Democratic senators on a powerful committee said no to a House proposal that would put a temporary moratorium on gold mining, opting to allow for study of whether it’s environmentally safe.

The decision by senators to oppose the moratorium surprised one of the state’s big environmental groups, the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, as well as people who live in Buckingham County and have shared concerns during state legislative hearings.

Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, said after Friday’s meeting of the Senate Rules Committee that most senators were OK with the study but didn’t see a need for a moratorium.

Gold mining “built a large part of the West,” Saslaw said. “What’s the big deal? We’re not talking coal mining.”

People and government officials in Buckingham were surprised last year to learn that a Canadian company had been drilling for years on land in the county to look for gold. The exploratory drilling could lead to a request for a gold mine, alarming people who live in the area and are concerned about the environmental impacts.

“By choosing to eliminate the moratorium, the knowledge gained from this study risks being learned after harm is done to vulnerable communities, rather than being harnessed on the front end to allow us to move forward in a deliberate and intentional manner before permits are issued,” said Chris Leyen, a senior policy manager with the League of Conservation Voters.