Anthony R.D. Porter, Guest Columnist
The recent cyanide leak from a storage tank at the site of the inactive gold mining operation, near Pennants in upper Clarendon, Jamaica, was one of two topics that some former bauxite industry professionals and I found time to discuss a few days ago. The other topic was the state of the mining industry in general, but bauxite in particular.
"Who speaks for bauxite?" asked one of my colleagues. He reminded us that it wasn't so long ago that local environmental interest groups publicly lashed out at what they considered to be the negative impact that bauxite mining and refining had on the Jamaican landscape. When asked what other industry could economically replace, and provide comparable employment for, the extraction and processing of the island's 'red gold', they were at a loss to provide an acceptable answer.
Let's face reality: There can be no physical development without some disturbance to the natural environment in which we live. The modus operandi, therefore, should always be to envisage and ascertain any and all possible harmful effects that are likely to arise from mining operations and try to counter or minimise their impact by implementing the best corrective and protective measures humanly possible.
To be sure, the exploitation of minerals and rocks is essential to our continued existence on planet Earth. Without these resources there would be no aluminium, titanium, copper, steel, and other substances from which to fashion tools and fabricate heavy-duty equipment to supply us with the modern-day conveniences and services that our very existence now depends on, such as electricity, household appliances, computers, mobile phones, television, aircraft, ships, motor vehicles, water, oil and gas pipelines, and so on.
In short, every facet of our life is impacted by the mining, refining, processing and utilisation of the Earth's natural resources. In this regard, we recalled a statement appearing in a Gleaner editorial as far back as Monday, February 28, 2011 (page A6), which stated: "Our problem is that we do not discern a broad strategic approach to the sector. Indeed, little has been heard about the strategic review of the industry Prime Minister Bruce Golding requested more than a year ago from Dr Carlton Davis, a highly acclaimed expert in the field."
That review, we understand, was submitted, just like the report from a so-called team of experts from UWI, to ascertain the boundary for the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group. Yet, to this day, the public has not been informed as to the findings of the Cockpit Country report. We wonder when it will be released and whether their submissions will be cast in stone. Or will there be room for further debate?
It was also noted that, since Dr Davis stepped down as chairman of the board of the Jamaica Bauxite Institute, little of consequence has been revealed by the new board as to what direction the industry is taking or plans to take. In fact, when asked, not one of our colleagues was able to supply the name of the new chairman.
So who, we all want to know, will rise like a phoenix from the ashes to speak on behalf of, guide, and help revive the industry, that so many families in central Jamaica are desperately dependent on for survival. Will it be the new minister of energy and mining, Clive Mullings, or someone else? Time will tell!
Anthony Porter is a former exploration geologist for Alcan and author of three books and numerous articles on various aspects of Jamaican geology. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.