October 30, 2012 – Environmentalists flocked to Vinchina, days ago, the last community on route to Anglo American’s (AAL.L) Cerro Verde project and Golden Arrow’s (TSX: GRG) Caballos project to protest over the potential impacts from mining activity to the delicate Laguna Brava Reserve. The internationally protected Ramsar site reserve, which includes areas pertaining to both projects, includes sensitive wildlife, lagoons, lakes, mountain wetland systems, delicate flora and glacier presence near the project. All of Cerro Verde is within the reserve, while the southernmost portion of the Caballos’ exploration concession is within the internationally protected Ramsar reserve and could mean trouble for the miners if they are to proceed as intended with exploration this season. A criminal complaint was filed days ago in local courts to halt mining operations in the reserve.
Green Area: The Laguna Brava Reserve
La Rioja is the province where Barrick Gold ran to standstill over community opposition to the Famatina project (ex-La Mexicana), and where Osisko was handed down a suspension for their exploratory work (also in the Famatina area) for failure to produce a glacier impact study. The community there maintains a permanent roadblock to impede access to the site by miners.
With over 400,000 hectares of land in the high mountains of La Rioja, bordering Chile, Laguna Brava is a Ramsar site (see p.6, for listing), and any activity in the area that might impact the site, should be carefully reviewed, and would be a violation of Argentine law, which holds international treaties signed by Argentina, above national legislation. Contacted in 2011 about the project’s proximity to glaciers, Anglo American denied glacier presence in the area. Golden Arrow failed to respond to two inquires earlier this year.
A recent study carried out by the Center for Human Rights and Environment (CEDHA), shows extensive glacier presence in the vicinity of the projects, along the border with Chile and along access roads to Cerro Verde and to Caballos. There are rock glaciers (debris covered glacier ice) within the project concession areas.
The images below shows the project concession site Cerro Verde (left) with at least one glacier (blue polygons)) in the northern most section of the project but several other glaciers line up along the border with Chile (the border is the thin yellow line). The Ollita project s a bit further south, and Golden Arrow’s Caballo project is just North of the area. In the image on the right we see a portion of Golden Arrow’s Caballos project with numerous glaciers (blue polygons) within the project area.
Another concern of extractive activity in the area is potential impacts to periglacial environments, these are areas which contain permanently frozen grounds, many of which can hold colossal amounts of water “in reserve” and which act as regulators of water basins. The new Argentine National Glacier Law protects both glaciers and periglacial environments as good of “public interest”.
The image below shows evidence from a new study and Google Earth based tool published by the University of Zurichshowing frozen grounds in the Laguna Brava territory. It is unknown just how much water these grounds contain. If they hold water, they’re off limits to mining. Neither Anglo American nor Golden Arrow have produced periglacial environment impact studies, or at least no studies are known to exist, nor has La Rioja province carried out its provincial glacier inventory.
CEDHA decided to carry out an inventory of the province’s glaciers, following comments by the Provincial Governor and the Environment Minister suggesting there were no glaciers in the province. CEDHA found 400+ glaciers and claims the official inventory, now underway by the IANIGLA (the Mendoza-based glacier institute) will register many more as the national authorities have more precise tools to carry out proper and up to date inventories. CEDHA also recently published a report on Periglacial Environments in Argentina and impacts to these sensitive resources by mining activity. Both Cerro Verde and Caballos are included in the report.
The local movement against these projects occurred spontaneously shortly alter the Environment Ministry of the Province of La Rioja, published a decree banning public access to the reserve area, but allowing mining exploration in the Laguna Brava territory. The decree allows for “multiple use” areas within the Laguna Brava Reserve, which would allow for mining activity. Mining companies are allowed to carry out activity in the reserve for a mere US$500 monthly fee.
Congressional representatives of the opposition party are complaining that a ban on public access to the Laguna Brava will destroy tourism to the area, while promoting extractive activity will destroy one of La Rioja’s primary natural sites.
Local communities in La Rioja, including at Famatina (Osikso) and at Agua Rica (Yamana/Xstrata Copper), are some of the most vociferous against allowing mining operations to move forward.
For more information:
Jorge Daniel Taillant
Tel: +1 415 713 2309