Chile court gives BHP’s Cerro Colorado mine 90-day water pumping reprieve

Cerro Colorado mine in Chile. (Image by Zwansaurio | Flickr Commons)

A Chilean court handed a reprieve to BHP’s Cerro Colorado copper mine on Tuesday, agreeing to suspend a ban on it pumping water from an aquifer for 90 days as it prepares a fresh operational continuity plan.

After complaints by locals over the relatively small copper mine’s impact on natural resources, the same First Environmental Court in July ruled that the operation must start again from scratch on seeking permits to operate.

In August, the court ordered “precautionary measures” that include ceasing groundwater extraction for 90 days from an aquifer near the mine, a ruling the company appealed.

The court ruled that the company could extract 54 liters per second of water for production purposes, “for a final term of 90 calendar days.”

“Once that period has expired if the mine does not have approval for its environmental plan, the mining company will not continue to extract water,” the court said in a statement.

It urged Chile’s Environmental Assessment Service, which approves such plans, to conclude its assessment of the operation as soon as possible.

Cerro Colorado said in a statement that they are “working hard to obtain the positive environmental assessment within the timeframe set by the court.”

Cerro Colorado, a small mine in BHP’s Chilean portfolio, produced about 1.2% of Chile’s total copper output in 2020.

Copper miners across Chile, the world’s top producer of the red metal, have been forced in recent years to find alternative means to feed water to their operations as drought and receding aquifers have hampered operations. Many have sharply reduced use of continental freshwater or turned to desalination plants.

(By Fabian Cambero and Aislinn Laing; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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