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Lithium extraction the new “Green Fracking” of our environment?

Heavy traffic to and from a fracking well pad causes a dust cloud along a small roadway in West Virginia. Aug. 15, 2014. Photo courtesy of The FracTracker Alliance, www.fractracker.org/photos Heavy traffic to and from a fracking well pad causes a dust cloud along a small roadway in West Virginia. Aug. 15, 2014. Photo courtesy of The FracTracker Alliance, www.fractracker.org/photos


Before we look at the challenges ahead, we have to be fully cognisant that development of mining and oil & gas exploration is as an objective of the Portuguese Government. In 2012 the Portuguese government launched a national strategy for geological and mineral resources aimed at better identification, exploitation and protection of resources.


The first steps to implement the strategy were the adoption of a new proposal for a law on geological resources in 2015 (article in Portuguese). It included measures to improve the dynamism, competitiveness and environmental responsibility of the mining sector. You can find the law by clicking on this link.

In the spirit of implementing the strategy, the Portuguese Mineral Resources Cluster, a network of private actors and universities was also established. On November 12, 2018, Público newspaper reported that implementation of the strategy had been patchy (Article in Portuguese). Government plans include, for example, public tenders for lithium deposits in the country and the Jales gold mine, the first of its kind in the mining sector.

Similarly, the Geological Resources Fund (FRG) planned for 2016 (Article in Publico - in Portuguese) has not been put into practice, even though it was mentioned in the state budget reports for 2017, with a budget of EUR 22 million over five years. According to the Secretary of State for Energy, the fund will be put into practice when the details of the Geological Resources Act are published.



It is within above framework that we need to address the topic of this article, because to really access the environmental impacts of both lithium mining and fracking we need to analyse the processes from cradle to grave of end products produced by both extractive technologies.

Within the literature that we have accessed and analysed, there has been no generic or substantive reviews of the fundamental interactions between fracking and surface (open-pit) mining, as a result we were faced with a massive information gap.

This article is not intented to be an exaustive analysis; instead it’s just a quick synopsis. We leave an open invitation for the scientific community to investigate and write papers on this very interesting subject - I.e. "Comparative Analysis of Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts of Lithium Open-Pit Mining versus Fracking"



Mining activities has taken place in Portugal in many areas for decades, although most mining activities to date has been of the underground nature (exception being small quarries - sand, feldspar, quartz, kaolin, halite and ornamental stones - which follow the open-pit methodology). Its important to note that all mining activities have negative environmental and human impacts. Amongst the negative impacts of mining - are well known risks, such as acid mine drainage, heavy metal contamination, chemical pollution, and sedimentation.

Fracking on the other hand, which has not yet started in any region in Portugal, but is likely to begin soon in the Bajouca and Aljubarrota regions, risks include contamination of groundwater resources, depletion of freshwater supplies and are known to cause earthquakes. While the development of pipelines to transport natural gas typically causes additional construction and massive erosion across large swaths of land.

The reality is that both extrative technologies come with heavy environmental, economic and social negative dividends for local communities.


You can read about the Human Impact of Mining and Fracking in Appalachia here by clicking on this link. " Mortality rates in coal-mining are lagging 24 years behind the national average, ... Additional studies have documented increased rates of illnesses including cancers and respiratory and heart diseases. And a similar pattern is emerging in communities near fracking sites.

Another interesting link that you can follow, takes you to a letter authored by Natural History Museum Head of Earth Sciences Prof Richard Herrington and fellow expert members of SoS MinErals (an interdisciplinary programme of NERC-EPSRC-Newton-FAPESP funded research) has delivered to the Committee on Climate Change in June this year. The letter (Which you can read by clicking on this link) which clearly explains for example, that to meet UK electric car targets for 2050 there would be a need to produce just under two times the current total annual world cobalt production, nearly the entire world production of neodymium, three quarters the world’s lithium production and at least half of the world’s copper production.

