The mountains and forests of northern Greece could hold more than $26 billion in gold just waiting to be mined, a treasure trove that could help solve the country's economic crisis, Greek Deputy Energy and Environment Minister Asimakis Papageorgiou told the Associated Press last week. Planned gold mines could bring 1,500 much-needed jobs, but at what environmental cost? Protestors and opponents say a proposed open-pit mining operation on the Halkidiki peninsula would destroy the region's natural beauty and biodiversity, leaving nothing but pollution in its wake.

What's more, the company set up to perform the mining operation, Hellas Gold S.A.,  is 95 percent owned by a Canadian company, Eldorado Gold Inc., and only 5 percent owned by a Greek company, Aktor. While the mine's supporters say foreign investment will help improve the Greek economy, opponents say the profits would not stay in the country and will only leave Greece to deal with the clean-up in the future. "This will be a business for 10, maybe 15 years, and then this company will just disappear, leaving all the pollution behind," local hotel owner Christos Adamidis told The New York Times. "If the price of gold drops, it might not even last that long. And in the meantime, the dust this will create will be killing off the leaves. There will be no goats or olives or bees here."

While American media are just taking notice of the story, the people of Greece have been paying attention for a long time. A protest about the gold mine attracted 3,000 people this past November. Another protest took place on Jan. 12 in Athens, with several hundred people attending. Protestors chanted "Yes to water, no to gold. Take your cyanide and get out," according to a report from Agence France-Presse. Cyanide is a frequently used in open-pit gold mining to extract the precious metal from ore, although there are no indications it would be used in this case.

The world is also watching. Eldorado's stock price has increased since it first announced plans to mine the region. According to the industry website Mining.com, Greece is poised to become one of Europe's biggest gold producers in the next four years if the Hellas mine goes into production.

The Halkidiki site was previously mined by another Canadian company, TVX, which left the region in 2003 when Greece's high court ruled that the environmental costs of mining were not worth the potential economic gains.

In addition to gold, the Hellas Gold mine would dig out lead, zinc, silver and copper.