Underground mining affects surface vegetation and habitats far less than open-pit mining. However, this method may not be appropriate for all types of deposits found in the Guayana region. Nevertheless, even in open-pit operations, mitigating measures can lessen the environmental impacts from mining (See Box 10: Guidelines for Responsible Mining). Many of these measures involve careful waste management and separating toxic materials from water sources. Guidelines and principles for mining operations have been established in several developed countries. One such set of guidelines – the Whitehorse Mining Initiative – was established in Canada and signed by a number of mining companies, including Placer Dome. The initiative addresses a broad range of issues of interest to mining companies, governments, and communities, but some of the specific environmental and community guidelines recognize the importance of maintaining healthy ecosystems and the rights of indigenous peoples.  However, the initiative is still new and its implementation is not complete. 
How environmentally and socially responsible are industrial mining companies
Official documents state that medium and large-scale mining companies will be given priority in the development of Venezuela’s gold mines.113 Clearly large-scale mining companies would be easier to control than illegal small-scale miners. Large industry players, such as Placer Dome and Broken Hill Proprietary, Inc. (BHP) are among those companies seeking or holding concessions in Venezuela. Some of these more established companies have environmental and social policies and, therefore, tend to be more responsive in complying with environmental regulations. 
In fact, the mining industry, led by BHP, has taken the lead in promoting an Environmental Code of Conduct for mining in Venezuela.
In its promotional literature, Placer Dome emphasizes its commitment to the environment and the development of communities surrounding its operations. On its web page, the company asserts, “We believe in … responsible environmental stewardship and the provision of a safe and healthy workplace for our employees.”  BHP’s corporate documents state that the company applies, “standards that effectively minimize adverse impacts arising from our operations, products and services” and seeks to apply its environmental policy even in places where regulation is lacking. 
In Venezuela, Placer Dome has proposed establishing a small-scale mining cooperative concession to allow small-scale miners access to alluvial gold on the Las Cristinas concession, with the technical advice and assistance of Placer Dome engineers. This area, which is of little economic interest to the company, would be operated by miners from a nearby community. In this way, the company hopes to lessen the possibility of invasion by miners who had previously worked the area on which Las Cristinas is located.
The need for strong government regulation, oversight, and an informed civil society. The level of enforcement and regulation varies widely between and even within countries. Many developing countries, such as Bolivia, Guyana, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines  either do not have adequate capacity to monitor the activities of mining companies or allow practices that would be illegal in developed countries. Even in the United States, where standards are thought to be among the highest, the state of Nevada does not have reclamation standards.
Placer Dome has a record of spills at other mines where it has operated. Placer Pacific, a Placer Dome subsidiary based in Australia owned 40 percent of the Marcopper gold mine in the Philippines, where 15 million tonnes of tailings escaped into the nearby Boac River in 1996. The mine was closed in early 1996. In its latest annual report, the company attributed its 1996 losses to the Marcopper tailings spill.  In another case, the Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea has been dumping tailings into the Maiapam-Strickland River, a practice that would not pass effluent standards in Australia or the United States. The company maintains that storing heavy lead tailings in a contained pond is not feasible at Porgera because of the area’s unstable terrain, seismic activity, and heavy rainfall.
BHP acknowledges that its copper and gold mine in Papua New Guinea has caused serious environmental damages in the Ok Tedi watershed, including increased sediment loading in the river, alteration of the course of the river, increased flooding, and loss of forests.  Since it first began operating in 1984, the mine has been releasing 80,000 tonnes per day of untreated tailings into the Ok Tedi River. The Ok Tedi River, a tributary of one of Papua New Guinea’s main rivers, provides fish and irrigates garden plots in nearby communities. When the mine was built, BHP officials negotiated with the government to allow the company to bypass existing regulations and dump tailings directly into the river, alleging that the region was too unstable to support a tailings dam. Indeed, a tailings dam built during the early construction phase of the project collapsed because of landslides.  In 1994, after communities living near the mine filed a lawsuit against the company, BHP agreed to search for ways to reduce the amount of tailings entering the Ok Tedi river system. The company has also established a trust fund for communities in the region to ensure that they benefit from BHP’s activities and are not affected after the mine is closed
References and notes
111. Whitehorse Mining Initiative Leadership Council Accord, “Whitehorse Mining Initiative,” final report, 1994, available from Mining Association of Canada web page, http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/ms/sdev/wmi-e.htm.
112. A. Young, British Colombia MiningWatch, personal communication, January 29, 1998.
113 GOV, “Un proyecto de Pa