The Supreme Court of Chile has overturned the decision of the Antofagasta Environmental Court to permanently close the $8.5bn Pascua–Lama project owned by a Chilean subsidiary of Barrick Gold.
Chile’s environmental regulator, the Superintendencia del Medio Ambiente (SMA), issued Barrick Gold with five orders to close the mine in January 2018, and fined the company $11.5m due to concerns about the project’s environmental impact.
Barrick is accused of not properly handling waste from the open-pit mine, which has the potential to enter and pollute local water sources, while the miner claims to have conducted extensive geochemical and geohydrological studies for a water management plan.
In October last year, the Antofagasta Environmental Court followed up on the decision of the MSA by ordering Barrick Gold to close the Chilean side of its Pascua-Lama project in the wake of spiralling costs and local and political opposition to the mine.
However, the environmental court rejected four of the five closure orders issued by the SMA, confusing the accusations against the project. Furthermore, the Supreme Court overturned the environmental court’s decision on procedural grounds, and has ordered the case to be reviewed by a different group of judges.
Barrick Gold president and CEO Mark Bristow said that the Supreme Court’s decision delayed a decision on the future of the Pascua-Lama project and the company remains focused on resolving the legal and environmental issues around the project.
Bristow said: “We believe that despite the legacy challenges relating to the Pascua-Lama project there are exciting opportunities here, especially in the El Indio Belt, and we will be pursuing this in line with our strategy of creating value for all our stakeholders, including the governments, and people, of our host countries.”
The company also said that the Supreme Court did not review the merits of the closure orders by the SMA, which remain in effect and are subject to an appeal by the company.
Barrick’s Chilean assets include the jointly owned Zaldívar copper mine and the Norte Abierto and Alturas gold projects.
In October 2013, Barrick Gold temporarily suspended construction activities at the Pascua-Lama citing environmental issues, political opposition, labour unrest and development costs.