Chile's Sernageomin "lacked seriousness in Mina Invierno evaluation"
Environmental lobbyists in Chile have accused Sernageomin, the government's national mining service, of failing to evaluate the seriousness of one of Latin America's biggest proposed coal projects. See: Chile approves controversial coal mine in Patagonia
The same agency had already been found guilty of not complying with safety supervision at the San Jose copper mine - where 33 miners were trapped in 2010, attracting international concern.
Sernageomin lacked seriousness in Mina Invierno environmental evaluation - project opponents
By Victor Henriquez
Business News Americas
3 January 2012
Chile's national geology and mining service Sernageomin lacked seriousness and professionalism during the environmental evaluation process of local miner Minera Isla Riesco's US$180mn Mina Invierno coal project in southern region XII, Ana Stipicic, one of the leaders of local environmentalist group Alerta Isla Riesco, told BNamericas.
"As a public service that plays a key role in environmental evaluation processes, Sernageomin should have noticed that the coal to be mined from Isla Riesco is of poor quality and that there is a huge potential environmental impact to the island's land and seawater," Stipicic said.
"During the evaluation process, Sernageomin made no observations on these issues. It just made four observations to the project, all of them related to cosmetic issues. We told this to the environment ministry [MMA] and the council of ministers for sustainability, but they didn't listen to us," Stipicic said.
"Now, we have evidence that Sernageomin almost didn't do its job," she added.
Stipicic accompanied lower house member Enrique Accorsi of the opposition PPD party to meet comptroller general Ramiro Mendoza on Monday (Jan 2) to request an investigation over alleged irregularities in the environmental evaluation of the project. The irregularities are mainly focused on Sernageomin's tasks, as well as those of the regional health service and other local authorities.
Environmental groups are also completing the lawsuit they will submit next week to start the legal battle against the project, according to Stipicic.
Mina Invierno received environmental approval last February but environmental and local community groups submitted four appeals before the council of ministers for sustainability, 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.
After analyzing the appeals, the council of ministers voted in favor of its development on August 12.
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 is currently advancing on construction of the project.
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.
New safety bill could mean the end of small mining sector, lower house member says - Chile
By Victor Henriquez
Business News Americas
11 January 2012
A mining safety bill, currently under discussion at the Chilean lower house's finance committee, could herald the death of the country's small mining sector if a distinction between large, medium and small-sized operations is not made, lower house member Marcos Espinosa told BNamericas.
"We're asking the government to include a special regulation for small miners. We want the government's commitment to the creation of this special regulation and then [we plan to] submit it to small miners associations throughout the country for analysis before it's incorporated into the bill," Espinosa said.
"As it's drafted right now, the bill will mean the extinction of a lot of small mining operations," said Espinosa, a member of the opposition radical (PRSD) party. "As the bill makes no distinction between the size of operations, it will be extremely difficult for small miners to comply with the law."
Espinosa, together with several other lower house members, is working on several amendments to the bill to address the issue.
"We're concerned that mining activities will decline as a result of this law, thus weakening the economy in mining regions. We don't want unemployment to rise because of a law that aims at increasing safety standards in the country," he added.
The mining safety bill, already approved in principle by the lower house's mining and energy committee, proposes the elimination of geology and mining service Sernageomin and the creation of a mining regulator in charge of authorizing exploration and mining plans, and overseeing compliance with safety and other regulations.
A new entity will be created to manage geological information and oversee volcanic activity, among others.
The government started working on the bill after a cave-in at the San José copper operation in northern region III in 2010, which trapped 33 miners almost 700m underground for more than two months.
Following an investigation into the accident, the lower house's mining and energy committee laid part of the blame on Sernageomin both for granting authorization for the operation of the mine and for failing to comply with the supervision of safety conditions.
However, it was revealed that Sernageomin lacked sufficient resources and supervisors to monitor the more than 4,000 operations in the country. At the time of the accident it only had enough staff to visit 70% of all mining operations in the country just once a year.