Located in the Omnogovi Aimag (province) in the Southern Gobi Desert region of Mongolia, the Oyu Tolgoi copper/silver/gold mine is one of the largest undeveloped copper and gold deposits in the world. Estimates of the total copper and gold reserves of the mine have reached 37 million tons and 46 million ounces respectively. The Mongolian GDP is expected to increase by 30% once Oyu Tolgoi (OT) reaches full production.
The mine is jointly owned by the Government of Mongolia (with 34% stake in the project) and the companies Turquoise Hill Resources (formerly Ivanhoe Mines) (Canada) and Rio Tinto (UK) (with 66% ownership). Given the expected benefit of the project, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) approved over $1 billion each for the project’s expansion in early 2013 as a part of their strategic development plans for Mongolia, with the hopes of raising $4 billion with an assortment of other private investors.
Civil society groups, both in Mongolia and abroad, are concerned about the negative environmental and social impacts the mine will have. Two fact-finding missions undertaken in 2011, one by a USAID field team and another by a coalition of CSOs (including BIC and OT Watch) found that the long-term interests of the mining companies and the traditional herders that live nearby are incompatible.
One of the most significant concerns regarding this project is water resource management. Oyu Tolgoi is located in the Gobi Desert, an arid ecosystem that is suffering the effects of increased desertification due to climate change. Mining is a notoriously water-intensive industry, and the large size of Oyu Tolgoi means that competition for water resources with the nearby nomadic herding community will be fierce. There are at least 8 other mines within a 500 km radius of Oyu Tolgoi, and all are facing water scarcity issues.