Barrick Gold seeks to restart suspended Pascua-Lama project after meeting with top Chilean officials – by Alexandra Ulmer and Fabian Cambero (National Post – May 20, 2014)

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Reuters – SANTIAGO — Barrick Gold Corp, the world’s No. 1 gold miner, has met with Chilean officials and is keen to move forward with its suspended Pascua-Lama gold and copper project, in which it has already invested more than US$5 billion, Chile’s new mining minister told Reuters.

Aurora Williams, who became minister in March after President Michele Bachelet assumed power, said in an interview on Friday the Toronto-based company wanted to resolve outstanding problems so it could continue with Pascua-Lama, which straddles the Chilean and Argentine border.

Barrick surprised financial markets in October, when it shelved the massive mine over problems, including political opposition, environmental permitting, labor unrest, cost overruns and a sharp drop in bullion prices.

“We received Barrick a few days ago,” Williams said in her first interview with a foreign news organization. “They’ve showed us their interest in solving (Pascua-Lama’s) problems and doing community work, which to us appears correct … What I understand is that there’s interest that the project continue.”

Barrick in Santiago declined to comment.

Last May, the environmental regulator told Reuters it would be one to two years at the earliest before the mine was reactivated, given the infrastructure that needed to be built to avoid water pollution.

According to its environmental license, Pascua-Lama had to build infrastructure to manage and treat water before launching pre-stripping operations. But the company had only partially implemented the mitigation system before it started pre-stripping, according to the regulator.

“The (fact that) Pascua-Lama breached its obligations, and did that reiteratively and didn’t apply the adequate corrections in the time frame required gives an inadequate precedent,” said Williams. She added that the final decision on the project’s future rested in the hands of the courts and that the government would not interfere.

Barrick has reshuffled local management and vowed to meet environmental requirements.

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