Industry group warns pending glacier bill could shut down mines in Chile

November 10, 2020

The Chilean mining trade group, Sonami, warned that a bill to protect glaciers making its way through congress could put some of the country’s mines out of business if it passes.

Diego Hernández, president of Sonami, which represents mining firms including BHP, Anglo-American and Antofagasta , asked lawmakers to closely review the science on glaciers before finalizing the bill. “We consider [the bill] contrary to the interests of our country,” Hernández said in a statement. He warned of increasing concern among miners over the bill.

Many of the largest mine in Chile are at high elevations in the Andes Mountains as are the glaciers the bill is designed to protect. Reuters reported that the bill is under consideration and has not emerged from committee. It would prohibit mining and other activity in areas classified as glaciers, their surroundings and permafrost. The crux of the current debate lies in defining what kinds of glaciers to protect, and how much of the land surrounding them should be safeguarded to ensure their survival.

Chile is the world's No. 1 copper producer and the No. 2 producer of battery metal lithium, depends on mine exports for as much as 15 percent of its gross domestic product.

Companies and mine workers argue the current bill is too general in the types of frozen soils it protects, putting at risk mines they say are not causing damage to glaciers.

Environmental groups, however, say existing legislation does not adequately safeguard Chile's glaciers, and warn of the potential impact on the country's water supply as the impacts of climate change become more severe. Sonami's Hernandez said miners were particularly concerned the retroactive nature of the current bill could threaten now active mines and obligate Chile to compensate investors.

Continental Chile's glaciers span from its arid high Andes Mountains in the north to the vast southern ice fields of the southernmost stretches of Patagonia.

Photo: The road to  Abdina copper mine in Chile, Shutterstock

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