Newmont CEO confident Peru gold mine will get OK

NEW YORK Mon Feb 27, 2012 11:32am EST

NEW YORK Feb 27 (Reuters) - Newmont Mining Corp is confident Peru's government will approve the U.S. gold company's proposed $4.8 billion Conga project after it reviews the environmental impact permit that has sparked protests, Chief Executive Officer Richard O'Brien said on Monday.

He said new exploration projects in North America, Africa and the Pacific region would contribute to Newmont's target of increasing annual gold production from 5 million ounces to 7 million ounces by 2017.

"But the big question mark is South America," he told investors at the BMO Capital Markets metals and mining conference in Hollywood, Florida.

Potential growth by a total of about 1-1/4 million ounces in the region is dependent on Conga's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) being approved.

"There has been some social disorder and unrest," O'Brien said of protests by left-wing activists and local politicians over President Ollanta Humala's support of mining projects in the Andean nation and Conga in particular.

"We have strong political support from the president, but the regional government does not see eye-to-eye," O'Brien said in a webcast monitored in New York.

He said the central government has appointed a three-person panel and given it 40 days to "re-review" the EIA, which had been previously approved by Lima.

"I believe they will approve it and then we will proceed," he said, noting than in the meantime, Conga is on hold. "It could have a regional impact as we have other projects in Peru."

Politicians and activists in Cajamarca, where Conga is located, oppose the project, saying it would damage water supplies from a string of lakes. Newmont's detailed plan, which includes building reservoirs, was approved initially by the previous Lima government.

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