On Wednesday 27th June, Spanish campaigners attended the AGM of London-listed mining company Atalaya Mining to raise concerns about the company’s operations across Spain.
Atalaya, which is listed on London’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM), is the owner of the Riotinto copper mine [not connected to Rio Tinto mining company] in Huelva, Andalusia, and has plans to re-open a copper mine in Touro, Galicia and to explore for zinc in Santillana del Mar, Cantabria. Each of these projects is subject to criticism and opposition from local residents, community associations and NGOs.
In Andalusia, Ecologistas en Accion, a federation of Spanish environmental groups, has highlighted the high risk of a tailings dam collapse at the Riotinto mine.
In Galicia, Atalaya’s plans to re-open and expand an old open-pit copper mine in Touro have been met with massive resistance.
In Cantabria, Atalaya’s proposed Yuso Project involves the opening of a five-kilometre underground gallery to explore for zinc in the heavily populated area of Santillana del Mar.
Outside the AGM, demonstrators gathered (above) to highlight these concerns, giving voice to the community associations and residents who are, or stand to be, affected by Atalaya’s operations.
Visitors from Spain – Elena Solis from Ecologistas en Accion and Luis Gallardo from Plataforma Mina Touro O Pino No – had difficulty attending the meeting they had travelled to get to, held at the offices of Atalaya’s nominated advisor, Cannacord Genuity.
Despite satisfying the requirements and deadlines for acquiring company shares and appointing proxies for the AGM, visitors were informed by email less than 12 hours before the AGM, that proxies would not be allowed to attend the meeting.
LMN complained to the Financial Conduct Authority and LSE AIM-Regulation officials early in the morning of the AGM. The calls didn’t result in Atalaya being ordered to include proxies or Cannacord having to let them in the building, but Elena and Luis were initially able to go into the meeting. Other proxies were not able to attend.
After Elena was seen to be associated with the small group of peaceful demonstrators outside the AGM venue, however, attempts were made to prevent her participation.
“I was forcefully held up by a security man who shouted at me and said I was to leave the building. He was accompanied by somebody said to be from Atalaya Mining, who said that I was not allowed in because I had not bought the shares in time to attend the meeting. As I refused to leave they called the police. I said that I would only leave if they allowed me to go back to the 8th floor where the meeting had already started.
“I explained the situation to the police officer and showed him my share certificate and he asked the men to let me up to the 8th floor as I was a shareholder and it was at the registration of the AGM where it should be decided if they let me in or not. I was escorted upstairs in the lift and was finally able to enter the meeting.”
Once inside the AGM, Elena and Luis were able ask searching questions of Atalaya’s leadership.
“The Touro mining project is not realistic”
Addressing the shareholders’ meeting, Luis Gallardo shared the arguments against the viability of the Touro copper project with Atalaya’s shareholders, citing major political and economic risks, and the fact that the project is slated to take place just 200m from his community:
“I am here to let you know that the Touro project is not feasible and not profitable. I speak on behalf of the Platform against the Touro copper mine. Atalaya is saying that it has the Galician Government’s support and the support of the local communities. This utterly false. The Galician Government now has several reports that mention a lot of risks and very negative impacts the mine could have on our water, our lands, our health, our environment and on existing economic activities.
“The social opposition to the project is massive. Just two weeks ago, on the 10th of June, there was a huge demonstration against the mine. It was one of the biggest demonstrations ever seen in Santiago de Compostela, with tens of thousands of people marching through the streets protesting against the Touro mining project. There were politicians from every political party – even the one in government – present in the march. Dozens of surrounding councils including the one of Santiago de Compostela, have expressed their full rejection of the project. Even the Spanish Geological and Mining Insitute has expressed doubt about the economic estimations.
“Galicia is already a prosperous region. The affected area’s economy is based on farming, the dairy industry and a very modern fishing industry with lots of important factories. All of these industries are put under threat by the mine. Four hundred jobs would not compensate threatening sixty thousand established long-term jobs. Twenty first century mining methods are incompatible with the local industry.”
Quoting from claims made in the corporate social responsibility pages of Atalaya’s own website, Luis asked:
“Atalaya claims to be a ‘responsible corporate citizen’ with an ambition to ‘make a positive contribution towards the communities in which they operate without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs both economically and environmentally’. Why, then, is the company risking these principles and its reputation by starting a mine in Touro which has been clearly rejected by the people, has no social license and endangers local livelihoods, water and ecosystems?”
Atalaya’s Chair, Roger Davey, responded to Luis’s question by saying that he is proud to work for a company that brings prosperity to communities and local economies. That mining might not be to everyone’s taste, but that it was a “necessary” industry.
Davey said that the mine would create many benefits for existing businesses in Touro, as well as the 400 promised jobs. Taking the company’s Riotinto mine in Huelva as an example, the Chair said that before the company’s presence, the area had been a “ghost town”.
“The situation of the dams is critical”
(Leaked footage from Atalaya’s mine waste dam in Riotinto.)
