Tag Archives: Chile

Another ‘world class’ mine embroiled in controversy

Report blasts Antofagasta Minerals’ Los Pelambres mine in Chile

Valentina Ruiz Leotaud | MINING.com | 22 May 2017

An 18-pages long report released today by the London Mining Network slams Antofagasta Minerals’ 60%-owned Los Pelambres copper mine, located in the central-northern of Chile in Coquimbo Region.

In a move that comes just a couple of days prior to Antofagasta’s annual general meeting in London, the document titled In the Valley of the Shadow of Death? A Report on Antofagasta Plc, Minera Los Pelambres and Los Caimanes, highlights allegations of corruption, environmental damage and water depletion caused by the project’s waste tailings dam.

According to the report, the El Mauro tailings dam, with a capacity of 1,700 million tonnes of mine waste, is the biggest in Latin America, surpassing Brazilian Samarco dam by 100 times. The magnitude of the dam, the dossier reads, is a cause of concern for both environmental groups and local residents, who think a similar the disaster to that that took place at Samarco in 2015 could happen in their own community.

Samarco’s breach was linked to small earthquakes and El Mauro’s facility not only is located in a highly seismic region, but it is also expected to grow in size as part of the Los Pelambres’ plans to expand production. “People living in the village of Caimanes would be expected to evacuate their homes within ten minutes of a breach at Antofagasta’s El Mauro dam,” the report states.

Los Pelambres has published a government-approved emergency plan, however, “residents’ attempts to access this plan using the Transparency Law have not been attended to,” today’s report adds.

Community concerns have resulted in a series of actions that date back to 2006 and that have delayed the company’s idea of building two new grinding mills and a desalination plant.

One of the major actions against the El Mauro tailings dam took place in July of 2013 when the Chilean Supreme Court ruled the tailings dam a “danger to human life” and made Minera Los Pelambres officially liable for any loss of human life in the event of a collapse of the dam.

El Mauro dam. Photo from Los Pelambres’ website.

Such ruling highlighted that the dam is constructed to withstand an earthquake of between 7.5 and 8.3 magnitude with an epicentre 80 km away, when the actual closest epicentre is just 60 km away. Thus, the company was ordered to submit the aforementioned emergency plan to reinforce the dam in case of an earthquake.

Later on, in May of 2014, Los Caimanes residents won a case against Minera Los Pelambres in the court of Los Vilos Province. The tailings dam was ruled a “Ruinous Work” (Obra Ruinosa – which asks for the demolition of the facility), in reference to the risk of the dam’s collapse in the event of an earthquake. However, the ruling was appealed in April of 2015, the company presented a safety action plan and a strategy to reduce the dam’s liquid content and, in the end, Los Pelambres won the appeal.

In October of that same year, in a case relating to the ongoing construction of the dam wall (“Obra Nueva”), the Chilean Supreme Court ordered Minera Los Pelambres to restore the free flow of uncontaminated water to the Pupio basin, where the tailings dam is located, and to do this by demolishing the tailings dam or by executing other actions that would help solve the situation. The company was permitted one month to present such alternative option.

In August of 2016, following an appeal of a prior decision against it by the Supreme Court, Los Pelambres was permitted to leave the dam in place, while improving its safety features and providing access to water in the area through pipes and tanks, rather than restoring the natural water flows.

The latter decision came following a May 2016 “Agreement of understanding and cooperation between the mining company and the residents of the Pupio valley,” which lays the groundwork for the expansion of the mine and tailings dam, or possible construction of another tailings dam in the area.

This agreement, says London Mining Network’s report quoting researchers and residents, had a lot of influence in the August of 2016 appeal and was led by lawyers that later on withdrew from the case. The document stated that families who signed would receive around £35,000 which, says LMN, wouldn’t sustain them for long. The activist group also says the money wouldn’t guarantee many of them the amount of land, or the standard of living, they had prior to the construction of the tailings dam.

On top of this, the report adds, the agreement would not compensate for the water scarcity caused in the area by the dam.

“Residents now rely on deliveries of bottled water for use in agriculture as well as human consumption. The river in the Pupio basin has had groundwater diverted away from El Mauro dam into wells; less water is readily available, and this water supply is likely to be contaminated.”

When it comes to claims of pollution, the document cites a 2012 independent investigation undertaken by Andrei Tchernitchin from the University of Chile, who found high levels of manganese, mercury, iron, nickel and molybdenum in water sources in the area, caused by permanently occurring leakages into the groundwater channels in the area.

The report also quotes a Chile’s environmental regulator 2016 charges against Los Pelambres for extracting water from unauthorized sites, building unapproved wells and failing to reforest some areas as required by law.

