Southern Copper mulls extending Tia Maria project halt

Southern Copper mulls extending Tia Maria project halt

Southern Copper’s Tia Maria copper project.

Southern Copper’s (NYSE, LON: SCCO) stalled $1.4 billion Tia Maria copper mine in the southern Peruvian province of Islay may remain halted beyond the end of July, as the company wants to allow local residents more time to clear up their doubts about the project’s environmental impact.

Chief executive Oscar González said the company, a unit of mining giant Grupo Mexico, could extend a 60-day pause in effect since late May, when Peru’s government declared state of emergency over the violent protests against the project.

“If necessary, we’d do it,” González said according to Minería Chilena (in Spanish) answering questions of whether the current suspension was enough for gaining local support for the project and if the timeframe could be extended.

In an interview with Telesur, the executive even offered to create a US$3.2 million fund to compensate farmers, schools and the health sector affected by the latest wave of widespread violence.

Opposition from locals led to an almost three-month period of fresh protests that roiled parts of the Peruvian Andes earlier this year, leaving at least four dead and dozens arrested.

Farmers insist the proposed open-pit mine will contaminate a river in the coastal Tambo valley and destroy their rice crops. Southern says the project will rely on water from a desalination plant and that it will return it all to the Pacific Ocean.

Government's backup

In April the government decided to mediate by issuing a statement saying the miner wouldn’t touch water sources to be used for farming, and that dust from the mining process would also be controlled. Such announcement came on the heels of Minister of the Environment Manuel Pulgar-Vidal’s declarations affirming that Tia Maria was “safe for the environment.”

Southern Copper, which has two mines and a smelter in the South American country, is awaiting a construction permit from the government so it can restart work on the project.

The protests against Tia Maria echo other fights between anti-mining groups, farmers and mining companies over the last few years over who gets to use precious water supplies in bone-dry areas of Peru.

The company estimates that Tia Maria will produce 120,000 tons of copper cathodes a year, for an estimated 20-year lifespan.

Peru’s government forecasts the country will produce 2.8 million tons of copper a year by 2016, about double its current production as a number of new projects come on stream.