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Passing the Buck: Ministry of the Environment Claims It Has No Authority Re: Teghout Tailings Dam

The Ministry of Environment seems to want nothing to do with the Teghout tailings dump.

This is the logical conclusion to be reached by reading the ministry’s response to our inquiry about what the government has in store for the controversial mine given that local and foreign specialists have voiced their concerns regarding the tailings dump.

Hetq wrote to Minister of the Environment Erik Grigoryan, noting that Vallex Group Vice President Vardan Aramyan, in an interview with Hetq on August 20, 2018, stated that the technical safety indicators of the Teghout tailings dump do not match Armenia's highest legislative and international standards.

Now, plans are underway to restart the Teghout mine.

We asked Minister Grigoryan to clarify the following:

  • Whether his ministry has recently assessed the Teghout tailings dump has recently been assessed by the Ministry of Environment.
  • Whether ministry specialists have conducted a study to find out if the tailings dump will be safe for operation or are there risk factors that can endanger the environment. If professional studies were conducted, we asked for copies of the conclusions reached.

Hetq received the following response from Vahe Jilavyan, the ministry’s acting chief secretary, dated July 22, 2019.

"According to the Prime Minister's Decision N 745-L of June 11, 2018, the Ministry of the Environment does not have the authority to determine the technical safety indicators and the operational safety of the tailings dump. The state evaluation of objects, processes, and projects, which can possibly cause of emergencies,  and their solutions, is entrusted to the Ministry of Emergency Situations." 

By the abovementioned decision, the prime minister merely confirmed the charter of the Ministry of the Environment (formerly the Ministry of Nature Protection). According to the ministry’s letter of July 22, that charter does not obligate the ministry to do anything to examine the safety of the Teghout tailings dam.

It should be noted that in October-November, 2017, specialists from four foreign companies (the British In Situ Site Investigation Services, the American Global Resource Engineering, the Austrian "ATC Williams, and the Russian Mechanobr Engineering) inspected the Teghout tailings dam and  concluded that any relaunch of the Teghout copper-molybdenum mine, without raising the stability level of the dam’s outer bulwark and increasing its seismic and static security, would inevitably lead to the bulwark’s saturation,  creating a real threat that the dam would collapse on its own.

To ensure further monitoring of the tailings dam’s safety, on July 18, 2018, Vallex Group Director General Sahak Karapetyan submitted the assessment reports drafted by the above companies to the ministry.   

On July 1, the Teghout tailings dump, with its seismic and static risks, was operated by Teghout CJSC. (The company was then owned by VTB Bank).

We asked the Ministry of Environment to clarify what safety guarantees had been guaranteed in order for it to permit the relaunch of the Teghout mine and tailings dump.

In response, Acting Chief Secretary Vahe Jilavyan wrote:

"The reports on the studies carried out by the organizations listed in your letter have been submitted to the authorized body. The Ministry of Environment does not have the authority to authorize the operation of the tailing dump. The State Water Committee of the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure is the authorized body when it comes to the safety of tailings dams’ bulwarks.”

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