BUENOS AIRES, April 21 (Reuters) - A new plan for Barrick Gold Corp’s Veladero mine in Argentina was to be presented on Friday after its third incident in 18 months involving a cyanide spill, the provincial mining minister said on local radio.
The minister, Alberto Hensel, said San Juan province had demanded expansive reforms from Barrick and hoped the sale of 50 percent of the mine to China’s Shandong Gold Mining Co announced this month would improve its operations.
Argentine officials told Barrick earlier this month it had to overhaul environmental and operating processes at the mine following a March 28 cyanide spill and the country’s environment ministry asked for a suspension of operations.
“Here we are talking about a new scheme of operation of the mine from this strategic alliance that is happening,” Hensel told radio station Radio Sarmiento in San Juan on Thursday evening.
“What we know about Shandong is that it is a company that has extensive experience meeting the highest environmental standards, which we believe will contribute to the improvement of the Veladero mine,” he said.
Barrick Gold did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Barrick needs to make improvements in pipelines and in its control and monitoring systems as well as expand its leach processing facility, Hensel said.
“We believe in a kind of relaunch of Veladero based on the demands that the provincial government has been raising in the operation,” he said.
The provincial government rejected a first work plan from Barrick on April 5.
The province is still evaluating a potential fine for the company for the March 28 incident.
Hensel said penalties could surpass the $9.8 million the company was fined for a 2015 spill. A fine has not yet been applied for the Sept 2016 incident in which solution containing cyanide flowed over a berm.
“There are issues of repetition that have a value from a legal perspective and could increase the sanction,” Hensel said. (Reporting by Maximiliano Rizzi and; Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Andrew Hay)