After Canadian mining exploration company Aston Bay Holdings began exploring Buckingham County for gold, Delegate Elizabeth Guzman (D-Prince William) introduced HB2213, which prohibits the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy from authorizing permits for gold mining while studies are conducted with the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice and other stakeholders.
“The prospect of an open pit gold mine in Buckingham county near the historic district of Union Hill and along the James River is looking increasingly likely in the near future,” Guzman said in a Friday House Rules committee meeting.
The Buckingham County Board of Supervisors voted five to two on January 11 to rezone portions of the county to allow core drilling exploration for gold to continue. In 2020, county officials were surprised to discover Canadian mining exploration company Aston Bay Holdings had been quietly drilling for samples without permits; the planning commission and the board stopped the exploration activity while officials could consult with experts.
Aston Bay Holdings has emphasized the difference between mining and exploration activities.
“Mineral exploration uses drilling rigs that are very similar to those used for geotechnical work or the drilling of wells for water sourcing,” states a company briefing. “The drill rigs are transported to and from the drill sites using existing logging roads with minimal surface disturbance (a few square yards) that is rehabilitated to its original state upon completion of the drill hole. In addition, the open drill hole is cemented from bottom to top in accordance with best practices.”
“An active exploration program does not by itself indicate that mining will eventually occur, or even that it would be a desirable investment. The road from exploration to mine production is a long one,” company documents state.
Guzman’s bill requires that the mining study be presented to the General Assembly by July 1, 2023, and blocks permits for gold mines larger than 10 acres until July 1, 2024.
“We need to take a pause, Madam Speaker, and carefully assess how gold mining will impact the environment and water quality if left unchecked,” Guzman said.
Without discussion, the Rules Committee approved the bill 13 to five, and the bill is scheduled to have its first of three reading on the House floor on Monday.
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