Thais Fight to Save Rare Fossil Bed from Miners
BANGKOK Thai conservationists urged the government on Wednesday to stop a state firm digging up what they called the world's only bed of fresh water snail fossils.
The firm had already started digging, with cabinet permission, into the 12-metre (39 ft) thick layer of fossils to get at low-grade lignite coal underneath it, they said.
"This is a big loss to our national heritage," said Wasan Panich of the National Human Rights Commission, which is working on behalf of conservations to persuade the government to change its mind.
"We have what others don't, but we just take it for granted, not realising its value," said a government palaeontologist who declined to be identified.
"What I can say is that it is worth preserving."
The cabinet agreed in December the state power producer Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand could dig through the fossil bed in 10 of the 17 acres it covers in Lampang province, 600 km (375 miles) north of Bangkok.
That plan, based on both environmental and economic concerns, had been agreed by government ministries and meant EGAT would give up 400,000 tonnes of coal worth 200 million baht, or $5 million, EGAT assistant governor Payap Ponpirodom told Reuters.
"But if we conserve the entire site, we would lose 265 million tonnes of coal worth 130 billion baht," he said. The cost would be doubled if EGAT had to buy natural gas to replace the lignite, he said.
Mining had begun in more than half of the allowed 10 acres, but EGAT decided to suspend the excavation after the National Human Rights Commission visited the site on Monday, pending further studies by the Department of Mineral Resources.
The suspension would last 15 days and EGAT would have to pay the company it hired to do the mining 4 billion baht if it did not then resume, Payap said.