MAC: Mines and Communities

Chile approves controversial coal mine in Patagonia

Published by MAC on 2011-08-23
Source: Business News Americas, Reuters, UPI

Environmental group to file lawsuit against Mina Invierno

A Chilean environmental group is making what might be a last-ditch attempt to halt a highly-controversial coal mine, following approval for the project given by the country's Council of Ministers.

On August 18, three activists protesting the decision were detained by police outside the Servicio de Evaluación Ambiental office in Santiago.

A similar action was reported from Southern Punta Arenas in the  Magallanes Region of Patagonia.

Previous article on MAC: Despite widespread opposition, Chile's Isla Riesco coal project moves forward


Environmental group to file lawsuit against Mina Invierno coal project - Chile

By Victor Henriquez

Business News Americas

18 August 2011

Chilean environmentalist group Alerta Isla Riesco will file a lawsuit before a local court to fight the recent approval of local miner Minera Isla Riesco's US$180mn Mina Invierno coal project, Ana Stipicic, one of the group's leading activists, told BNamericas.

After analyzing appeals submitted against the environmental approval of the project, the council of ministers for sustainability voted in favor of its development on August 12.

"We feel the council of ministers failed to address our concerns both regarding the project's approval and our claims about the negative impact this project will have on wildlife and tourism on the island," Stipicic said.

The environmentalist group is waiting for the official document confirming the project's approval to start preparing the lawsuit.

The council's approval is contingent on a series of conditions, environment minister María Ignacia Benítez said after the decision was announced. These conditions have not yet been made public.

Mina Invierno, located in southern region XII, received environmental approval in February but environmental and local community groups submitted four appeals before the council of ministers outlining what they consider to be the negative impact the project would have on wildlife, forestry and tourism on Isla Riesco, the country's fourth largest island.

The council is led by Benítez and also includes the agriculture, finance, health, economy, development and reconstruction, energy, mining, public works, housing, transport and communications, and planning ministers.

Mina Invierno involves an open pit operation to produce 6Mt/y of sub-bituminous coal over a 12-year mine life based on current reserves of 73Mt. The company's general manager Jorge Pedrals previously told BNamericas that construction was expected to start immediately after receiving environmental approval.

The project is designed to substantially reduce the country's dependence on international markets by replacing close to 30% of current coal imports with local production. Chile currently imports 94% of coal used in power generation. Mina Invierno will replace imports from countries such as Colombia, Indonesia, Australia and the US.

The Invierno deposit is one of three coal concessions in the zone that were privatized in 2008. Together with Río Eduardo and Elena, the three contain more than 1Bt of reserves.

Minera Isla Riesco is a JV between local holding Copec and shipping company Ultramar.

Chile approves controversial Copec coal mine


13 August 2011

SANTIAGO - Chile's embattled government on Friday approved a controversial coal mine project in the country's southern Patagonia region, despite strong opposition from environmental groups and local residents.

Environment Minister Maria Ignacia Benitez said the government had given the greenlight for the $530 million Mina Invierno project being developed by Minera Isla Riesco, a joint venture between industrial conglomerate Copec's and shipping company Ultramar.

The approval comes as conservative President Sebastian Pinera is grappling with growing protests against his policies by students, environmentalists and miners.

COPEC said in April it would start shipments from Isla Riesco, which will supply electricity generators, in the first half of 2013. (Reporting by Felipe Iturrieta; Editing by Paul Simao)

Chile goes ahead with coal mine project


17 August 2011

SANTIAGO, Chile -- Chile is proceeding with a controversial coal mine complex in scenic Patagonia in the south despite accusations of President Sebastian Pinera's vested interests and an opposition campaign carried to Facebook and beyond.

A specially appointed government commission gave the green light for work to begin on the first of five mines earmarked for development on the Isla Riesco, near the regional capital of Punta Arenas.

The city and its environs have seen frequent unrest this year over consumer prices, energy rates that are higher than in northern Chile and other projects seen as potentially harmful to the area's ecology, its scenic beauty and a vibrant tourism industry.

The area is also a popular destination for tourism to the South Pole.

Supporters of the coal mine expansion plan say making the most of the area's fossil fuel reserves is critical to Chile's energy security. Up to 30 percent of Chile's coal needs may be met by coal extracted from the mines, officials say. Several thermo-electric power generation projects essential to the national electricity grid will benefit from the Isla Riesco coal.

Critics say Pinera, a billionaire, will profit from the enterprise, a charge denied by the president. The country's chief national oversight body, the Comptroller General, last month cleared Pinera of any conflict of interest in the deal but couldn't silence critics, who vowed to fight on.

Environmental campaigners say the low-quality coal from the deposits will adversely affect the air and the land assets valued by the tourism industry and defended by the local population. Local residents fear pollution will harm residents' health.

Campaigner Chile Sustenable, a non-government organization, said the mines would increase carbon emissions by 360 percent. No less than 59 percent of planned new power generation capacity in Chile is set to be coal-based.

National Energy Commission data indicated Chile is already the third largest CO2 emissions polluter in South America.

The coal power project is a multimillion-dollar undertaking with estimates of a $530 million joint investment by the companies Ultramar and Copec, which has the president as a major investor.

Pinera holds about 800,000 shares in Copec but has argued his stock is held in a blind trust. Critics say the president will still profit from any appreciation in the stock price, as he has done in previous stock movements in Copec since he came to power last year.

Despite the Comptroller General's ruling in the president's favor, the battle isn't over. Opponents of the project plan to appeal to the Supreme Court. A Facebook campaign is building, in a follow-up to a 2010 viral video that forced Pinera to consider relocation of a thermoelectric plant in Punta de Choros, a scenic village famous for its tourist attractions of bottle-nosed dolphins, sea otters and Humboldt penguins.

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