SANTIAGO, July 15 (Reuters) – A Chilean appeals court on Monday suspended Barrick Gold Corp’s controversial Pascua-Lama gold mine until the company builds infrastructure to prevent water pollution, and ordered the mine’s environmental permit be reviewed.
In April, the Copiapo Court of Appeals temporarily and preventively froze construction of the $8.5 billion project, which straddles the Chile-Argentine border high in the Andes, while it examined claims by indigenous communities that it has damaged pristine glaciers and harmed water supplies.
On Monday, a three-judge panel of the appeals court, in a unanimous decision, ordered a freeze on construction of the
project until all measures required in the government’s environmental license for adequate water management, “as well as
urgent and transitory measures required by the environmental regulator,” are adopted.
Chile’s environmental regulator had already suspended Pascua-Lama, citing major environmental violations, and asked
Barrick, the world’s top gold miner, to build water management canals and drainage systems. “Barrick is committed to operating at the highest environmental standards at all of its operations around the world, including at Pascua-Lama, and is working diligently to meet all regulatory requirements at the project,” the Toronto-based company said in a statement on Monday.
The court ruling also ordered Chile’s environmental assessment authority (SEA) to review the project’s environmental
While the suspension is broadly in line with the freeze already imposed by the environmental regulator, the request that
the project’s permit be reviewed sets the stage for an additional, and protracted, administrative review.
It could take anywhere from six months to two years to review the license, given the novelty of the procedure and the
project’s complexity, said Luis Cordero, a law professor at the Universidad de Chile.
“This is a new process, there’s an obligation to inform the community, it’s possible to make fresh observations and it’s
possible to appeal again,” Cordero said. “Pascua-Lama has a long road ahead.”
Barrick or the indigenous Diaguita community now have days to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. A source close to the company said Barrick is not likely to appeal the decision.
The Diaguitas could contest the ruling if they deem the measures imposed by the court to be too weak, and could potentially ask the top court to revoke Barrick’s permit, lawyer Lorenzo Soto told Reuters.
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