UPDATE 2-Barrick hopes to start work on Pascua Lama in Sept

Thu Mar 1, 2007 10:03am EST

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SANTIAGO, March 1 (Reuters) - Canada's Barrick Gold Corp. (ABX.TO), the world's biggest miner of gold, said on Thursday it hoped to start construction at its Pascua Lama project on the Argentine-Chilean border in September.

Chief Executive Greg Wilkins told reporters in Chile that it would then take another three years to construct the proposed mine.

Wilkins said Barrick was at the permitting stage of the project, which is expected to yield around 17 million ounces of gold, 689 million ounces of silver and 565 million pounds of copper.

Last week, Barrick said the capital costs at Pascua Lama had been reassessed at between $2.3 billion and $2.4 billion from a previous $1.4 billion to $1.5 billion, reflecting design improvements as it worked to protect Chilean ice fields.

Environmental authorities in Argentina and Chile approved Barrick's Pascua Lama project in 2006, when the company agreed to comply with strict regulations to protect glacial ice after facing protests in Chile and abroad.

"The construction schedule is roughly three years but so many factors can affect that," Wilkins said. "We think that we can get it done in three years, given the circumstances that we are seeing today, maybe a little bit quicker."

Wilkins said having all the permits in hand was crucial before embarking on construction due to the sheer size of the project, one of the biggest of its kind in the world.

"I don't want to get started and have a third of the permits, start building and then bump into some issues, or some delays half way into the project that could we really hurt us," he said. "So we are going to be very mindful of that."

Wilkins said the Chilean and Argentine governments had cooperated well with Barrick and that company representatives would meet Argentine local government officials next week to discuss the project.

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