MAC: Mines and Communities

Expert claims Barrick is breaking the law in Argentina

Published by MAC on 2016-04-20
Source: Buenos Aires Herald,

Hydrogeologist Robert Moran appointed to investigative commission

On 22 March, federal judge Sebastian Casanello, who is investigating last year's cyanide spill at Barrick's Veladero mine, ordered the formation of a Commission of Experts to assess the environmental impact. Casanello decided to allow the local assembly "Jáchal no se toca" be part of the commission.

Casanello also appointed American hydrogeologist Robert Moran as a member of the commission. Moran's appointment was at the request of the Assembly, and was welcomed by the federal judge. Casanello also issued a judicial order against the possibility that Barrick Gold's authorities would not allow the Comission members to enter the mine's processing plant.

After visiting San Juan Province, Environment Minister Sergio Bergman stated that the open pit gold mine responsible for the spill may "possibly have to close".

Previous article on MAC: Barrick Gold Fined $9.3 Million for Argentina Cyanide Spill

US expert claims Barrick’s Veladero is breaking Glacier Law

Fermín Koop

13 April 2016

Barrick Gold’s Veladero mine in San Juan is located in periglacial area and is consequently breaking the Glacial Law, US geologist Robert Moran, a world-known hydrogeology consultant, concluded yesterday after visiting the mine, also questioning the company for not disclosing information.

Moran arrived in Argentina as part of the investigation carried out by Judge Sebastián Casanello following the cyanide solution spill in the mine in 2015, due to a valve failure and a sluice gate being left open. Barrick employees have already been charged and the company was fined 145 million pesos.

“All the water of the rivers that flow in the area of Veladero comes from the melting of glacials. The mine is built on periglacial sediments,” Moran said while showing a map of the area, speaking at a hearing at the Senate yesterday. That fact goes against the country’s Glacial Law, which bans mining and oil extraction near glacials and in periglacial areas.

Moran, who has assessed mining projects in many countries, said that the mine is “visually well-run” but warned that contamination with chemicals is mostly “invisible.” He said many facts regarding Veladero, such as the amount of water used, remained unclear as Barrick wasn’t willing to disclose information.

“There’s no public data over the quantity of water used by Barrick. The company has the data but it won’t make it public. The government should have forced it to do so,” he said. “The company has a permit to use 110 litres of water per second. But we don’t know if they use more. Downstream users have less water for themselves because of the mine.”

Asked about the company’s actions following the mine spill, Moran said Barrick started to clean the area soon after and said it’s likely that the polluted water wasn’t properly treated. He also questioned the environmental impact assessment of the mine and said Argentina’s water regulations are too “weak and flexible.”

“We know the company started to clean the area after the spill. But we don’t know what they did with the solids and liquids that were polluted. Barrick wasn’t willing to tell me as well as they weren’t willing to tell the government investigators,” he said. “The spill has been very expensive for Barrick on money and reputation.”

Based on his visit to the mine, Moran said that the amount of liters spilled of the cyanide solution were probably more than the amount officially informed by Barrick. The company first said the spill was of 224,000 litres but later reports showed that in fact the spill had been of more than one million litres, polluting five rivers.

He was also “surprised” that all eyes were on the cyanide pollution but no one had investigated other chemicals that could have ended up in the rivers such as “copper, mercury, ammonia” and all kinds of waste coming from the mine.

“Nobody is talking about them,” he told lawmakers at the hearing.

New Barrick chief

Following Moran’s visit, Barrick’s newly appointed chief at Veladero gave his first press conference. He said the company was sorry for the spill, claiming it “disappointed its employees and San Juan citizens.” Now the objective will be to work “more carefully and regain social acceptance,” he said.

“Moran was able to look at everything he asked for. He is a brilliant man and a well educated professional,” he said, claming the company wasn’t  disclosing all the information to the judicial investigation.

“We are committed to offer a high level of protection for the environment. We implemented many improvements since the incident in Veladero. Our employees and contractors want the project to more forward and we’ll work towards that goal,” he said. “Our goal is that this kind of accident doesn’t happen again.”

Environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, the Environmental Lawers Association and the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN) have asked the national and provincial governments to shut down the mine immediately and to force Barrick to implement environmental remediation actions.

“Measures have to be taken that lead to the mine shutting down, because it caused one of the largest environmental disasters in the history of Argentina,” Enrique Viale, head of the Environmental Lawyers Association, said.

Environment Minister Says Barrick Gold Veladero Mine Could Be Shut Down

Environment Minister Sergio Bergman stated that the mine responsible for the cyanide spill in San Juan Province may possibly have to close. That would be the loss of 4,000 jobs.

Tommy Sullivan

5 April 2016

After visiting the site that saw a major cyanide-solution spill last year due to a gold mine company’s technical negligence in San Juan Province, Environment Minister Sergio Bergman stated that the mine responsible for the spill may possibly have to close.

This would be an important victory for environmental activists and could set a precedent for other international corporations whose activities on Argentine soil have been less than environmentally friendly, but would mean the loss of thousands of jobs.

“We have to prepare for the possible closure of the mine,” Bergman told San Juan Province Governor Sergio Uñac, according to press reports.

As a brief recap: in September 2015, a valve failure in the Veladero mine, which belongs to Canadian gold mining company Barrick Gold, caused 1 million liters of cyanide solution to spill into the local Jáchal River. After denying anything was amiss for a number of days, Barrick Gold representatives finally owned up to the fact that cyanide had been spilled and submitted to the necessary inspection.

Finally, last month, nine company executives were found guilty of “negligence and incompetence” and fined US $56,000. The official study that supported the court ruling found that “the waters of the Jáchal River are contaminated with metals in doses of up to 1,400 percent above the tolerable human exposure values.”

“We don’t want more cases like Barrick,” said Deputy Eduardo Cáceres, who heads Mining Commission in the national Chamber of Deputies.

The government is still waiting to hear from the results of a study from the Argentine Institute of Nivology, Glaciology and Environmental Sciences (IANIGLA) which will determine the full impact the cyanide spill had on the local environment, which is characterized as “periglacial” (meaning close to a glacial landscape). Argentina’s Glacier Protection Law prohibits the contamination of such environments, considered vital national resources.

Even though the spill has caused big problems for the community, mining operations there are crucial to the economy. Shutting down the mines would translate to a loss of 4,000 jobs, so some workers have marched in defense of Barrick.

The Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation is the largest gold mining company in the world, with operations in Argentina, Chile, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Zambia and the US, among others. In 2014, the Veladero mine in San Juan produced 722,000 ounces of gold.

The company’s environmental record is far from squeaky clean: in May 2013, it was fined US$16.4 million by the Chilean government for failure to comply with environmental regulation in its Pascua Lama operations, one of the largest gold and silver resources in the world located in the Andes between Chile and Argentina.

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