Chile: new problems threaten Pascua Lama mine

As of April 1 the Environmental Evaluation Service of Atacama, a region in northern Chile, had imposed a new fine on the Chilean subsidiary of the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation for violations at its Pascua Lama facility, a giant open-pit gold, silver and copper mine being built in the Andes at the border between Argentina and Chile. The fine on the subsidiary, the Compañía Minera Nevada SPA, came to about US$85,509 (expressed as 1,000 Monthly Tax Units, UTM, a special unit Chile uses for mining taxes and fines; it is set this month at 40,125 pesos). This was in addition to a US$256,518 (3,000 UTM) fine the service imposed a month earlier. According to Pedro Lagos, Atacama’s regional minister for the environment, the fines are for the company’s failure to meet requirements for monitoring damage the mine’s construction could cause to nearby glaciers.

Problems continue to accumulate for the mine, which is projected to cost Barrick $8 billion to build. A newly established “environmental court” in the Antofagasta region adjacent to Atacama recently brought charges against the Barrick subsidiary for damage it caused to mountain pastures and to the El Estrecho river because of poor construction at the mine. Another threat comes from a January decision by national mines commissioner Paulo Cortes OlguĂ­n, who upheld claims by Chilean mine owner Jorge LopehandĂ­a and the Vancouver-based Mountainstar Gold Inc. to the Chilean section of the Pascua Lama site. Meanwhile, some of the construction work remains suspended because of an Oct. 31 order by the National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin), which found unsafe levels of pollution at the site that could affect the construction workers’ health. The ongoing problems demonstrate that the Pascua Lama facility, slated to be one of the world’s largest gold mines, simply shouldn’t be built, according to Lucio Cuenca, director of the Latin American Monitoring Center for Environmental Conflicts (OLCA). (Radio BĂ­o BĂ­o, Chile, April 1; Upside Down World, April 3; Radio Universidad de Chile, April 6)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 7.

See our last posts on Barrick Gold and the climate crisis in the Andes.