Argentine judge bars some glacier-protection rules

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - An Argentine judge has ruled that key articles of a glacier protection law cannot be applied in San Juan province, where Barrick Gold Corp is building a large mine, an official news agency said on Tuesday.

Mining industry analysts had warned that the new law could hinder construction of Barrick’s Pascua Lama mine, although the company says the ore body it has permission to mine does not lie under a glacier.

The glacier protection law bans mining and oil drilling on glaciers and the areas surrounding them.

San Juan federal Judge Miguel Angel Galvez, ruling on a complaint presented by mining industry groups, suspended the application of six key articles of the law in the Andean province, the judiciary’s news agency said.

Daily La Nacion quoted him as saying provincial governments had the constitutional right to decide how to manage their natural resources.

The judge suspended the article banning activities that could affect glaciers as well as the part of the law that defines glaciers.

President Cristina Fernandez vetoed a similar law two years ago on the grounds it would hamper growth of provincial economies, causing controversy in a country where anti-mining sentiment is strong. The new law was passed in September.

Barrick, which also runs the Veladero mine in San Juan, said it was not surprised by the federal judge’s ruling.

“We were not surprised by this decision given the province already has legislation in place that protects glaciers to which Barrick is in full compliance,” company spokesman Rodrigo Jimenez said.

Reporting by Luis Andres Henao; Editing by David Gregorio