Tag Archives: London Mining Network

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

Rio Tinto challenged over Bougainville legacy at AGM in London

Rio Tinto’s Annual General Meeting was held in London on 12 April, 2017. The London Mining Network attended the AGM and has published a report that includes, among many issues, a section on Bougainville and the Panguna mine…

Richard Solly | Co-ordinator of the London Mining Network

I asked about the company’s legacy in Bougainville. I said: “Concerning the June 2016 transfer of Rio Tinto’s shares in Bougainville Copper Ltd to the governments of Papua New Guinea and Bougainville, a note on page 167 of the 2016 Annual Report says, ‘The carrying value has previously been fully impaired and therefore the transfer resulted in no financial impact for the year ended 31 December 2016.’ I suppose this is equivalent to saying that the shares are worthless. Presumably the only way of extracting any value from the shares would involve re-opening the mine – but Bougainville Copper Ltd estimates that the costs of re-opening the Panguna mine would exceed US$5 billion, and this does not account for the expenses of concluding several essential ‘due diligence’ studies. It would take years to get the mine up and running again, and doing so would deepen dangerous divisions among the people of Bougainville.

“I have two questions. Did Rio Tinto or BCL ever commission any studies of the environmental damage caused by the mine waste to the Jaba river and surrounding regions, including an assessment of clean-up costs? If so, will the company make those studies public? How does Rio Tinto reconcile its claimed commitment to sustainable development, environmental stewardship and protection of the environment, with the mess it has left behind on Bougainville, surely one of the greatest environmental disasters in the world?”

[Rion Tinto Chairman] Jan du Plessis said that Rio Tinto had decided long ago that it would not be allowed to go back into Bougainville, and it had no desire to do so; but in the right hands and under the right conditions a mine could be developed. The fact that Rio Tinto believed that in its hands the asset has no value does not mean that it would have no value in other hands. Stakeholders including – now – local landowners could decide how they wanted to use the asset.

Jan du Plessis added that when Bougainville Copper left the site in 1989, because it was forced to leave, he knew it was compliant with all environmental and other obligations. The company now had no idea of the current situation of the site as it had not been allowed to go on site since. He was quite certain that there was no report about environmental damage, as the company had not been there for 30 years.

I said that I was asking about studies and reports that may have been done when the company was active at the mine. Jan du Plessis replied that by 1989 the company was fully compliant with its environmental and other obligations and that since then it had conducted no further studies. I should have mentioned – but failed to do so – that John Momis, President of the Bougainville Autonomous Government, has spoken of the inadequacy of the environmental regulations in place at the time that Rio Tinto was mining in Bougainville, and of the possibility of suing the company for its legacy of pollution.

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Filed under Environmental impact, Human rights, Papua New Guinea