TRANSPARENCY and strict environmental regulations are needed to avoid problems between local communities and potash mines, an academic said recently.
Rungreung Lertsirivorakul, a geologist at Khon Kaen University, said mining companies should make their operation plans clear to the public to avoid problems, adding that suspicious and hidden strategies would only give rise to conflicts.
This year Thailand granted concessions for the country's first potash mining operations to the mining companies Thai Kali in Nakhon Ratchasima's Dan Khun Thot district and Asean Potash in Chaiyaphum's Bamnet Narong district.
Both sites have been hit with problems due to the lack of transparency in mining operations. Residents of Dan Khun Thot claim that the mine is consuming local water resources, while those living in Bamnet Narong claim the mining operators have a secret plan to build a coal-fired power plant.
He said the plan to bury slag meant there was only a slim chance that mining activities would have a substantial effect on the environment, so conflicts could be avoided by strictly following good mining practices.
"If mining companies do what they say, then I think the impact from salinity and land subsidence will be limited and there should be no problems between mine operators and local people in relation to environmental issues," he said.
"Nevertheless, they should make their mining operations transparent, so everyone can be sure that all procedures are strictly followed and that there will be fewer impacts on nearby communities."
However, people living near both mines have said they are already having problems due to the mining operations.
Bhan Phongpipak, a member of the Bamnet Narong Rak Ban Kerd group, said the mining company did not inform residents that they were building a coal-fired power plant, which had sparked a conflict.
"We were not against the mine, but they hid plans to build a coal-fired power plant and chemical complex, so people are against the operation because we don't want a coal-fired power plant and industry in our area," Bhan said.
Rattikar Perkkhuntod, a resident living near the Thai Kali mine in Dan Khun Thot, said the company was not following proper procedures in terms of water usage.
"The mine said that they would use water from elsewhere for their operation, but instead they are taking water directly from our canals," Rattikar said.
"This proves that the mining company is not sincere. This does not include the land dispute that originated after a local politician illegally transferred people's land to sell to the mine," she added.
However, Thai Kali executive director Wutthichai Sa-nguanwongchai said the company had a good relationship with local people because it was creating jobs and spending Bt37.5 million in the area over the course of the entire concession period.
"We are committed to operating the mine without having an impact on local communities. We are using water from the Lam Khanchu Reservoir in Chaiyaphum to avoid competing for local water resources and we have a strict zero-discharge policy that will ensure little impact on the environment," Wutthichai said.
Thai Kali will reportedly have the capacity to produce 100,000 tonnes of potash and 200,000 tonnes of salt as a byproduct each year. Slag and wastewater from the mining operation will be buried underground to prevent salinity intrusion and subsidence according to the operation plans.
The Primary Industries and Mines Department has so far granted concessions for potash mining only to Thai Kali mine in Dan Khun Thot and Asean Potash in Bamnet Narong. Both the mines have already been constructed and are scheduled to start operating officially in 2019.
Meanwhile, the department is considering granting a mining concession to Asia Pacific Potash Corporation in Udon Thani.