Reopening of controversial Spanish copper mine sparks heated debate

Reopening of controversial Spanish copper mine sparks heated debate

Los Frailes mine in 2013.

Seventeen years after one of Spain’s largest environmental catastrophes, a group of companies led by Grupo Mexico is resuming operations at Los Frailes zinc, copper and silver mine, in Aznalcollar, near Seville.

The operation, closed since a tailings dam burst in 1998 dumping five million cubic metres of toxic sludge into the nearby Guadiamar river, is expected to generate 450 new jobs in an area with the country's highest unemployment rates.

But, according to El Pais (in Spanish), conservationists and locals are not thrilled by the news. They claim the promised jobs won’t be able to offset the risks of reopening the mine. Besides, they add Grupo Mexico has a known and tainted environmental record, as one of its mine was responsible last year of a major spill that left 22,000 people without clean water in the state of Sonora.

The company, which was accused of lying about the causes of the accident, ended up paying $150m in cleanup fees.

Spanish officials insist that Grupo México has guaranteed its mining activities will not affect protected close to the mine. Opponents worried that environmental impact studies have been overlooked and demand more prove the operation won’t affect the Guadiamar river, which is the primary water source for Doñana national park, a Unesco world heritage site.

The 950-hectare mining concession has an estimated 80 million tonnes of extractable ore, containing copper, zinc and lead.