Minera Los Pelambres produces levels of around 400,000 tonnes of copper and 8,000 tonnes of molybdenum per year.

The company did not respond to MINING.com‘s request for comment by closing time.

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Filed under Corruption, Environmental impact, Human rights

Why Is Mine Waste Being Dumped Directly Into the Ocean?

“Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Norway lead the way using DSTP at their mines”

The Los Pelambres Mine in Chile proposes to dump wastes into the ocean.

The Los Pelambres Mine in Chile proposes to dump wastes into the ocean.

Terry Odendahl, Roy Young and Gary Wockner** | Eco Watch | March 4, 2016 

Picture a 4-foot diameter pipe running into the ocean filling the offshore canyons at a rate of 160,000 tons per day. The pipe runs from an enormous gold and copper mine directly into the Indian Ocean. The pipe is filled with mine “tailings”—a toxic sludge of heavy metals, rock and coagulants mixed in with the pulverized mine wastes that spreads and covers the seabed dramatically impacting plant and animal life and polluting the surrounding water. That is the Deep Submarined Tailings Disposal (DSTP) system at Newmont Mining’s Batu Hijau copper and gold mine in Indonesia.

Although Batu Hijau is the biggest mine that is using DSTP, at least 16 mines in eight countries are also using DSTP, with others to follow. Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Norway lead the way using DSTP at their mines. In Chile, mines in the mountains north and east of Santiago are proposing to run pipes 50-100 kilometers so they can dump into the canyons of the Pacific Ocean off of the Chilean coast. The enormous Los Pelambres Copper Mine in Chile proposes to use DSTP in the future, discharging its wastes directly into the ocean.

The 4-foot diameter pipe dumping mining wastes into the ocean at Batu Hijau mine in Indonesia.

The 4-foot diameter pipe dumping mining wastes into the ocean at Batu Hijau mine in Indonesia.

While you might think this mining disposal would be limited to the unregulated developing world, Norway actually leads with the most mines using this polluting disposal system. The mining wastes are dumped into Norway’s pristine fjords, filling much of those fjords over time. One such mine has prompted a backlash by Norwegians who, working with Friends of the Earth International, have started the Save The Fjords campaign.

As stated on their website, “In April 2015, the Norwegian government gave its final permission for an open-pit mine in a mountain called Engebo. The mine will dump more than 250 million tons of chemicals and waste into the pristine Forde fjord.”

The Forde Fjord in Norway would be partially filled with mining wastes.

The Forde Fjord in Norway would be partially filled with mining wastes.

The Norwegian proposal sparked the “biggest civil disobedience actions in newer Norwegian history” where hundreds of people protested and 80 people were arrested blocking the mining action and trying to save the fjord. Through Global Greengrants Fund, a grant has been given to Friends of the Earth International to help inform Norwegians about the Engbo mine and its ocean disposal.

wegian protestors rally against filling their fjords with mining wastes.

Norwegian protestors rally against filling their fjords with mining wastes.

It could make sense in some cases to dispose of mining wastes in the ocean, but only if those wastes were non-reactive and only if the toxic heavy metals in the wastes are removed. In addition, if ocean disposal does take place, it should be closely monitored and regulated and it should only happen where local people are not dependent on the marine environment for food. Proposals to use DSTP along the coastline of Chile threaten the Humbolt Current System (HCS) which sustainably produces almost 20 percent of the annual harvest of fish biomass. The HCS is the most productive marine ecosystem on the planet. Just four mines would dump one million tons of mine waste into the HCS every day, one gigaton every three years.

Over the last 25 years, international regulatory bodies including the 1996 London Convention and Protocol by the International Maritime Organization and the 1992 Oslo Paris Convention have attempted to set minor regulations for DSTP, but those standards are mostly being ignored.

In the very few places where monitoring has occurred, studies have measured dramatic decreases in the amount of benthic meiofauma (animals less than I millimeter long) as well as all forms of benthic macrofauna (larger than 1 millimeter), which, along with phytoplankton, form the basis of the food chain in marine environments. Almost no research has occurred about the consequences of dumping 100’s of millions of tons of mine wastes at current DSTP sites. This phenomenally destructive pollution is virtually unregulated across the planet’s marine environments.

** Terry Odendahl, PhD, is president and CEO of Global Greengrants Fund. Roy Young is the former executive director of Global Greengrants Fund and founder of Nature’s Own. Gary Wockner, PhD, is an environmental activist, writer and consultant to Global Greengrants Fund.

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Filed under Environmental impact, Papua New Guinea