Permit for a new French gold rush

This is what the company is looking for: Gold-bearing ore

Government grants licence to company hoping to find precious metal in a long-forgotten mine

There may, still, be gold in an old mine of Maine-et-Loire.

At least, that is what one company believes - and the economic recovery ministry thinks they may be right.

Last week, it awarded Variscan Mines a permit to prospect for the precious metal in the depleted St-Pierre-Montlimart mine, near Cholet.

It is just one of more than a dozen requests for licences to mine for metals including copper, zinc and lead, that have been filed with the government.

These days, Cholet is better known for its shoe factory than its mining past, but geologists for Variscan believe it may at last be economically viable to reopen an old mine.

Company CEO Michel Bonnemaison said: “They lost the vein in the 1950s, but it should still be there. We'll see if we can find it again."

This new hunt for gold is possible because of advances in geological surveying and mining methods, he added.

The company has also filed eight other applications for licences to explore for tin, copper, zinc and tungsten at locations across France.

“There is good mining potential in France for anyone who takes the trouble to look,” said Patrice Christman, of the Bureau of Geological and Mining Research. “With luck, we might find world-class deposits.”

Not everyone is happy that the licence has been granted.

In the last decade, arsenic levels more than 100 times higher than normal were recorded at a former gold mine in Salsigne, in the Aude region, which closed in the 1990s. The site was dubbed the most polluted area in France.

Mr Bonnemaison sought to reassure residents living nearby. He said: "There’s no question of leaving behind the same junk. We want to change the image of the mine.”

But green lobby Friends of the Earth argued it would be better look into what it has dubbed "urban mines" before reopening a mine in St-Pierre-Montlimart.

"There is more gold in a tonne of mobile phones and computers than in a tonne of rubble from a mine," said Friends of the Earth representative Camille Lecompte.

Photo: Lyndi & Jason

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