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Teck’s Quebrada Blanca mine in Chile faces environmental charges

QB2 is Teck’s most important growth project, which will extend the existing mine’s life by 28 years. (Image courtesy of Teck Resources.)

Teck Resources (TSX: TECK.A | TECK.B) (NYSE: TECK), Canada’s largest diversified miner, is facing eight charges filed by Chile’s environmental regulator SMA, which claim the miner failed to comply with measures to avoid impacts in vegetation and animals at its Quebrada Blanca copper mine.

The agency said audits carried out in 2019, 2020 and 2021 at the operation, located in Chile’s northern Tarapaca region, found the company did not follow measures outlined in its environmental permit to protect local species and control emissions.

Four of the preliminary charges are considered “serious” and they include the allegedly deficient rescue and relocation of vizcachas, rodents native to South America belonging to the chinchillas family, which have given South African bullion producer Gold Fields (TSX, NYSE: GFI) more than one headache.

The permit for the Quebrada Blanca mine includes 13 resolutions that regulate different areas of open pit copper extraction, as well as truck hauling to the port of Iquique, SMA said in the statement. 

The directives also apply to the ongoing underground expansion of the mine, Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 or QB2, considered by Teck as its most important growth project.

The new mine section is slated to begin operations in the second half of the year, doubling the company’s copper production by 2023

QB2 will extend the aging deposit’s life by 28 years and boost production to 300,000 tonnes of copper a year from 287,000 tonnes in 2017. 

Once fined

This is not the first time Chile’s environmental regulator files charges against Quebrada Blanca. In 2019, similar allegations led the SMA to impose a $1.2 million fine on Teck for violations related to the handling of mining waste and internal environmental controls at the mine.

The watchdog said Teck now has ten business days to present a compliance program, or 15 to challenge the case.

The charges come only weeks after the Vancouver-based miner announced a partnership with the Ollagüe Quechua community to develop a biodiversity conservation area for the Alconcha Salt Flat, a high-value wetland ecosystem near its Quebrada Blanca operations.

As part of the initiative, Teck transferred mining and water rights to this area, located about 30km east to the mine, back to the Chilean government, which improves water security for the surrounding communities.