The Imerys group announced on Monday, October 24, the opening by 2028 of one of the largest lithium mines, this metal necessary for the construction of batteries for electric cars in particular, to reduce France’s dependence on vis-à-vis China in its supply.
Although the last coal mine closed in 2004, France still has many mining sites in mainland France and overseas territories. There are also 64 oil and gas deposits, particularly in the Aquitaine basin and the Paris basin.
According to the French Civil Code, the subsoil belongs to the owner of the soil, but the management of the mining subsoil belongs to the State, which can concede its exploitation to a mining company. The mining industries sector accounts for 12% of France’s industrial GDP and 110,000 jobs according to Bercy.
Salt, bauxite and kaolin
The term “mine” refers to the nature of the material exploited (fuels, metals or mineral and chemical resources) whether underground or in the open. Conversely, we speak of a quarry for the extraction of building materials such as limestone, sand or clay. In France, the main metals mined are rock salt (or halite), bauxite, gold and nickel.
Rock salt, or mining salt, the main mineral resource exploited in France, is extracted from underground deposits formed by layers of fossil sea salt. In France, the main deposits are located in the Grand Est, near Nancy, where there are nine sodium salt mining operations, one in Bresse, one in Chatelard (Drôme), two in Provence and two along of the Pyrenees.
Bauxite, which notably enables the production of aluminium, is extracted in the Hérault, on two sites, to the west of Montpellier. Finally, the Échassieres quarry, in Allier, where the future lithium mine will be located, already houses a mining operation, devoted to the extraction of kaolin and a concentrate of other metals (tantalum, niobium, tin). .
Gold and nickel in the Overseas Territories
In French Guiana, all operations are devoted to gold extraction, with an annual production of between 1.2 and 1.5 tonnes, mainly operated by SMEs and artisanal miners. In parallel with this exploitation, illegal gold panning would represent around 10 tonnes of gold per year, extracted by 6,000 to 10,000 illegal miners.
In New Caledonia, mining sites have been extracting nickel since the end of the 19th century. In 2019 and 2020, nearly 210,000 tons of material had been extracted, placing the territory in the list of the world’s leading producers of nickel.
Framed by the mining code, the exploitation of subsoil resources deemed to be of general interest is however criticized by several environmental NGOs. This code had been modified within the framework of the climate law, voted in August in 2021, to reinforce the monitoring of the exploitation on the environment and the follow-up of the rehabilitation of the sites after closure.