BUENOS AIRES Argentina's Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that key articles of a glacier protection law should apply in a northern province where Barrick Gold Corp, the world's largest gold miner, is building a huge mine high in the Andes.
Tuesday's ruling scraps a 2010 decision by a federal judge in San Juan province, who suspended the application of six articles of the law after a complaint 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 is at an altitude of more than 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) not far from the company's huge Pascua Lama project. Pascua Lama is a roughly $5 billion gold-silver mine that straddles the border with Chile and is set to enter production in 2013.
When the law passed Congress two years ago, mining industry analysts warned that it could hinder construction of Pascua Lama, but Barrick has said that it does not operate on glaciers and that it complies with all environmental regulations.
"We are in the process of evaluating the text of the decision. However, it is important to point out that our activities do not take place on glaciers," said Rodrigo Jimenez, Barrick's vice president for corporate affairs in South America. "We believe we are legally entitled to continue our current activities on the basis of existing approvals."
"The federal legislation also draws a distinction between new projects and those already underway. Our Veladero mine has been in operation since 2005 and construction at Pascua Lama has been underway since 2009," he said.
The law, which bans mining and oil drilling on glaciers and the surrounding areas, is designed to preserve water reserves.
President Cristina Fernandez vetoed a similar law in 2008 on the grounds that it would hamper provincial economies, and caused controversy in a country where anti-mining sentiment is strong.
Compared with neighboring Chile or Peru, Argentina's mining industry is relatively undeveloped. This has drawn interest from global companies and overall investment reached a record $2.6 billion in 2011.
(Reporting by Karina Grazina; Writing by Helen Popper)