Chile’s environmental regulator issued a revised sanction of Barrick Gold’s Pascua-Lama project on Jan. 17 that includes an order to close the stalled surface project while cutting the fine for violations to $11.5 million from $16 million previously.
Barrick is currently operating the project under a temporary closure plan and the company said in a statement that the order to close the existing surface facilities in Chile was consistent with its plan to advance a study for an underground mining operation at Pascua-Lama, which it says would reduce the overall environmental impact.
Reuters reported that the gold and silver project, straddling the border of Argentina and Chile in the Andes Mountains, was put on hold in 2013 due to environmental issues, political opposition, labor unrest and development costs that ballooned to $8.5 billion. The regulator only has jurisdiction over the Chilean side of the project.
Chile had levied a $16 million fine in 2013 for violations of environmental controls after a court found the penalties were not properly determined. The regulator said at the time that new sanctions could range from a warning to permit cancellation or a fine.
Barrick has spent more than $4.8 billion on the project, which was expected to produce 800,000 to 850,000 oz/year of gold in its first five years of full production.
In 2016, Chile rejected an attempt by local communities to block modifications needed to keep the project alive. Opponents worry the development will pollute and crimp already scarce water resources in the country’s arid north.
Barrick, the world’s largest gold producer, is now studying a scaled-back development, starting with underground mining in Argentina. The company already had a temporary closure plan on the Chilean side.