agreed to hear the case. Senator Jon Ungphakorn says: "We are certain that this legislation is being pushed forward specifically for mining of the Udon Thani potash deposit, yet under the constitution a law cannot be passed when it relates to one specific situation." Senator Ungphakorn adds that: "We believe in community rights as set out under the constitution such as rights to have a say in managing natural resources. This bill allows the government to grant concessions to private companies without requiring permission from the community."
- Ms. Sayamol Kaiyoorawong, Director, Project For Ecological Recovery, tel:662-691-0718-20; e-mail: email@example.com
- Ms. Pongtip Samranjit, Coordinator, Rural Reconstruction Alumni and Friends Association, tel:662-9352981; cel: 669 444 7580; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Senator Jon Ungphakorn, Cell Phone (from abroad) 661-665-6320
- Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada. tel: 613-569-3439; e-mail: email@example.com
For more information see:
- Asia Pacific Resources Ltd: Potash Mining in Northeast Thailand - backgrounder by Catherine Coumans, Ph.D., September 2002