We discussed with the National Agency for Mineral Resources (NAMR) President Nicolae Turdean about challenges faced by the regulatory authority, both in terms of issuing the necessary documentation for the companies that want to exploit deposits, as well as in terms of controls and monitoring; we are talking about 400 petroleum licenses and over 22,000 licenses for the exploitation of ores, coal, water, building materials.
What is currently the situation at NAMR, compared to the period when you worked within the institution?
Nicolae Turdean: The situation is radically changed from several points of view. A smaller number of staff, both in the head office and in the territory. 102 persons must manage about 400 petroleum agreements and over 22,000 licenses for the exploitation of ores, coal, water, building materials. In other news, staff revenues are at the level of 2012, being the lowest salaries in the system of regulatory institutions in Romania. Also, the legislation is still the one from the pre-accession period, creating many problems in correlation with the related legislation, issued after 2007 (Environment Law, Water Law, Offshore Law). Given these circumstances, the activity of the agency is carried out under very difficult conditions.
When is the tender for the 11th Licensing Round for petroleum concessions announced?
Nicolae Turdean: Analysing the package of offers, we have found that for the offshore blocks offered, six in number, there are some legislative issues caused by the legislation that came into force in 2017-2018, regarding the offshore activity. We are in the stage where we are analysing the possibility of maintaining in the offer the offshore blocks. Somewhere in March we plan to resolve this issue and subsequently to publish the notice on the organization of the tender. We estimate that by the end of March we will also publish the notice. Currently, the offer for the 11th Round includes 22 onshore blocks and the six offshore blocks mentioned.
What is the latest information on the intention of the US company ExxonMobil to withdraw from the Neptun Deep project, in the Black Sea?
Nicolae Turdean: There aren’t any new elements. For now, the companies interested in buying ExxonMobil’s stake are in the period when they have access to the data room.
Under the new conditions imposed by the European Commission, on environmental protection, what is in your opinion the future of mining of Romania?
Nicolae Turdean: In the future, these conditions will affect the exploitation of lignite and hard coal in our country. It should be mentioned that the future environmental conditions will not affect the exploitation of the other mineral resources.
What can you tell us about gold reserves? Is gold still exploited in Romania?
Nicolae Turdean: Currently no gold and silver deposit are exploited. I don’t see any prospect in the near future for their exploitation, without a change of the legal framework in the mining sector.
The allocation of a space for NAMR archive has recently been approved. What does this archive mean?
Nicolae Turdean: The archive of the National Agency for Mineral Resources is hosted in 66 locations throughout the country. The archive totals over 15 kilometres of documents. We currently have a bailment agreement with Romaero for four halls totalling an area of over 8,000 sqm. We have requested their management, given that Romaero has decided to transfer in lieu of payment these utilities to be able to start the planning work. If they are received as payment, the number of locations will be reduced to four, allowing the protection, management and real use of the data. This archive includes historical documents on geology and mining in Romania, as well as documents of geological recognition of the national territory. Most of these documents are classified on various levels of secrecy.
How many licenses did NAMR grant last year? How many of them refer to the exploitation of sand and gravel?
Nicolae Turdean: We are currently facing blockage in terms of approval of exploitation licenses, having over 450 licenses pending approval, some since 2002. In this situation, the market has shifted for building materials to exploitation through permits. Over 1,000 permits were requested in 2019 for the exploitation of building materials and a large part of them have been approved or are in the process of being approved.
Since you took over as NAMR President, you announced controls at gravel pits. What has been accomplished so far?
Nicolae Turdean: A protocol has been concluded with the Romanian Police to establish a joint program of controls at gravel pits in Romania. Following a single control, four criminal complaints have been filed for unauthorized exploitation, 5 areas with unauthorized exploitations have been identified, and here the investigation continues to detect the offenders. The controls will continue in March, with the start of activity at gravel pits. Sand and gravel exploitation are also targeted. Moreover, it has become part of the Forest Radar program, entitled the Gravel Pits Radar. Thus, all the transport equipment that departs from gravel pits or work-points will be monitored.
What revenues did NAMR collect from royalties in 2019?
Nicolae Turdean: Over RON 1.5 billion were paid to the state budget last year from royalties. I believe the collected amount, at least in terms of building materials, does not reflect reality. The objective of controls that we will carry out is precisely to identify and combat tax evasion in exploitation.
What steps will you take to optimize the procedures of endorsement and issuing of permits?
Nicolae Turdean: Finding that all the documents issued by NAMR (permits, licenses, approvals, authorizations) depend to a great extent on collaboration with the other state bodies – territorial agencies for environmental protection, water basin administrations of the ‘Romanian Waters’ National Administration – we will organize under the auspices of the Secretariat General of the Government a meeting with these institutions, so that together we can identify and legislate the ways for reducing the terms of approval for issuing such documents.
What are the priorities of NAMR for this year and the near future? How will you manage the challenges you are facing, including the shortage of staff?
Nicolae Turdean: First of all, we want to start unlocking the mining activity, by increasing the transparency of our decisions. We plan to continue the series of consultations with all employers in the system in the decision-making act. Harmonization of the legislation applicable to the act of management of mineral resources is a second priority. This means, on the one hand, that the specific legislation must be addressed, and on the other hand it must be put in line with the related legislation. The activity of monitoring how the agreements and exploitation licenses are observed will have to be intensified, in order to combat tax evasion and avoid compromising the deposits subject to exploitation. We want to reintroduce consultation of communities where such activities are carried out, in order to ensure a harmonization of our activity with their desires and expectations. These are only some of the guidelines based on which we want to continue our activity.