Saturday, April 22, 2017

Amber Mining in Ukraine

The heart of Ukraine’s Wild West, thousands of acres of ravaged pine and birch forests whose sandy soils hide millions of dollars in amber. The rush is built by tens of thousands of poor villagers as they illegally blast apart the landscape with pressure hoses, digging for the brown lumps of fossilized tree resin.

When amber is mined on a large scale, the visible impact is industrial wasteland. Acres upon acres of forest are clear cut and backhoes are used to dig a channel to a water source—usually a river. Water pumps made of old Mercedes van engines blast into the ground. As the wildcatters pump water into the earth, deep pits form and the amber, lighter than the rocks and sand, is pushed up in the water column.
Thousands of hectares of land have been destroyed by the illegal mining of amber. The stakes are enormous. Illegal Chinese wholesale buyers in Kiev pay $ 4,800 for a rare 100-gram stone. An intact, 50-gram piece pays out $3,800. Even a 2-gram piece is worth $150. Chinese are paying about $2,000 to $3,000 per kilogram for big stones.

In a country where most people make around $2,100 a year the incentive is obvious.
Although there are a few government controlled mines, the process to get a license to operate a legal mine can take years and is fraught with corruption at every level. The estimated $500 million a year illegal amber mining business shows no signs of stopping soon.