MAC: Mines and Communities

Argentina: Jachal residents march to demand closure and remediation of Veladero gold mine

Published by MAC on 2016-09-25
Source: San Juan Hoy, Reuters, Argentina Independent (2016-09-26)

Barrick’s open pit mine temporarily closed after another cyanide spill confirmed

Jáchal residents are marching 155 Km to San Juan capital, in Northern Argentina, to demand the closure and remediation of the Veladero gold mine, and a prohibition on megamining in the province.

Authorities suspended operations at Barrick Gold’s Veladero mine after the company confirmed another cyanide spill on site, occurred on 8th September, days before the first anniversary of the country’s worst ever mining leak, also perpetrated by Barrick at the Veladero mine.

The investigation into last year’s spill confirmed that at least three rivers were contaminated, and also discovered that three other spills had occurred without public knowledge.

So far nine Barrick employees have been prosecuted, but local residents and environmental groups say the full extent of the damage has been covered up by the company with support from the provincial government.

Photos and video reporting of the march available here: https://www.facebook.com/Asamblea-J%C3%A1chal-No-Se-Toca-1406789662959369/

See previous on MAC:

2016-04-20 Expert claims Barrick is breaking the law in Argentina
2016-03-20 Barrick Gold Fined $9.3 Million for Argentina Cyanide Spill
2015-09-20
Criminal complaint filed against Barrick over cyanide spill

'Jáchal no se toca' Assembly to march to the capital of San Juan

They expect to arrive at the Government House on Monday, to take their claims to the governor, Sergio Uñac.

San Juan Hoy - http://sanjuanhoy.com/noticia/2794/asambleistas-de-jachal-no-se-toca-iniciaron-su-marcha-a-capital

September 25, 2016

At 6 am on Sunday, some 150 members of the "Jáchal no se toca" Assembly began a march towards the city of San Juan, to demand provincial authorities the "closure, remediation and prohibition of megamining" in the province.

Towards the evening, the column had already walked about 50 of the 155 km that separate Jáchal from the capital, as reported through their Facebook page.

The protest, which they called "March for water and life," will be arriving to San Juan on Monday 26. Then they will march down Avenida Libertador to the Government headquarters.


Barrick’s Argentina mine suspended after cyanide spill

Susan Taylor

Reuters - http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/barricks-veladero-mine-in-argentina-temporarily-suspends-operations/article31893073/

Sep. 15, 2016

Barrick Gold Corp said on Thursday that operations at its Veladero mine in Argentina were temporarily suspended by the government after a “small quantity” of processing solution that contains cyanide leaked outside a processing area.

The solution flowed over a berm surrounding the leach pad where gold is processed after a pipe was damaged on Sept. 8 by a large block of ice that rolled down a valley slope, Barrick said.

The affected ground and other material was collected and returned to the pad, said Barrick spokesman Andy Lloyd. “We are working with authorities to confirm the volume estimate,” he said.

There is no material impact expected on the mine’s operational forecast, Barrick said in a statement. The Toronto-based company has forecast annual output of 580,000-640,000 ounces of gold.

Barrick said it will start work on Thursday with authorities from San Juan province to confirm the facility’s safety.

No solution from the pipe reached any water diversion channels or water courses, and the impacted area has been remediated, the company said. The incident posed no threat to the health of workers, communities or the environment, it added.

Last year, Barrick was forced to temporarily stop pumping cyanide solution used in the leaching process at Veladero after a spill in September. Tests later showed that the spill, caused by a defective valve, did not contaminate local water supplies.


Barrick’s Veladero Mine Closed After Another Cyanide Spill Confirmed

http://www.argentinaindependent.com/currentaffairs/latest-news/newsfromargentina/barricks-veladero-mine-closed-after-another-cyanide-spill-confirmed/

15 September 2016

Authorities in San Juan province have suspended activity at Barrick Gold’s Veladero mine after the company confirmed another cyanide spill on site.

The spill occurred on 8th September, days before the anniversary of the country’s worst ever mining leak, also by Barrick at the Veladero mine. However, details of the latest spill were only made public last night.

According to a statement from the company: “there was an incident in the tailings pond caused by a break in a pipeline containing [cyanide] solution. According to preliminary investigations, this break occurred after the pipe was struck by a chunk of ice.”

Barrick assured that the spill had not reached any local water source and claim that there “was no threat to the health of workers, local communities, or the environment.” The Canadian mining company also stated that the incident had not affected activity on the site.

However, in a late-night press conference, San Juan governor Sergio Uñac confirmed that the mine would be shut down to assess the magnitude of the spill and remain closed until it is certain that there are no risks from the spill.

Déjà Vu

News of the spill sparked a protest in the nearby town of Jáchal, where residents recalled how Barrick had attempted to cover up the details of last year’s spill before eventually admitting that over 1m litres of cyanide solution had flown into the local river system.

