Chile Pascua-Lama construction could resume at end of 2013 -report

Fri May 10, 2013 10:17am EDT

SANTIAGO, May 10 (Reuters) - Construction of Barrick Gold
Corp's suspended Pascua-Lama mine project could resume
at the end of the year if the company shows authorities it can
turn around the troubled operation, a Chilean mining ministry
official was quoted as saying on Friday.
    However, the Pascua-Lama cases are in the hands of Chile's
judiciary and its newly created environmental regulator, not the
mining ministry. 
    A Chilean court in April temporarily halted the up-to-$8.5
billion gold mine, which straddles the border of Chile and
Argentina, to weigh claims by indigenous communities it has
damaged pristine glaciers and harmed water supplies.
 
    Additionally, Chile's environmental regulator charged the
unpopular project with violating the terms of its environmental
license, citing harm to the water supply and nearby pastures due
to faulty infrastructure. 
    "I don't have any doubt that if (the project) wins the trust
of authorities and presents compliance plans in the right
manner, this (suspension) should be overcome," Julio Poblete,
the head of the Chilean Mining Ministry's Sernageomin regulator
unit, was quoted as saying in the Friday edition of the daily La
Tercera.
    The Sernageomin in November halted earth-moving work at
Pascua-Lama mine over concerns that excessive dust could harm
workers' health. 
    Chile's environmental regulator will likely rule on the case
in late May or early June. The regulator just started operating
in December, and it is unclear what kind of sanctions it is
likely to apply, though it has the power to revoke environmental
permits. 
    Barrick has told the environmental regulator that it accepts
"most of the charges" made against it. The Copiapo Court of
Appeals is expected to rule around the end of the year. 
    The miner has said re-activating the project is its No. 1
priority. In recent weeks it has shaken up management of the
mine and said it is determined to meet environmental standards.
    But many experts say the unpopular project faces an uphill
battle in Chile, the world's No. 1 copper producer, where
several mega mining and power projects have faced setbacks in
recent months. 
    Many in the economically stratified country feel the mining
boom has bypassed them and hurt the environment.
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