On September 17, Romania’s Parliament established a Special Joint Committee of its Chamber of Deputies and Senate to examine a draft law submitted by the government in late August relating to the development of the proposed open-pit Roşia Montană gold mine. The project is owned 80.69% by Canada-based Gabriel Resources and 19.31% by Minvest SA, a Romanian state-owned mining company. Gabriel has been working to permit the project for 14 years but has encountered persistent opposition from Romanian groups and international NGOs.

Residents in the immediate area of the Roşia Montană project, on the other hand, have voiced strong support for the proposed mine development, which promises to bring jobs and economic development to a region that is characterized by wide-spread poverty.

Demonstrations, both against and for the Roşia Montană development, began after the government sent draft legislation designed to facilitate development of the project to the Parliament in late August and were ongoing four weeks later. If approved as written, the legislation would increase government ownership of the project to 25%, increase the royalty applicable to the project from 4% to 6%, ensure preservation of the region’s cultural heritage, and provide for elimination of historical degradation created by previous mining, which dates back to at least the 1st century B.C.

The draft legislation declares the Roşia Montană project to be of public utility and overriding national public interest. It provides for permitting and exploitation of the gold-silver deposits and would amend certain legislative acts relating to expropriation and construction permits. And it notes that the project would create an average of 2,300 jobs in the construction phase and 900 in the operational phase.

The draft legislation was submitted to Parliament for debate and approval. It immediately met with street protests in Romania’s capital, Bucharest, and other Romanian cities.

The protests were in large part responsible for the creation of the Special Joint Committee formed to examine the draft law. Formation of the committee included a time line that suggested a final decision on the law would be taken on or around November 1.

If developed, the Roşia Montană project would become Europe’s largest gold mine. The project has reported measured and indicated resources of 17.1 million oz of gold and 81.1 million oz of silver, including 10.1 million oz of gold and 47.6 million oz of silver in proven and probable reserves at grades of 1.46 g/mt gold and 6.88 g/mt silver.

Mining of four principal deposits would be by large-scale open-pit methods. Production is estimated at about 500,000 oz/y of gold over a mine life of 16 years.

The proposed processing plant would include primary crushing, SAG and ball milling, cyanidation, and adsorption onto activated carbon. A gravity recovery circuit incorporated into the milling circuit would recover free gold, and continuous elution circuits have been selected for the treatment of the loaded carbon. Plant tails would be detoxified with copper sulphate and sodium metabisulphite for the destruction of residual cyanide prior to discharge.

The use of cyanide in the Roşia Montană processing scheme has provided a flash point for both Romanian and international opposition to the Roşia Montană project. Protestors also object to the environmental degradation that would accompany surface mining and provisions in the draft law for expropriation of land occupied by three villages.