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Pascua Lama mine suspended
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Chilean authorities order the temporary suspension of the controversial binational gold mine project.

The high concentration of fine particles in the air which could endanger the health and physical integrity of the people was the motive the National Geologic and Mining Service, or SERNAGEOMIN, put forward to order on Oct. 31 the temporary suspension of the Pascua Lama Project, developed by Canadian mining company Barrick, the leading gold mining company in the world. The Pascua Lama Project is located in Chile’s northern Atacama region and borders Argentina.

According to the SERNAGEOMIN, an agency of the Ministry of Mining, the removal of surface soil to create the open pit (pre-stripping stage), the perforation and explosions in the mine, and the emptying of material have caused an excessive concentration of fine particles in the air which could affect the health of individuals. To grant the permit to restart activities, the SERNAGEOMIN demanded that Barrick carry out a series of modifications to the project tasks and produce studies that prove that the situation is under control.

The governmental agency clarified to Barrick that the high concentration of fine particles in the air “is a consequence of inadequate technical control of the material deposited in the Nevada Norte landfill. Because of the material’s grain size and the complex climatic conditions of the area, the wind carries fine particles, causing pollution … This affects the security of the mining operation.”

The SERNAGEOMIN’s officials visited the project on Oct. 24. Three days later, before receiving the notification from SERNAGEOMIN, the company itself announced a voluntary suspension of activities.

“We voluntarily decided to halt on Oct. 27 the movement of land, including pre-stripping activities,” Barrick pointed out in a press release. “This decision was taken before receiving the notification from the authorities on Oct. 31.”

Although the project, which began in 2009, was initially priced at US$7.5 billion, it is now estimated to cost US8.5 billion, $3.7 billion of which the company has already invested. At the beginning of November, Barrick announced that the tunnel that would move the minerals between Chile and Argentina was already 60 percent completed, and the company estimated that the mine would begin to operate in late 2014.

Located beneath three glaciers shared by Chile and Argentina, the mineral deposit has 18 million ounces of proven gold reserves and 676 million ounces of potential silver reserves. The open-pit mine has caused fears about the damage it could cause to the glaciers that feed the rivers of the nearby farming communities, especially in the Chilean side of the border.

In Argentina, the Law for the Protection of Glaciers and Periglacial Environment, which bans mining and the extraction of hydrocarbons in glacial zones, went into effect last July. Though it was approved in 2010, the application of the law was halted because of a series of precautionary measures that mining companies, including Barrick, legally raised.

The Swiss consultant company RepRisk, which advises investment banks, companies, and financial institutions on social and environmental risks, warned in March that the Pascua Lama Project would be violating principles of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Finance Corporation “due to the impact on indigenous communities and their lifestyles, breaking national and international laws, and melting and depleting glaciers.” RepRisk added that Barrick “has also been accused of lacking transparency, illegally obtaining land titles, corruption in contracts with suppliers, and breaking environmental legislation. Additionally, 16 workers have died in the mine, and the operations have been criticized for not benefitting the local community.”
—Latinamerica Press.

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Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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