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Minesa to reapply for environmental license in Colombia

Páramo de Santurbán, the area surrounding the Soto Norte project. (Image courtesy of Minesa).

Sociedad Minera de Santander (Minesa), a company owned by the government of Abu Dhabi through its investment arm Mubadala Investment Company, announced that it will file a new environmental license application for its Soto Norte gold project in Colombia.

The announcement comes five months after the country’s National Authority of Environmental Licences (ANLA in Spanish) decided to shelf the licensing application for the project saying that it wasn’t able to reach a decision because there were too many unanswered questions in Soto Norte’s environmental impact assessment and follow-up documentation submitted by Minesa at ANLA’s request.

Among the elements being challenged were the definition of ‘area of influence,’ technical issues related to the project’s tailings facility, considerations related to geotechnics, the characterization of impacts on the region’s hydrology and hydrogeology, and the project’s risk management plan and economic valuation.

Minesa’s proposal is a $1.2-billion operation to be located in the north-central Santander department, just outside the Páramo de Santurbán

Minesa’s proposal is a $1.2-billion operation to be located in the north-central Santander department, just outside the Páramo de Santurbán. The project’s location has proven to be controversial as the natural landscape that surrounds it is a protected 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. 

Even though the highest point of Soto Norte is outside the protected area of the páramo, Minesa said that given the concerns expressed by the environmental authority, it will get rid of its previous plans and will work on a new environmental license request that takes into consideration the additional technical requirements put forward by the ANLA.

Minesa estimates that the entire process of preparing and submitting a new EIA will take more than a year, which means that management will have to implement some staff cuts.

“Even though Minesa was able to keep its entire team of 250 direct and indirect employees during the government-mandated shutdown due to the pandemic, ANLA’s decision means we have to adjust our operations,” the company said in a media statement. 

If it finds a way to go ahead, the proposed underground Soto Norte 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.