Barrick appoints new exec to restart Argentine side of Pascua-Lama

Canada’s Barrick Gold (TSX, NYSE:ABX), the world’s most valuable producer of the precious metal, has appointed a new executive to lead the Argentine side of its mothballed Pascua-Lama project in South America, in a fresh sign that the miner is aiming to restart the mothballed $8.5 billion gold, silver and copper mine.

George Bee will assume as vice president of the Argentine side of the project — Lama — effective Sep. 12, said Barrick in a statement. The executive will also be in charge of developing the so-called Frontera District, a 140-km stretch of highly prospective land on the El Indio belt controlled by Barrick.

Bee is expected to drive forward initial conceptual work completed by the project team to date, working closely with Argentina executive director, Juan Ordoñez, as well as the Pascua-Lama team in Chile.

If it ever comes into production, Pascua-Lama would generate about 800,000 to 850,000 ounces of gold and 35 million ounces of silver per year in the first full five years of its 25-year life.

"Just as the Goldstrike mine was completed in stages over time, we see significant benefits to approaching Pascua-Lama in the same way,” President Kelvin Dushnisky said in the statement.

The company also revealed that it plans to develop a “modest, scalable starter project” at the Argentine side using underground mining methods.

If successful, Barrick said it could use cash flow from Lama to fund additional development on both sides of the border over time.

The giant project in the Andes has been shuttered since 2013, when a Chilean court ordered the company to halt construction over environmental concerns. Later that year, Barrick shelved the project citing massive cost overruns and nose-diving metal prices.

But with gold on the mend (it's up more than 24% so far this year), the company seems ready to resume operations in some key projects, including Pascua-Lama. In March, the firm began a “drastic revision” of the halted operation straddling the border of Chile and Argentina. And in May, it agreed to pay $140 million to resolve a US class-action lawsuit that accused Barrick of distorting facts related to the project.

Argentina has been an enthusiastic supporter of the project – while only around a fifth of the deposit is located in that country, many of the above-ground facilities will be built on that side of the border.

If it ever comes into production, Pascua-Lama would generate about 800,000 to 850,000 ounces of gold and 35 million ounces of silver per year in the first full five years of its 25-year life.