Argentine court upholds glacier law in mining area

Tue Jul 3, 2012 2:12pm EDT

* Supreme Court overrules earlier suspension

* San Juan home to Barrick's Veladero, Pascua Lama

BUENOS AIRES, July 3 (Reuters) - Argentina's Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that key articles of a glacier protection law should apply in a northern province where the world's largest gold miner, Barrick Gold Corp, is building a huge mine high in the Andes.

Tuesday's ruling takes precedence over a 2010 decision by a federal judge in San Juan province who suspended the application of six key articles of the law following a complaint presented by mining industry groups.

"The Supreme Court revokes the precautionary measures that suspended the application of the glacier law in the province of San Juan," the official judicial news agency said.

San Juan province is home to Barrick's Veladero mine, which lies at an altitude of more than 4,000 meters (13,000-feet) not far from the company's huge Pascua Lama project - a roughly $5 billion gold-silver mine set to enter production in 2013.

When the law passed Congress two years ago, mining industry analysts warned it could hinder construction of Pascua Lama, although the company has said the ore body it has permission to mine does not lie under a glacier.

No one at Barrick Gold was immediately available to comment.

The law, which bans mining and oil drilling on glaciers and the areas surrounding them, aims at preserving water reserves.

President Cristina Fernandez vetoed a similar law in 2008 on the grounds it would hamper provincial economies, causing controversy in a country where anti-mining sentiment is strong.

Compared with neighboring Chile or Peru, Argentina's mining industry is relatively undeveloped. That has drawn interest from global companies in recent years and overall investment reached a record $2.6 billion in 2011.

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