The suspension of Barrick Gold Corp.’s Pascua-Lama gold project in Chile was upheld by Chile's Supreme Court, but the court did not order Barrick to prepare a new environmental impact study as was requested by an indigenous community living below the mine in the Andes.
The indigenous community living below the mine had asked the Supreme Court to revoke Barrick's license and require the company, the world's largest gold-mining company, to prepare a new environmental impact study, The Associated Press reported.
The Diaguita Indians, accused Barrick of contaminating their water downstream, earlier won an appellate ruling that ordered a freeze on construction of the project that straddles the border of Chile and Argentina, until Barrick builds infrastructure to prevent water pollution.
The community then appealed that ruling from the court in the northern city of Copiapo in hopes of forcing Barrick to apply for a new permit that takes into account their anthropological and cultural claims to the watershed below the mine.
The Supreme Court ruled the measures issued by the Copiapo Court “are sufficient to protect the constitutional guarantees that have been denounced as violated.” The court also ordered “a suspension of the Pascua-Lama mining project” until environmental commitments and all works to protect the water systems are adopted.
Barrick told The Associated Press it had no immediate comment on the court ruling.
Chile’s environmental watchdog agency already ordered construction stopped until Barrick builds systems to keep the mine from contaminating the watershed below, and Barrick executives have publicly committed the company to fulfilling the requirements of its environmental permit.
The binational mine was initially expected to be producing gold and silver by the second half of 2014, but the company now targets production by mid-2016.
While Argentine officials are eager to keep building, most of the estimated 18 million ounces of gold and 676 million ounces of silver are buried on the Chilean side. On the Argentine side, where Barrick fuels a third of San Juan province’s economy, officials have been watching closely and trying to figure out how to preserve thousands of jobs.
Scarce river water is vital to life in Chile’s Atacama Desert, and the Diaguitas fear the Pascua-Lama mine is ruining their resource.