SANTIAGO, July 2 A Chilean court will rule this
month on an attempt by indigenous groups to halt development of
Barrick Gold Corp's $8.5 billion Pascua-Lama gold mine,
work on which is already suspended, local media reported on
The Copiapo court of appeals temporarily halted construction
of Pascua-Lama, which straddles the Chile-Argentine border high
in the Andes Mountains, in April to weigh claims by the
indigenous communities that the project has damaged pristine
glaciers and harmed water supplies.
The court must now decide whether to rule in favor of the
indigenous groups, which could lead to an indefinite suspension
of the controversial project.
"The decision will have to be issued during the month of
July in any case," Judge Antonio Ulloa said in an interview
published by the northern Chilean newspaper El Diario de
To be sure, analysts say whoever loses is likely to appeal
to Chile's Supreme Court, suggesting Toronto-based Barrick faces
a protracted legal battle in world No. 1 copper producer Chile.
In addition to the court-ordered suspension, Chile's
environmental regulator has ordered a halt to work at the mine,
citing violations, and said Barrick, the world's biggest gold
miner, must come up with a water management system that meets
the requirements of its permits before restarting development.
The regulator told Reuters that the earliest the project
could be reactivated is likely in one to two years.
Barrick said late on Friday that it would re-sequence
construction of the project to target a start of production by
mid-2016, deferring some $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion of planned
capital spending in 2013 and 2014.
While Pascua-Lama is one of the richest untapped gold
deposits in the world, a string of delays and budget overruns
has made it a nightmare for Barrick and its investors.
Investors are keenly watching what happens to the project,
the latest mega-mine to face setbacks in Chile due to growing
opposition from environmental, indigenous and social groups.
Many in the Andean country feel the mining boom has not
benefited them, and has instead curtailed water supplies in the
arid north, and harmed the environment.
Pascua-Lama is one of the most unpopular mining endeavors in
Chile. Many opponents are incensed that it has produced
environmental harm and are particularly worried about the
project's effects on glaciers.
(Reporting by Fabian Cambero and Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by