Colombia’s National Authority of Environmental Licences (ANLA in Spanish) announced over the weekend its decision to shelf the licensing application for Sociedad Minera de Santander’s proposed Soto Norte gold project.
Sociedad Minera de Santander, also known as Minesa, is owned by the government of Abu Dhabi through its investment arm Mubadala Investment Company.
In a media statement, the environmental authority said that it wasn’t able to reach a decision regarding Soto Norte because there are too many doubts around certain aspects presented in the project’s environmental impact assessment and follow-up documentation submitted by the company at ANLA’s request.
Among those aspects are the definition of ‘area of influence,’ technical issues related to the project’s tailings facility, considerations related to geotechnics, impacts on the region’s hydrology and hydrogeology, and the project’s risk management plan and economic valuation.
ANLA also said that it took into consideration the input from over 30 experts in geology, hydrogeology, geotechnics, geochemistry, air quality, among other disciplines. In parallel, it consulted five academics from the National University in Medellín and 44,191 people from communities that are adjacent to the project.
Minesa’s proposal is a $1.2-billion operation to be located in the north-central Santander department, just outside the Páramo de Santurbán. This is an area of the Andes mountains covered with subalpine forests above the continuous tree line but below the permanent snow mark, where water is naturally stored during the rainy season and released during the dry season. Mining in the páramo was banned in 2011.
Even though the highest point of Soto Norte is to be located 2,600 metres above sea level, which is outside the protected area of the páramo according to Resolution 2090 issued by the Colombian Ministry of Environment in 2014, the project is considered controversial.
If it finds a way to go ahead, the proposed underground operation is expected to produce over 400,000 ounces of gold per year for some 20 years and create 1,000 direct and 4,000 indirect jobs.