The government has suspended consideration of all 60 applications for gold exploration and production licences in Phichit and Phetchabun provinces amid concern about the environment, according to Anusorn Nuangpolmark, director-general of the Primary Industries and Mines Department.
He said the decision was supported by Industry Minister Kosit Panpiemras, and authorities would now seek in-depth environmental impact assessments of the prospective gold fields.
In addition, he said, the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) wanted a detailed study of the economic benefits of gold mining for the country before approving further exploration. Mr Anusorn said the decision would delay related activities of other state agencies, such as awarding land rights for mine activities.
The 60 licence applications involve land totalling 400,000 rai. Fifty-three of the applications are from Akara Mining Co, an Australia-based mining company, which has reportedly encountered some protests from local communities.
Akara Mining has been carrying out commercial production at its gold mine straddling Phichit and Phitsanulok provinces since 2002, and is seeking more gold reserves to support production.
Mr Anusorn met last week with Australian Ambassador William Paterson to discuss the lengthy delays in processing the licence applications.
He said the Industry Ministry was responding to concerns expressed by communities as well as local activists that the environmental impact of gold mining could outweigh the economic benefits to communities and the country.
Another senior official from the ministry said other mining licence applications would likely to be delayed as well, including proposals for potash and diamond mines in the country's northern and northeastern regions. He noted that these mining operators still needed to resolve conflicts with local communities.
In any case, the final say on new mining licences is now likely to rest with the next government since the NESDB study is expected to take several months.