Gold mine reopens after 6 years

Gold mine reopens after 6 years

Shutdown order on environmental grounds was challenged by Australian owner

The two processing plants at the Akara gold mine have a combined maximum production capacity of 5.5 million tonnes of gold ore per year. (Photo supplied)
The two processing plants at the Akara gold mine have a combined maximum production capacity of 5.5 million tonnes of gold ore per year. (Photo supplied)

PHICHIT: The Akara gold mine, also known as Chatree gold mine, resumed operations on Tuesday after a six-year suspension.

The mine that straddles three provinces — Phichit, Phitsanulok and Phetchabun — was closed in 2017 under an executive decree issued by the now-dissolved National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) after local residents raised health and environmental concerns.

Its Australian owner, Kingsgate Consolidated Ltd, disputed allegations of environmental damage and subsequently took the Thai government to international arbitration. It said the NCPO order was a breach of a Thailand-Australia trade agreement.

The decision of the Singapore-based arbitral tribunal has been postponed several times as both sides have been seeking to reach a final settlement. Legal observers said the Thai government’s chances of prevailing were slim, and it could face an order to pay some 25 billion baht in damages if it lost.

Choetsak Attha-arun, Akara Resources’ general manager for organisational sustainability, said the company had received letters from the Industry Ministry offices in Phichit and Phetchabun earlier this month allowing it to resume operations. Earlier approvals were granted on condition that the mine operator observe all environmental rules.

Kingsgate confirmed in a news release that the Department of Primary Industries and Mines had given approval for two plants at the site to reopen. One would reprocess already stockpiled ore while the other was undergoing additional refurbishment, it said.

The two sites have a combined maximum production capacity of 5.5 million tonnes of gold ore per year, said Mr Choetsak.

Around 260 staff are now working for the gold mine, he said. Some 90% of current employees are residents from four districts of the provinces. 

The mine reopening is expected to inject money into the local economy, he said.

Mr Choetsak also said the company’s legal team was gathering evidence to defend itself against allegations related to the company’s ownership of land.

The claims are related to a recent decision by the National Anti-Corruption Commission to pursue legal action against several Lands Department officials allegedly involved in issuing title deeds to Akara Resources.

Chiranut Thanyacharoen, one of 10 new university graduates among the new employees of the gold mine, said she was glad to see the gold mine open again after years of being suspended.

The suspension of the mine’s operations which was followed by the Covid-19 pandemic, resulted in many local people leaving their communities for Bangkok to find work, she said.

Kingsgate managing director Jamie Gibson hailed the resumption of activity at the mine.

“The reopening of Chatree marks a new era for Kingsgate in Thailand, and we now have the opportunity to work with the Thai government and local communities around the mine to make it the best version of Chatree we have ever seen,” he said.

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