The Imerys Group plans to open one of the world's largest lithium mines by 2028 to reduce France's dependence on China for metals, especially those needed to produce batteries for electric vehicles.
The last coal mine was closed in 2004, but France still has many mining operations on the mainland and overseas territories. There are also 64 oil and gas fields, especially in the Aquitaine and Paris basins.
According to the French Civil Code, subsoil belongs to the owner of the soil, but the management of mining subsoil belongs to the state, and its exploitation can be transferred to a mining company. According to Bercy, the active mining sector accounts for 12% of France's industrial GDP and 110,000 jobs.
Salt, bauxite and kaolin
The term "mine" refers to the nature of the material extracted (fuel, metal or minerals and chemicals), whether underground or open pit. In contrast, quarries are used to extract building materials such as limestone, sand, and clay. In France, rock salt (or table salt made from rock), bauxite, gold, and nickel are mainly mined.
Rock salt, the main mineral mined in France, is extracted from underground deposits formed from layers of fossilized sea salt. In France, the main deposits are located in the largest region near Nancy: 1 in Bressay, 1 in Le Chatral (Drome), 2 in Provence, and 2 sodium salt deposits along the Pyrenees.
Bauxite, which is used for aluminum production, is mined at 2 sites in the Hélo region, west of Montpellier. Finally, kaolin and other metal concentrates (tantalum, niobium, tin) are already being produced in the Echassier quarry in the Arieux department, where the future lithium mine will be located.
Overseas French gold and nickel
French Guiana mines exclusively gold, with an annual production of 1.2-1.5 tons, mainly by small and medium-sized enterprises and artisanal miners. At the same time, it is estimated that about 10 tons of gold per year are mined by illegal miners numbering from 6,000 to 10,000 people.
Nickel has been mined in New Caledonia since the late 19th century. By 2019 and 2020, almost 21 million tons of raw materials were mined, making the territory one of the world's leading nickel producers.
Mining is considered to be in the public interest, even though it is regulated by the Mining Law. Mining has been criticized by many environmental NGOs. As part of the Climate Change Law 2021, the Mining Law was amended to strengthen environmental monitoring of mining operations and control over site restoration after closure.
Thus, the opening of a lithium mine in France is an important step in the country's development, but its environmental impact should also be carefully considered.