Argentina’s glacier protection law that was put in place in 2010 was upheld by the nation’s supreme court which rejected a challenge from Barrick Gold Corp. to have the law declared unconstitutional.
Barrick challenged the law, arguing that the 2010 law could affect its projects near glacial areas in Argentina. But Argentina’s Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, said Barrick had not proved that the law curbing mining on and around the country’s glaciers to protect water supplies caused any damage to the company.
Barrick owns Pascua-Lama, a high-altitude mine that straddles the Argentina-Chile border. It also runs the Veladero mine in Argentina’s San Juan province.
The Argentine law broadly defines glaciers, so it protects not only the icy masses most people think of but also “rock glaciers” and frozen ground water on mountaintops where glaciers have melted away from the surface. The Argentine National Glacier Institute, which had a big hand in drafting the law, pushed the definition because it is believed most glacial water actually comes from such reserves.
Barrick did not issue a statement about the ruling, but Reuters reported that a source with knowledge of matter said the court's decision would not affect any of the company's current operations in Argentina.
McEwen Mining’s Los Azules, Stillwater’s El Altar, and Meryllion Gold’s Cerro Amarillo are a few other mining projects that stalled when Argentina passed the world’s first Glacier Protection Law, prohibiting any industrial activity that could harm glaciers and periglacial areas.
The first version of the law was passed in 2008 but was later vetoed by President Fernández de Kirchner on the grounds that it was detrimental to the mining sector. In 2010, Argentina’s Congress revived the law and passed a national Glacier Protection Law, prohibiting mining and oil and gas projects in glacier and permafrost areas, making the law retroactive.
In 2015 Chile's Environmental Court ruled that the Pascua-Lama project had not damaged glaciers within the project's area of influence.
Argentina’s public officials in the mining sector, and environmental authorities took nearly 10 years to carry out the glacier inventory which the law called for, and failed to crack down on mining operations already in glacier areas, which the law also mandated.