The Department of the Environment has dismissed claims that the proposed gold-mine at Curraghinalt in Co Tyrone will damage the environment.
Responding to the plans of Dalradian Resources, Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland director James Orr said gold-mining can be a "very destructive" industry requiring strict regulation.
He said the proposed development would damage a special area of conservation (SAC) close to Owenkillew River.
However, a spokeswoman for the department said that while the site was close to Owenkillew SAC, it was not inside it and that an environmental statement on its potential impact was not required.
"Following a comprehensive consultation process, the department determined that the proposal did not require to be accompanied by an environmental statement and found no likely significant environmental impact."
Dalradian has said that a bulk sample – the removal of a large sample of rock for testing elsewhere – is temporary, short-term and reversible, therefore an environmental impact assessment (EIA) was not required. But company chief executive Patrick Anderson told the Belfast Telegraph that a full EIA would be carried out as part of the process of permitting a full-scale commercial mine at Curraghinalt.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said that the decision by Dalradian to expand its Tyrone operations was good news for the economy and that the firm could easily have chosen to base staff in Canada.
It has emerged that Dalradian was one of the companies which took part in a major investment conference in Belfast last year.
"The company had the option of locating these jobs in Toronto but was swayed by Northern Ireland's cost-effective business environment and the support offered by Invest NI," she said. "I first met with Dalradian Resources last year on a visit to Canada and I very much welcome that those initial talks... have led to this investment. The company is looking to develop the first underground gold-mine in Northern Ireland and this offers a unique opportunity to introduce specialist skills and sophisticated international resource investment into our important professional services sector."