Gold diggers

Mining company plans to move three glaciers in Chile

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

THE controversy regarding a gold mining proposal in the Chilean Andes led to a violent clash on November 11, 2005, in Santiago between military police and protestors gathered to present a petition against the project to the government.

The proposed Pascua-Lama mine is to come up in the Huasco. It will affect three glaciers which contribute to irriga-tion for farmers downstream and also hurt the water supplies for 70,000 small farmers in the Huasco Valley. The Canadian company Barrick Gold, the world's second largest gold producer, had earlier said it would "move" the three glaciers -- 816,000 cubic metres of ice -- to bond with another glacier by using bulldozers and controlled blast-ing. This would give it access to rich deposits of gold, silver and copper.

Gold mining uses cyanide leaching for processing ore. Cyanide being very toxic, activists say even a minor leak from the site or during transportation can cause big toxicity problems.

There are people in the valley who support the project in anticipation of the US $60 million the company will put into infrastructure works. Meanwhile, the company offered US $10 million for educational and cultural projects in the community.

Barrick Gold claims the feasibility study of the mine was updated in 2004 and the company filed for environmental permits in both Chile and Argentina in 2004. It expects approvals within the coming five months.

The Chilean environmental com-mission, CONAMA, had earlier expressed concerns regarding the possibility of downstream pollution and inconsistency in the company's figures. Following this the company modified its plan, deciding not to move the glaciers and to build a dam to improve irrigation.

In November the company submitted a report to CONAMA with its response to observations and questions raised on the project's environmental impact. CONAMA is yet to confirm receiving the report. Activists are demanding the report be made public.

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