Elena Solis from Ecologistas en Accion raised a series of concerns about Atalaya’s Riotinto mine, especially in relation to the threats posed by the imminent failure of two of the mine’s waste dams:
“Last May, the local and national press published a video showing one of the sections of the Riotinto dam ‘overtopping’ and ‘piping’ at point 26 of the Aguzadera section. Piping is the bubbling effect on the surface of the water, which is symptomatic, according to British Columbia Regulations, of the terminal state of the retaining walls.
“According to expert opinion, the main cause of these problems is the fact the sludge is only being thickened to 3 percent solids, which causes serious risk of the retaining walls being rapidly eroded by the high liquidity level of the tailings. This is the case because Atalaya has not built the required processing plant to thicken the liquid tailings to the 50 percent solid ratios required by the original environmental authorisation (Autorización Ambiental Unificada (AAU) issued on the 27th March 2014.
“There are clear indications that the dams have exceeded their overall capacity. Experts and Ecologistas en Accion have announced in the press on many occasions, that the breakage of the dam is imminent.
“A dam collapse would cause a flood of toxic waste ten times higher than the breakage of Aznalcóllar dam twenty years ago. We are looking at over 65 million m3 wave of toxic waste discharged as a wave of up to five meters in height. This would affect the Donana National Park and the towns of Gibraleón and Huelva, putting human lives at risk.
“Even more worrying is that the dams contain, as well as mining tailings, highly toxic waste from a chemical plant in Huelva, which was illegally dumped during the 90s.”
“So my question: Do the Directors consider that not building the €7 million plant that would thicken the tailings is sustainable, given the inherent risk of breakage explained above? And given the fact that the company is ultimately responsible for the damage and the human lives which may be lost?”
Responding to Elena’s question, Atalaya CEO Lavandeira became very agitated, gesticulating with his arms in all directions to the extent that the Chair had to ask him to calm down.
Lavandeira said that he was expecting Ecologistas en Accion to attend the meeting and was glad of that fact but said that Elena had “disappointed him” by misinforming the shareholders, and that Elena herself had been misled about the risks posed by the dams and their possible collapse.
Lavandeira went on to show photos of Ecologistas en Accion’s visit to the Riotinto mine, showing water a safe distance of 50 metres from the edge of the dams. Lavandeira did not reply to Elena’s objection that such photos knew were taken in summer and not in the rainy season when the dams have been observed overtopping and piping.
Elena also raised questions about the future of Atalaya Mining’s Yuso project near Santander. She asked if shareholders had been informed that the five-kilometre mining gallery planned by Atalaya would run just above the World Heritage Altamira cave, which contains world-famous 15,500 year-old cave paintings, and close to an aquifer.
Both Atalaya’s CEO and Chair categorically denied that Atalaya Mining has any involvement with the project, despite the company having produced documentation and studies relating to it.
Meanwhile in Galicia…
As Atalaya’s AGM took place in London, local people in Galicia came together to reaffirm their opposition to Atalaya’s presence in the region and build solidarity with others from across Spain resisting the company’s operations.
Meeting in the municipality of O Pino, local residents and their visitors raised their concerns about the mine with O Pino’s Mayor, who remains supportive of the project.
Members of Plataforma Mina Tour O Pino No exposed the project’s irregularities, incompatibilities and numerous negative reports during the plenary. They told the Mayor that livestock farming and tourism generated by the Camino de Santiago are endangered by the project and that his (the mayor’s) lack of knowledge was demonstrated by the fact that he had not read the negative reports about Atalaya’s Touro Project launched by the Galician administration.
Isidoro Albarreal joined the Galician campaigners from Andalucía to share Ecologistas en Accion’s experiences opposing Atalaya’s RioTinto project at a public event organised by Galician anti-mining network ContraMINacción, increasing the links between struggles in Spain.
“Ties between both struggles are now strengthened. With each passing day, the local company Cobre San Rafael and Atalaya Mining have less arguments to defend their project and there are more reasons to say no”, said Guadalupe Rodriguez, a member of ContraMINAccion and Regional Coordinator for the Yes to Life No to Mining Network.
And across Spain…
Atalaya Mining’s operations in Spain are just the tip of the iceberg as the number of applications to mine and exploratory operations have skyrocketed in Spain in recent years. From a tungsten mine in Galicia, to a uranium project in Salamanca (read more about Berkeley Energia’s plans) gold mining in Asturias, more and more of Spain finds itself under concession to mining.
Communities have responded to this huge mining interest by getting organised and resisting planned mines. Mass mobilisations like those in Santiago de Compostela becoming increasingly commonplace nationwide and creative tactics including re-wilding employed to demonstrate alternatives to the mirage of ‘mining-led development’.
People organising in strong but localised pockets of resistance, like those in Touro and Huelva, are now connecting with one another and international allies like London Mining Network, Yes to Life, No to Mining and The Gaia Foundation, to counteract the transnational nature of the mining threat.
Meanwhile, Ecologistas en Accion are conducting research into the drivers of the mining expansion in Spain, with multiple factors, from the EU’s Raw Materials Initiative to financial speculation and a favourable international trade climate, thought to be at play.
The results of this research, to be released later this year, will be critical reading for environmental justice campaigners and policy makers across Europe.
Co-written by Hannibal Rhoades from The Gaia Foundation, Elena Solis from Ecologistas en Accion and Luis Gallardo, member of Plataforma Mina Touro O Pino No.