Is this what you really want to see? 



Portugal is a very small country and although some mining activity has taken place over the years (which left major devastation in its path), we are of the opinion that its highly irresponsible to embark on the planned mass mining program that sees more than 250 areas under threat across the Portuguese onshore, and thousands of offshore areas under consideration for deep-sea mining and oil & gas extraction activities.


Regarding fracking for oil and gas, we maintain our opinion that the risks to both our onshore and offshore environment and to our families do not justify it. But neither does the planned mining activities designed to address the not so “green” energy manufacturing needs of international and European markets.



In spite of all the pressure and heavy arm tactics being applied by many foreign entities (including the EU - and pressure from within a Portuguese highly corrupted operating environment, where ethics appear to be of an elastic nature), we call on the new Portuguese government to truly act responsibly and to implement and enforce regulations that protect the environment and our families, instead of laws designed to satisfy many obscure political and financial international and European interests.


As concerned citizens who happens to have a passion for sustainability not only of our local communities, but also for the environment and its eco-systems, we would be extremely irresponsible if we at ASMAA did not take a very close look at all the implications that could impact on ensuring the sustainability of local communities, surrounding environments and local eco-systems above all.

After in-depth and unemotional analysis of all the risks to the sustainable empowerment of these local communities that will be directly affected by both fracking and by mining in Portugal, we are of the opinion that it is imperative that we raise awareness of these risks.


Awareness means ASMAA divulging factors that may be and probably are running against mainstream opinions.



Currently there’s a distinct divide in environmental movements (not only in Portugal but also in most developed countries) – either you are pro-oil or you are pro-green energies on the back of what we refer as a "Climate Change scare banner".

It is an apparent fact to anyone that is looking, that a lot of muckiness (and misinformation) has been thrown into the environmental arena, resulting in what appears to be a case of reasoning and common sense being thrown out of the window.


Under aggressive “Climate Change” campaigns, a line dividing the environmental movement globally (and Portugal is no exception) has been drawn, with the one side claiming that climate change/global warming is primarily caused by the use of fossil fuels, and that “green energy" programs is the only solution, while failing to highlight the risks that the implementation of Green Energy programs brings to the sustainability of local affected communities, surrounding environment and local ecosystems.



Anyone challenging such claims is called a "denialist" and a pro-fossil fuels supporter, which could not be further from the truth in ASMAA's case, as we are neither anti nor pro fossil fuels - neither are we pro or anti green energy projects, as we are fully aware of their interconnectivity.


We, at ASMAA are in fact 100% opposed to both extractive technologies being developed in Portugal, although we do lean towards the use of green energy technologies. The fact is that the world still depends on multiple energy generation processes, and will do so for many years still.


ASMAA follows a philosophy that there's a need to ensure the sustainability and empowerment of local communities, that it is maintained and grown within a responsible growth framework. 


What we really oppose is the willingness to sacrifice local communities, the environment and local ecosystems at the altar of a manufactured lie such as the Climate Change/CO2 propaganda campaigns, be it for oil and gas exploration using such unconventional technologies as fracking, be it for mining to support the growing demand for minerals such as lithium. We stand firm against corruption and the apparent elasticity of ethics so prevalent in the energy sector (and not only this sector but across the board).


That is what we have been fighting for all along – namely, your survival, your family survival, your business survival, and your surrounding environment and its ecosystems survival - thus stopping the destruction of the beautiful country that is Portugal. We have not changed our strategies or position.



We all need to take into account the impact parallels of both fracking and mining before you can make an informed decision on what is right for you, your family, your community. We are all being sold a lie ... which translates into new financial trading mechanisms such as the Carbon Markets with its proposed carbon taxes to reduce even more your disposable income and the future sustainability of all. But that's not all that is on the cards ... the picture is a lot bleaker than anyone of us could have imagined.


But at the end of the day, the choice is yours ... to act against or to accept the status quo.









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