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A ruling from a Chilean court to halt work on the world’s most ambitious gold project marks a growing backlash against the industry in one of the world’s most mining-friendly areas.
The Pascua-Lama gold and silver project straddles the Andes mountain range between Chile and Argentina and is slated to go into production this time next year, if project owner Barrick Gold Corp. can convince an appeals court in the northern town of Copiapo – population 167,000 – that it isn’t polluting the water supplies of indigenous communities.
The ruling represents a rare injunction against a mine that has been more than a decade in the making, having cleared regulatory hurdles including environmental permitting in Chile and Argentina. It’s also the latest instance of a Chilean court hearing a complaint against a project already cleared by environmental authorities.
Chile has long been viewed as a miner’s Utopia, complete with some of the richest mineral reserves on the planet as well as one of its most mining-friendly, stable governments, but some say it has become so saturated with projects that its infrastructure is straining at the seams and communities are becoming alarmed. The shift comes amid a growing wave of resource nationalism, which has touched most of the world’s mining jurisdictions.
Chile hosts operations owned by the world’s largest miners, including the likes of Australia’s BHP Billiton PLC and Rio Tinto PLC, London-listed Anglo American PLC, Switzerland’s Xstrata PLC and Canada’s Teck Resources Ltd.
“For years, the courts had reserved judgment and not heard cases of projects already approved by environmental authorities. I would say that that changed two or three years ago,” Natalia Fernandez, an environmental lawyer for Chile’s Oyarzun Abogados law firm, said in a telephone interview from Santiago.
“These days they are getting involved and they are ruling against the decisions of environmental authorities, leaving environmental authorizations without effect. They are revoking environmental licences where they believe a nearby community is being impacted by a project.”
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