Chilean lawmakers push on with glacier protection law

The San Rafael Glacier is one of the major outlet glaciers of the Northern Patagonian Ice Field in southern Chile. (Image courtesy of Guillermo Adolfo | Wikimedia Commons.)

Chilean lawmakers will vote on a fresh initiative seeking to draft a bill to protect the country’s glaciers, a move that could hinder development of mining projects in the world’s top copper-producing country .

Opposition senate members are asking the Parliamentary Mining Commission to submit the proposed legislation “as it is”, local paper El Mercurio reported. They claim mining companies have successfully lobbied to delay the Glacier Protection Act for years, adding that Chile urgently needed a legal framework against environmental crimes.

The proposed bill would ban commercial activity on glaciers, including those located outside National Parks

Such law would protect the country’s glaciers, including those not listed in the national system of wild protected areas. 

In 2014, a bill was introduced in Congress to ban certain dangerous industrial activities near the glaciers. The proposal underwent several modifications before it was finally ditched altogether by the first government of current right-wing President Sebastian Piñera.

Environmentalists argue that gigantic ice masses should be protected to ensure future generations have access to fresh water.

Chile is home to 82% of the glaciers in South America, most of which are already receding due to higher temperatures linked to global warming.

Almost seven million people living in the capital Santiago rely on glaciers to feed most of their water supply in times of drought. About three-quarters of the country’s population of 19 million live in areas whose water supply is greatly glacier-dependant.

Miners on guard

A glacier protection law could hinder construction of large mining projects high in the Andes or imply higher costs to meet regulations.

Chile’s environmental court last week put the final nail in the coffin for Barrick Gold’s (TSX: ABX) (NYSE: GOLD) giant Pascua-Lama gold-silver project, straddling the border with Argentina. The venture had been on hold since 2013 over environmental concerns, including the Canadian miner’s failure to properly monitor glaciers surrounding the project on the Chilean side.