Gold mining in eastern Siberia is a booming industry, with a significant portion of Russia’s gold reserves extracted from the Krasnoyarsk region, particularly around the Seyba River. Large mining companies and small teams are involved in this lucrative venture. However, the consequences for the environment and local communities are dire.

Which Mineral is Eastern Siberia Famous For?

Eastern Siberia is renowned for its vast mineral wealth, with gold being one of the most coveted resources. The region’s pristine landscapes hide beneath extensive deposits of this precious metal. Gold mining has become synonymous with Siberia, as it contributes significantly to Russia’s gold production.

Why is it Difficult to Extract Minerals from Siberia?

While Siberia’s mineral wealth is undeniable, extracting these resources comes with unique challenges. The region’s extreme climate and remote location make mining operations particularly demanding. Harsh winters and vast distances can impede transportation and access to mining sites. Moreover, the environmental impact of mining in fragile ecosystems like Siberia’s taiga forests has raised concerns about sustainability and preservation.

How Much Gold is in Siberia?

Siberia is home to a staggering amount of gold. The Krasnoyarsk region alone produces approximately 70 tons of gold annually, constituting around one-fifth of Russia’s total gold reserves. This vast quantity underscores the economic significance of the mining industry in eastern Siberia. However, it also highlights the environmental challenges and human consequences associated with extracting such massive quantities of gold.

How is Gold mining destroying the Seyba River?

In recent years, the Seyba River has become a symbol of environmental degradation. Its once-clear waters have turned murky, resembling diluted milk with a thick layer of sediment. This transformation can be attributed to the gold mining activities upstream, despite official claims to the contrary.

The environmental impact is evident not only in the water’s quality but also in the destruction of pristine forests along riverbanks. Powerful equipment used by mining companies lifts silt from riverbeds, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.

Local villagers have borne the brunt of this environmental damage. In 2014, residents of Partizanskoye found themselves in a desperate battle against mining companies digging in their backyards. Poisoned water, dredged gardens, and constant blasting that caused home damage led to a tragic compromise: the villagers were relocated, leaving their ancestral lands behind.

Similar stories have emerged from other villages, like Tayaty, where water pollution from gold mining prompted residents to rally against the Yenisey Gold Company. Environmental inspections found contamination levels far exceeding permissible limits, resulting in fines for the mining company.

Tragedy struck the region in October 2019 when a dam breach on the Seyba River caused flooding, claiming 17 lives and injuring 27 people. It was the largest gold-mining disaster in the Kuraginskyi region.

Despite these environmental and human costs, a proposed law allowing private individuals to engage in gold mining is under consideration. The government argues that it will create employment opportunities, but the consequences for the environment and communities remain a concern.

Neighboring countries, such as Mongolia and China, are taking a different approach. Mongolia restricts alluvial gold mining to protect vital natural areas, while China has banned it entirely due to the irreversible environmental damage caused by uncontrolled miners.

An uncertain future for residents 

In the village of Kolbinsky, where residents have been affected by the mining industry, the future remains uncertain. Local authorities struggle to enforce regulations on mining companies operating within their territories. People live in fear of losing their homes or livelihoods.

The Seyba River’s pollution not only affects human lives but also decimates local ecosystems. Fish populations have dwindled due to contaminated water, impacting the traditional diets of residents. Animals like grayling, capercaillie, elk, and sable marten have almost disappeared from the surrounding forests, while deer and elk migration routes are disrupted by mining activities.

Efforts to hold mining companies accountable are hindered by a lack of resources and bureaucratic hurdles. Satellite images capture only a fraction of the devastation, making it challenging to prove violations in court. Furthermore, offenders are often tipped off in advance, allowing them to avoid inspection.

The situation in eastern Siberia is a stark reminder of the urgent need for responsible and sustainable mining practices. While the allure of gold is undeniable, the cost to the environment and local communities is too high to ignore. The Seyba River stands as a silent witness to the ongoing struggle between profit and preservation in one of the world’s most remote regions.

This report is based on information from an article written by Svetlana Khustik and originally published by Kedr.Media. Additional reports from BBC and Pressenza highlight the human and environmental toll of gold mining in eastern Siberia.