Recent avalanches affecting several points along a water channel in the area of Canadian Barrick Gold's (NYSE, TSX: ABX) Pascua Lama project, straddling the border between Chile and Argentina, have not affected water quality, the gold miner told BNAmericas (subs. required).
"These events have not had any negative impact on the quality of water around the project," Barrick’s vice president of public affairs in Chile, Rodrigo Jiménez, said in a statement sent to BNAmericas.
However, a local community of Chile's northern region has filed complaints with the environmental authority, arguing that Barrick could have taken measures to avoid the consequences of the landslides, reported yesterday University of Chile’s radio (in Spanish).
According to one of the community representatives, Mauricio Rios, Barrick failed to prevent the accident because it has failed to comply with requirements set out in the project's environmental approval, he told the local radio station.
Barrick has said that it has already notified the authorities about this issue and that it’s working on it
"On January 21, we notified the appropriate authorities about events that happened at the Pascua Lama project that had an affect on works that are part of the water management system…. Additionally, a repair plan for these works is being carried out and is available to the authorities," Jiménez told BNAmericas.
Once up and running, Pascua Lama will use up to 38 tonnes of explosives a day to blast mountaintops into rocks, then up to 27 tonnes of cyanide and 33 million litres of water per day to extract the gold.
Some critics, like the mayor of Vallenar, Chile, who was once a miner himself, told The Montreal Gazzete in December that it is not safe for anyone to work with heavy machinery and toxic chemicals at that altitude.
“Winds can gust up to 300 kilometres an hour and rockfalls, electrical storms and avalanches are a danger,” he said.
He is not alone, reported The Gazzete:
According to Lucio Cuenca, director of the non-governmental organization Latin American Observatory on Environmental Conflicts (OLCA), at least 14 workers have died on the Chilean side since 1997, when exploration at the mine site began in earnest, several from accidents when their vehicles rolled over, one in a rockfall and five who froze to death. Barrick would not provide figures or details on the deaths at the mine site.
More recently, the Chilean government ordered Barrick on Oct. 31 to suspend pre-stripping at the mine – blasting off the very tops of the mountain peaks that don't contain valuable ore – out of concerns workers were breathing in too much noxious dust. Work has not yet resumed.
Barrick seems to have found friendlier responses in Argentina. In late January, the government of the western province of San Juan released cleared the way for the Toronto-based miner by releasing a report stating that two of its mines —Veladero and Pascua Lama— had no "potential or actual environmental impact on glaciers or peri-glaciers in the areas surrounding them.”
The Veladero gold mine started operations in 2005, while the $8.5 billion Pascua Lama project is under construction.
Pascua Lama will be one of the highest altitude mines in the world at between 3,800 and 5,200 meters above sea level. The average temperature through the year is 0°C.
Pascua Lama is set produce 800,000 – 850,000 ounces of gold and 35 million ounces of silver in the first full five years of its 25-year life.
Click here for a slide show of the Pascua Lama project >> >>
(Image courtesy of Barrick South America)