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January 18, 2018.
Chile has decided definitively to close down Pascua Lama, Barrick Gold’s controversial gold mining project in the middle of glacier terrain straddling the border between Argentina and Chile.
Quoted in Mining.com, the head of Chile’s highest environmental authority, Cristian Franz stated, “Given the nature and size of the breaches the the company committed, there is the conviction that total and definitive closure, plus an economic fine, is the most proportional sanction in this case”.
Numerous environmental groups, indigenous communities and towns near the project site on both sides of the border had opposed Barrick’s 4,000+ meter monumental operation set in the midst of delicate frozen periglacial environment, as well as surrounded by exposed and environmentally sensitive glaciers. A number of glaciers have seen their mass and health deteriorate since Barrick first showed up in the area to attempt to extract gold from the deep frozen ground.
In 2008, Argentine Environmentalist and then Secretary of Environment in Argentina, guided through the Argentine Congress, without opposition, a glacier protection law that forbade mining in glacier areas. Pro-mining politicians in Argentina didn’t realize at the time, that Barrick Gold and a number of other mining companies had stakes in glacier terrain, and hoped to mining precious metals that lay beneath glaciers. The law passed unanimously in Congress only to be vetoed by Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner. The veto, euphemistically known as “the Barrick Veto”, resulted in Picolotti’s resignation, but also set in motion a social movement against mining in glacier areas. This was also felt in Chile, where as evidence mounted that Barrick Gold was destroying glacier and periglacial terrain to prepare for Pascua Lama, environmental authorities began questioning Barrick’s practices. In 2013, the SMA, Chile’s federal environmental agency, ordered a partial closure of the controversial project.
The ruling today by the same agency, the SMA, definitely ends Barrick’s attempts to launch the very first bi-national mining project, and also the very first mega mining project at such high altitudes.
On the Argentine side of the project, however, Barrick is also stalled, with numerous legal complaints weighing down the likelihood that what’s left of Pascua Lama will ever get off the ground. The current President, Mauricio Macri, and José Aranguren (former Shell CEO) are determined to modify Argentina’s Glacier Protection Law (which returned on a slim Congressional victory in 2010) to allow Barrick and other companies to proceed with mining in glacier terrain.
Argentina’s environmental groups, however, are continuing to fight a sustained resistance in local and federal courts to stop mining companies like Barrick Gold from destroying Argentina’s delicate glacier resources.
For more information:
Jorge Daniel Taillant
+1 415 713 2309