Canadian Mining Journal

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GOLD: Chilean Supreme Court bounces Barrick’s Pascua-Lama back to environmental court


The Pascua-Lama gold project is going nowhere slowly after the latest Chilean court decision. (Image: Barrick Gold)

CHILE – On March 14 the Supreme Court of Chile overturned the decision of the Antofagasta Environment Court that would force Barrick Gold to permanently cease work at the Pascua-Lama gold-silver project in the country.

The Pascua-Lama property is high in the Andes Mountains, straddling the border of Chile and Argentina. The discovery of the mineralization was made in 1977, and Barrick obtained a 100% interest in 1994 when it bought out Lac Minerals. A feasibility study was completed in 2009.

Also in 2009, Barrick and the governments of Chile and Argentina wrote a protocol tax agreement between the two countries. This stipulated how revenues would be divided and tackled movement of equipment and employees around the pit without having to go through customs. The Barrick board approved the start of construction on what was estimated to be a US$3-billion undertaking. Along with rising costs, opposition to the project also rose. Local communities, non-governmental organizations, and the Chilean environmental agency all objected. Eventually, in 2018 Chile’s environmental regulator (SMA) ordered the project closed on its side of the border.

The Supreme Court of Chile has kicked the project back to the environmental court based on procedural grounds. The court has ordered the case to be reviewed by a panel of different judges, a process that could stretch over months.

The Supreme Court did not review the merits of the January 2018 closure order, and it remains in force; Barrick is appealing.

Barrick president and CEO says the company remains focused on resolving the legal and environmental issues swirling around Pascua-Lama. The company is currently engaged in mandated remediation work. It is also conducting a technical review of the project that includes water management plans.

The company – having already spent more than US$8 billion on Pascua-Lama – hopes its new reviews will be accepted by the environmental regulator.

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