Titanium Mining in Binh Thuan
From Resort Capital to Mining Capital
The Future of Binh Thuan, Ninh Thuan
& Ba Ria-Vung Tau
10.07.11 On 22 June this year, the Department of Geology and Minerals of Vietnam announced it was seeking government approval for a 100-square-kilometer complex to tap titanium ore in Binh Thuan Province.
Tran Van Mien, head of the department's Geology Office, told the Saigon Times that the ministry had identified a titanium mine with estimated reserves of 540 million tonnes, encompassing the provinces of Ninh Thuan, Binh Thuan and Ba Ria-Vung Tau (these provinces include the tourism destinations of Vung Tau, Ho Tram, Binh Chau, La Gi, Khe Ga, Phan Thiet, Mui Ne, Ca Na and Phan Rang).
"The department has suggested building the complex to extract and process up to 150 million tonnes of titanium ore," said Mien. "The remaining 300 million tonnes should be kept as a national reserve resource for coming generations."
"If government approval is forthcoming, this will become the largest titanium complex in the country," he said.
Indeed, this won't just be the largest titanium mining complex in Vietnam—it will be one of the largest titanium mining operations in the world.
It appears the Department of Geology and Minerals will get their wish. Vietnam's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) announced this past Thursday that the Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai had just approved their plan in principal.
Titanium Mining's Toll on Tourism
All of this may come as a shock, given the very negative reacting to titanium mining in Vietnam's government-run news media over the past few years.
In August 2010, Vietnam Business News reported that More than 410 tourism projects in Binh Thuan Province had been seriously affected (in a bad way) by titanium mining.
Resorts complained about pollution from the mining. They asserted that mining companies use seawater to filter the titanium from sand and in the process, left waste products on the shoreline. Many tourism investors have withdrawn their projects due to mining complaints, even though they have received licenses.
Nguyen Hong Son, deputy head of the Binh Thuan Tourism Association and owner of Doi Su Resort, said the association had often urged the province not to authorize mineral exploitation near tourism areas, but to no avail.
For areas rich with titanium, the province will not allow investment or long-term construction in tourism projects.
"Binh Thuan sees tourism as the key economic sector. So we are trying to reconcile the benefits received by both the tourism and mineral industries," said Nguyen Van Thu, deputy head of Binh Thuan Province People's Committee.
Life Resorts Management Company was caught in one of the most publicized conflicts of tourism development and mining. In 2008, Chris Duffy, General Director of Life Resorts Management Company said, "A tourism resort and a mining project cannot go together so the foreign investors in the joint venture will abort the resort project."
Earlier, Life Resorts had contracted with Vietnam's Blue Ocean Co. Ltd. to build a resort named Life Wellness, which was pitched as a five-star 100+ room resort on nearly 5 hectares south of Phan Thiet City. The problem was that a huge mining project was also granted a license, right next door.
Nguyen Thanh Bich, CEO of Blue Ocean Co. Ltd. Also said that the neighboring titanium mine would likely cause noise, dust and polluted water that would be harmful to the environment of the resort.
Titanium Mining's Toll on Industry
Tourism projects aren't the only thing that titanium mining has stalled. In December 2009 the Binh Thuan government suspended licensing of the burgeoning new wind power industry because the projects all overlapped land which had high potential for mining. Binh Thuan, like many Vietnam provinces, has a manic problem of power-outages, yet has the highest potential for wind energy of any province. Unfortunately however, the sustainable benefits of wind energy are not as profitable as titanium mining in the short-term.
Last month Vietnam's MONRE admitted that titanium mining is now 'a hindrance to economic development in Binh Thuan Province' yet has inexplicably blocked the development of 7 out of 8 newly licensed industrial parks until future mining on the land can be completed. The ministry admitted blocking the creation of 'tens of thousands' of new jobs for the province.
Titanium Mining's Toll on the Environment
Recently Vietnam's MONRE delivered a scathing report of Binh Thuan's Mining Industry, saying that it was "destroying the local environment, water supply and agricultural crops" and that the local groundwater supply was "heavily tainted by the salinity that comes from the mining operations." Some residents near the White Sand Dunes claim that their land is now uninhabitable.
An official from MONRE said that fines administered by the government did not deter these companies from continuing their violations. At present, there are five titanium mining firms operating just north of Mui Ne, all of which were able to obtain and renew their mining licenses even after receiving fines by the provincial Department of Resources and Environment for serious violations of administrative and environmental regulations. In La Gi, south of Phan Thiet, MONRE said the Hai Tinh International Mineral Corporation was 'creating an environmental nightmare for the local people.'
Titanium mining also raises another pollution concern-namely radiation. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, high levels of radiation from titanium mining wastes can be up to 450 times more radioactive than "normal" soil samples. In late 2010, the Binh Thuan People's Committee fined four mining firms nearly US$15,000 for improprieties, and among other things, failing to monitor radiation levels.
Mining Trumps All
In 2008, Nguyen Van Thu, Vice Chairman of the province, said that he had received complaints from a number of resort investors situated near titanium projects south of Phan Thiet City.
"Honestly, the provincial government feels very awkward in solving the problem now," Thu said.
According to Thu, although the tourism industry contributed 40% to the province's gross domestic product, the province could not refuse the big titanium projects licensed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
Thu explained that under the Minerals Laws, when any new titanium mine is uncovered, all the ore at the mine must be tapped before other projects can be developed on the same site, except those mines earmarked as reserves for the future.
'We confirm tourism as the key industry of the province, so we will try to find solutions to harmonize the development of titanium and resort projects,' says vice chairman Thu.
Mr. Thu, in all due respect, it looks like you've just been overruled.
01.01.11 Binh Thuan provincial People's Committee has sanctioned four "black sand" mining companies for violations of environmental regulations, in the total amount of VND300 million (roughly US$15,000).
Four companies, including Sao Mai, Anh Duong Joint Stock Company, Corporation Street Lin and Hung Thinh Phat Mineral Corporation were fined for improper performance, inadequately reporting environmental impact assessment, and failing to monitor radiation levels in the project area (titanium mining often releases radiation from uranium and other radioactive materials into the environment). Additionally, JSC own Minh Ha Bentonite Company was fined for failing to register waste and emissions sources.
Titanium mining in Binh Thuan has been a serious issue threatening the province's tourism development, with almost as many licenses given out for mining as for resorts. Mining operations have derailed several major resort developments and local residents have complained about pollution and noise. Likewise, mining companies have not restored dunes back to their original state after completion. Instead vast areas of dunes have been stripped of vegetation, causing expansion of dunes and desertification in many coastal areas. Accusations have also been leveled that the province is underselling titanium resources for quick profit at the expense of future generations.
Read more about Binh Thuan's Environmental News.
06.02.08 After a series of new titanium mining ventures have been announced in Binh Thuan Province, the news agency VietNamNet Bridge has launched a harsh criticism of local residents and officials for mismanaging and overexploiting valuable resources. VietnamNet accuses locals of selling--even smuggling the limited resource for foreign buyers, far below market value--all to make a fast profit. Binh Thuan Province is thought to contain 4% of the world's reserves of titanium. Read the complete article here.