Argentine judge lifts Barrick’s Veladero gold mine halt

Argentine judge lifts Barrick’s Veladero gold mine halt

Veladero, one of the largest gold mines in Argentina, produced 722,000 ounces of the precious metal last year. (Image courtesy of Barrick Latin America)

An Argentine judge has lifted restrictions on processing activities at Barrick Gold Corp's (TSX, NYSE:ABX) Veladero mine, saying a cyanide leak triggered by a faulty valve did not caused any environmental damage, the company said Friday.

"The water did not contain cyanide or other contaminating metals, so I decided to lift the cautionary measure,” judge Pablo Oritja, from the western province of San Juan where the mine is located, told local television channel TN.

On Sept. 13, Barrick acknowledged a pipe carrying cyanide at the Veladero mine had a valve failure causing a leak into nearby waters. An initial estimate said about 224,000 cubic metres of liquid cyanide had spilled. But a later investigation determined that the incident released more than 1,000 cubic metres of liquid cyanide into the Potrerillos River. By comparison, an Olympic-sized swimming pool holds about 2,500 cubic metres (or 2.5 million litres).

The local court had initially ordered a five-day suspension, but Barrick’s own water monitoring program, as well as testing results from an independent third-party laboratory, have confirmed that water quality never exceeded safe exposure limits for humans, and posed no risk to the health of downstream communities, the company said.

“These findings are consistent with water testing results released by other third parties in San Juan province, including the Public Health Department and the state water distribution company,” the miner said in a separate document.

The world’s largest gold company by output noted the imposed ban is not expected to impact the mine’s production because it was able to use existing solution that had already been pumped into the leaching system.

Barrick said that a series of additional preventative measures and controls have been implemented at the leach pad to ensure it is safe to resume full operations. It added that an investigation to determine the root causes of the valve failure that led to this incident is underway.

The Veladero mine produced 722,000 ounces of gold last year alone and is likely to contribute about 10% to Barrick’s total gold output for 2015.