Apr 102013

Reuters reports, “Barrick Gold Corp halted construction on its huge Pascua-Lama gold and silver mine in Chile on Wednesday after a local court ordered the suspension to weigh indigenous communities’ claims that the project destroys glaciers and harms their water supply. …The appeals court in the northern town of Copiapo said it will analyze the complaints of ‘environmental irregularities’ in connection with Barrick’s project…” The court ruling cited concentrations of arsenic, aluminum, copper and sulphates in groundwater and rivers in the Atacama desert region that exceeded levels deemed acceptable.

This is not the first major delay experienced by Barrick with this project. Bloomberg notes, “Barrick already suspended some work to strip the surface above the mine last year, because of dust thrown up by strong winds. The company is working to mitigate dust and improve ventilation before resuming so-called pre-stripping activities, Senior Executive Vice President Kelvin Dushnisky said Feb. 14.”

Injunction stems from Indigenous legal action
The Associated Press notes, “The injunction stems from a constitutional rights protection petition filed with the court on Oct. 22 by a representative of a Diaguita indigenous community and other individuals against Barrick’s Chilean subsidiary and the regional Environmental Evaluation Commission. That move followed a similar petition filed in late September by representatives of four Diaguita indigenous communities against the Barrick subsidiary, Compania Minera Nevada, with the EEC. The plaintiffs allege non-compliance with aspects of the project’s environmental approval in Chile that have resulted in negative impacts on water sources and contamination, or at least the risk of contamination, of the Estrecho and Huasco rivers, according to information supplied by Barrick.”

Agence France Press adds, “(The indigenous Diaguita people) said that the construction work ‘has generated a situation of imminent environmental danger’ for the glacier-fed Estrecho River. Lorenzo Soto, a lawyer for the native people, said damage being caused by the mine construction was massive. He said regulators had found that the glaciers at the source of the Estrecho were now covered in dust from the mine excavation, and that Barrick Gold had failed to prevent it as required. ‘The glaciers are covered, which generates damage by producing a phenomenon of accelerating melting,’ Soto said.”

Reuters reports, “A court source (says) the dispute could take several months to resolve and an appeal to the Chilean Supreme Court is likely. …Winston Alburquenque, professor of natural resource law at the Universidad Catolica in Santiago, (estimated) the Supreme Court could end up deciding on the project in about a year. …Barrick said construction on the Argentine side, where most of the infrastructure is, will not be affected by the court order…” The process plant and tailings storage facility for the mine are located in Argentina.

The Globe and Mail adds, “Objections to Pascua-Lama come in the run-up to presidential elections in November which, if history is any guide, will see mining issues highly politicized.” This past July, Barrick announced a delay in its target date for initial production at the mine to 2014, but given the court ruling it appears that 2015 would be the earliest the mine could begin production.

The Blue Planet Project/ Council of Canadians stands with the Diaguita people. At our June 2012 ‘Shout Out Against Mining Injustice’ conference in Vancouver, Sergio Campusano Villches, the president of the Comunidad Agrícola Diaguita Los Huascoaltinos, spoke against the Pascua Lama mine.

For more, please read:
NEWS: Chilean court to hear Diaguita claim against Pascua Lama open-pit gold mine
NEWS: Pascua Lama mine threatens glaciers, water in Chile and Argentina
NEWS: Chilean appeals court accepts request for injunction against Pascua Lama
UPDATE: Barrick claims to protect the culture of the Diaguita people in Chile’s Huasco Valley

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