The Chilean justice system closed the Pascua Lama gold project for good on Thursday due to the environmental damage caused on the border between Chile and Argentina, thus burying the intention of the Canadian mining company Barrick Gold to build the world’s largest open pit gold and silver mine. .
Chile’s Environmental Court determined “the total and definitive closure of Pascua Lama” and a fine equivalent to about $ 9 million for Barrick Gold mining company – which in 2019 was the world’s second largest producer of gold.
The ruling confirms the decision announced in 2018 by the Superintendency of the Environment to cancel this project for not complying with the environmental license that had been granted, and which Barrick Gold challenged before the Chilean environmental court.
“The magnitude of the danger of damage to people’s health makes it necessary to close the Pascua Lama mining project, as other alternatives of safe operation for the environment and the health of the population do not seem viable,” the court ruling indicated.
Pascua Lama was to be the largest open pit gold and silver deposit in the world with an investment of about 8,000 million dollars and was due to be operational in 2014. It was expected to produce about 615,000 ounces of gold and 18.2 million of silver.
The gold project was located at an altitude of 4,500 meters in an area of glaciers in the Andes Mountains, on the northern border between Chile and Argentina. It was strongly resisted in both countries due to the environmental problems caused.
According to the Chilean regulator, Pascua Lama violated 33 environmental regulations, with incomplete monitoring of glaciers and the discharge of acidic waters into a nearby river, the Strait, which supplied Diaguita indigenous communities. In addition, it caused damage to native flora and fauna species.
“The Superintendency acted within the scope of legality, correctly weighing the elements of proportionality by opting for the sanction of definitive closure and not for a limited partial or temporary closure,” the ruling said.
The court also determined that Pascua Lama implemented a calculation methodology for unauthorized water quality alerts, which uses more permissive levels than those contemplated in the environmental rating.
The project had been suspended since 2013, after the Superintendency considered the works carried out by Barrick Gold to protect the water courses near the deposit insufficient, for which it removed the environmental license.
In February of this year, before the appearance of the coronavirus in Chile, Barrick Gold reported that during 2020 it would be dedicated to updating the geological information of the deposit, “a process that is expected to take a few years.”
Triumph for indigenous communities
Since its inception, Pascua Lama has been widely criticized by environmental organizations and indigenous communities that live near the site in the Huasco province, in northern Chile, as it would have contaminated the glaciers that supply a river vital to its survival.
“This ruling is a very important triumph for the local communities that for years have denounced and taken legal action due to the serious impact that mining has had on their territories,” said a Greenpeace statement.
Pascua Lama is an example of the impact that mining generates on glaciers in Chile, so it is important that the authorities advance a law that protects the glaciers of other mining projects in Chile and that ensures the subsistence of the communities and the supply of water for the entire population, added the environmental organization.
“We have permanently insisted with the companies that mining is possible to do it, to carry it out, but respecting the environment and respecting the institutional framework. Companies that do not comply with the institutional framework will not be able to carry out their projects,” he said, for his part, Baldo Prokurica, Minister of Mining of Chile.