Chilean court halts Barrick’s contentious Pascua-Lama project

Too early on the stop loss

A Chilean court of appeals has ordered construction at Barrick Gold Corp.’s (NYSE:ABX)(TSX:ABX) Pascua-Lama gold and silver project to be halted immediately after approving complains filed by five indigenous groups last year, local radio station Cooperativa reports (in Spanish).

The Copiapo court ruling cites concentrations of arsenic, aluminum, copper and sulphates in groundwater that exceeded levels deemed acceptable.

“The company can appeal the ruling, which would take the court three or four months to hear. Until that appeal, all construction work is frozen,” a court official told Cooperativa.

In a brief statement, the company said it has suspended construction work on the Chilean side of the Pascua-Lama project while working to address environmental and other regulatory requirements to the satisfaction of the local authorities.

Construction activities in the Argentine side of the project, where the process plant and tailings storage facility are located, are not affected by today’s resolution.

The new delay, the latest of several the project has seen in the past five years, pulled Barrick’s shares down 3.5% in Wednesday trading in Toronto to Cdn$26.22.

The miner said it was too early to assess the impact, if any, on the overall capital budget and schedule of the project.

Pascua Lama, which would produce about 800,000 to 850,000 ounces of gold a year in the first full five years of its 25 year life, was scheduled to start production in the second half of 2014. The mine is set to become one of the top gold and silver mines in Chile, the world’s biggest copper producer.