BHP said operations continue at its Cerro Colorado copper mine in Chile after the country’s Supreme Court upheld local indigenous communities’ complaint about the project’s water use.
After a five-year legal battle, the court ruled that a routine evaluation of the mine’s environmental project failed to take into account warnings by locals that its operations were overdrawing water and impacting local wetlands.
Lorenzo Soto, a lawyer for the San Isidro de Quipisca Indigenous Agricultural Association, told Reuters on Thursday that water pumping to feed Cerro Colorado’s operations had almost entirely dried out high-altitude wetlands around its operations in the Tarapaca region.
“The surrounding communities are victims of dust and noise emissions, and any water they have is contaminated,” he said.
“We hope that in the coming days, out of respect and compliance with a verdict, BHP will stop,” Soto told local Radio station Bío Bío.
BHP, however, said the Supreme Court ruling does not order the closure of Cerro Colorado’s operations.
“The ruling expressly maintained the procedural solution ordered by the Environmental Court dated February 8, 2019,” the company said in a statement.
“Cerro Colorado is already working on compliance with the measures required by the Environmental Court before the Environmental National Agency and, in accordance with the provisions of the Supreme Court, reaffirms its willingness to establish dialogue processes based on respect, good faith and the principles of the BHP Indigenous Peoples Plan,” BHP said.
In July 2020, the miner decided to ramp down activity at the mine amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Cerro Colorado produced 71,700 tonnes of copper in 2019, or approximately 1.2% of Chile’s total.