An Environment Conservation Group in northeastern Thailand is fighting to prevent a potash mine from becoming active. Ms. Manee Boonrod, 75, says she will continue to fight for the environment and the health of her neighbours.
“If you want to mine potash, do it in your area, not ours,” Manee, a key figure in the Udon Thani Environment Conservation Group, stated. She has fought a plan to operate a massive potash mine for over 20 years.
“It’s always been a pleasure to live in our hometown.” But we don’t know what will happen if mining operations begin here,” she explained.
Asia Pacific Potash Corporation (APPC), in which Italian-Thai Development Plc owns 90%, and the Finance Ministry owns 10%, has been awarded the license to operate a potash mine of 26,446 rai in Udon Thani.
Locals currently own the majority of this land. The license allows APPC to collect potash as long as mining operations are at least 100 meters below the surface.
The 25-year license potash mine went into effect on September 23 this year.
APPC will concentrate on the construction required to mine the potash for the first three years. Over the following 21 years, it plans to produce up to two million tons of potash fertilizer annually.
Following the mine’s closure, it must spend a year or two rehabilitating the natural terrain around it, according to the license terms.
After research revealed that Udon Thani is rich in potash, APPC picked this location for its mine.
“Once operational, the mine would drastically reduce Thailand’s reliance on potash imports,” said government deputy spokeswoman Ratchada Thanadirek.
Thailand now imports 800,000 tons of potash annually, primarily for fertilizer manufacturing. The annual cost of importing ranges between 7.6 billion and 10 billion baht. Potash prices have skyrocketed since sanctions were placed on potash-producing Russia in response to its February invasion of Ukraine.
According to APPC, the mine will reduce Thailand’s potash imports by seven billion baht and export eighteen billion baht of raw material annually. It goes on to say that the mine will provide more than 29.5 billion baht in revenue for the government over its lifetime.
Locals suspect the government granted APPC the license even though a dispute over its intended operation is pending before the Supreme Administrative Court.
“We can’t believe officials have neglected our two-decade campaign,” said Pikulthong Totuyo, a senior Udon Thani Environment Conservation Group member.
On May 9, 2013, her organization filed a lawsuit with the Udon Thani Administrative Court seeking intervention concerning a study on land-rights documents to be used in favour of the proposed potash mine.
In 2018, the court decided to favour the group, citing the report’s illegitimacy. Thailand’s Department of Mines and Industry and the Udon Thani Industry Office were both tasked with reviewing APPC’s request for a mining license under the Minerals Act BE 2560, passed in 2017.
The Supreme Administrative Court is still considering the APPC’s appeal.
“We did not fight this struggle alone,” Pikulthong explained. “Local teenagers, as well as environmentalists from across Thailand, have joined our fight.”
Locals, according to Pikulthong, are especially concerned about the planned potash mine’s potential health and environmental repercussions. Residents have toiled in agriculture for centuries and enjoyed high yields. Despite their lack of wealth, they are content with their way of life.
“What if the mine results in land subsidence, air pollution, and infertile soil?” she wondered.
She said the environmental concerns are not unfounded, given the damage done by Thailand’s first potash mine in Nakhon. The Dan Khun Thod mine has produced 100,000 tons of potash annually since receiving a license in 2015.
“We’ve already seen land collapse in Dan Khun Thod,” Pikulthong explained. “Mining operations will produce outcomes over which we have no control.”
The country’s second potash mine, managed by ASEAN Potash Chaiyaphum Plc, is yet to begin production.
APPC has completed an environmental impact assessment in preparation for opening Thailand’s third potash mine (EIA). However, the Udon Thani Environment Conservation Group maintains that the EIA was incorrectly completed, with Suwit Kularbwong, the group’s advisor, claiming that residents were excluded from the assessment process.
“Whenever we bring this up, officials merely respond that this or that step has already been accomplished,” he stated.
He noted that if authorities proceed with the APPC potash mine, they must at least provide assurances that its operations will be safe and fair to communities.
“If you declare in the EIA that you have steps to reduce environmental consequences, you must apply them visibly for us to see,” Suwit said.
According to officials, APPC would ensure that its mining operations do not jeopardize the soil structure, preventing land subsidence. As a result, built structures in the area will be unaffected. Furthermore, the EIA includes strategies to deal with the area’s salt, dust, and salinity.
According to the APPC’s strategic environmental assessment, 63 percent of direct stakeholders support the establishment of a potash mine in their community, subject to certain criteria.
The prerequisites include the following:
- Adequate environmental protection.
- Compensation for affected persons.
- The provision of a portion of the mine’s income to local community development.
In addition, only 100 of the 2,000 persons who attended public discussions on the potash project opposed the plans.
Suwit, on the other hand, stated that public forums were typically held inside military camps, away from residents living near the proposed mine site.
Sompoch Wongkathum, APPC community relations chief, claimed that just a few families opposed the mining project and that his team was reaching out to explain the benefits they would receive.
“We will also establish 11 funds for communities and the environment.” During the course of the project, these funds will give over 3.5 billion baht for community and environmental care,” he stated.
The Udon Thani Environment Conservation Group aims to oppose the APPC mine to the bitter end, submitting petitions to numerous authorities, including the governor of Udon Thani.
“I’m not sure if the potash mine will ever come here,” Manee remarked. “However, I can assure you that we will fight to the death.”