BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Work will continue on the Argentine side of Barrick Gold Corp.’s Pascua Lama mine even though construction has been ordered stopped on the Chilean side, the Canadian company and Argentine officials said Tuesday.
A Chilean court suspended work on the Chilean side in mid-April, saying the mine straddling the border between the two countries in the Andes threatens the water supply of an indigenous community and pollutes glaciers. Barrick warned last week that it might halt spending and could even suspend development on the Chilean side if the construction stoppage goes beyond 2013.
Argentine Mining Secretary Jorge Mayoral met with Barrick’s vice-president Tuesday and said the project is advancing “in good form.” Kelvin Dushnisky of Barrick said the Argentine portion of the project is on schedule, with more than 50 per cent of construction completed.
Barrick says it follows all applicable Argentine laws, but environmentalists say Pascua Lama and Barrick’s nearby Veladero mine, which produced 611,000 ounces of gold last year, violate Argentina’s law banning any mining on or near glaciers.
The Argentine Environmental and Natural Resources Foundation said Tuesday that it asked the Supreme Court to get copies of the ruling by the court in the Chilean town of Copiapo as well as an environmental audit conducted by the Argentine provincial government of San Juan.
The environmental group said in a statement that the documents “are of vital importance towards an effective implementation of the glacier law.”
Chile’s environmental and mining ministries supported the suspension of work on the mine. Critics allege construction has spread dust that has settled on the nearby Toro 1, Toro 2 and Esperanza glaciers, speeding their retreat and threatening the Estrecho river, which supplies water to the Diaguita indigenous community downstream.
Barrick says Pascua Lima has 17.9 million ounces of gold reserves, and the company believes it will be one of the world’s biggest and lowest-cost mines. But the mine had gone off track.
Its start date had been delayed by more than six months to the second half of 2014, and the estimated start cost had jumped from an original $3 billion to $8.5 billion last year.
Associated Press writer Luis Andres Henao in Santiago, Chile, contributed to this report.