The Asamblea Jáchal No Se Toca released a statement yesterday: “We are disgusted by this recurring disaster, just one year after what diverse professionals have called the country’s worst ever environmental disaster related to mining activity. It is embarrassing that this situation is being repeated in the same place just one year later.”

The investigation into last year’s spill confirmed that at least three rivers were contaminated, and also discovered that three other spills had occurred without public knowledge. So far nine Barrick employees have been prosecuted, but local residents and environmental groups say the full extent of the damage has been covered up by the company with support from the provincial government.

The fact that it took six days for the news of this latest spill to be made public has only added to local scepticism. “We think we have a strong basis to be highly sceptical and suspicious of any control being carried out by the provincial government,” stated the assembly, which is organising another protest tonight to demand the mine be shut down completely.


One Year On From the Jáchal Spill: What We Know and Don’t Know

La Vaca (Translated by Katie McGhee) - http://www.argentinaindependent.com/socialissues/environment/one-year-on-from-the-jachal-spill-what-we-know-and-dont-know/

13 September, 2016

On the 13th September 2015, thanks to a Whatsapp message that went viral, news came to light that changed daily life in Jáchal (San Juan province) forever: mining company Barrick Gold had spilt millions of litres of cyanide solution into the river. Two days later the first reports were filed, which have now led to the prosecution of nine employees, but not a single mining manager or state official.

For the lawyer of the plaintiffs, Diego Seguí, the charges – which is still to be confirmed in the courts – are falling upon the classic ‘scapegoats’ so as to cover the real culprits. “We are asking for the secretary for environmental and mining control, Marcelo Ghiglione, the police chief, and the provincial mining minister, Felipe Saavedra, be called to testify. When the judge spoke about the prosecution of these scapegoats here in San Juan, he thanked the provincial mining authorities for having helped with the investigation, when they are in fact the ones responsible.”

This gratitude to the officials constitutes just one of the many gestures over the course of this year where judicial strategies were weakened by political and economic powers. And thus what happened in the Veladero mine on the morning of 13th September is still spoken about in terms of theories and mysteries.
Hypothesis on the Spill

Judge Pablo Oritja closed his investigation this year when he prosecuted nine Barrick Gold employees and presented his interpretation of the facts. A bit of context: the case relied on prosecutors sent in especially as “reinforcements” and the judge rejected the Jáchal Assembly’s request to be appointed as plaintiff through one of its members, Saúl Ceballos.”

The theory that emerges from Ortiga’s investigation points to a failure in a holding valve as the cause of the spill. “We never saw the forensic tests of the valve, nor whover has it,” Seguí says sarcastically. “The suspicions of the Assembly were that there was an overflow as a result of overuse, and this excess is not the fault of the nine defendants. It is a business decision and related to a lack of government control.”

These suspicions are based on concrete facts that Judge Oritja himself took into account when he decided to suspend activity in Veladero for 15 days. “It was because he found excessive production, because the elevation of the tailings pond was high,” says Seguí. This hypothesis had already been explained by Freddy Espejo, a former mine worker, according to sources still within the company.

Cutting Back on Justice


The other case investigating the responsibility of the cyanide spill is in the hands of Federal Judge Sebastian Cassanello. “These two criminal investigation proceedings for the same offence generated a conflict of jurisdiction which the courts had to resolve,” says Seguí. In effect, the Supreme Court ruled in May that Cassanello did not have authority to investigate those responsible in the company. “[These included] the CEO of Barrick Gold, Guillermo Caló, who was accused. In practice, it meant declaring Caló’s impunity.”

The verdict of the Court also halted the line of investigation highlighted by the international expert presented by the Assembly, Robert Moran, an environmental impact specialist. Seguí and Morlan visited the Veladero mine and recalls: “We went with a search warrant, but they only gave us a single police officer. They met us with their video cameras, from the miners’ union Aoma…it was horrible: it’s then that you feel the scale of this brutal inequality between businesses and justice.”

What did they see? “The crude reality. It had all been repaired already, but the crude part was the lack of answers to Moran’s technical questions. We arrived at the location of the famous valve: Moran looks at it all and they begin to explain to him. They said ‘this is the valve that broke, before it didn’t have what it has now, we’ll show you what has been done to it: now it is covered in a small structure that has insulating material that can withstand the brutal range in temperature between day and night, and between winter and summer.’ What else? ‘We put a gauge here, a gauge that measures the pressure.’ Even the humblest of cars has a pressure gauge. Can you believe Barrick Gold has been exploiting this mine for ten whole years without a pressure gauge? ‘Now’ – the employee told us – ‘we also have cameras monitoring each of the 12 valves that we have in case of a possible break.’” Seguí’s conclusion: “The fact that they were not doing all this before confirms the responsibility of the company.”

With this evidence, the lawsuit had requested the suspension or closure of the mine for violating the Hazardous Waste Law and National Glacier Protection Act. But the Court blocked Cassanello from that possibility, returned it to the provincial judiciary, and left the federal courts investigating only the responsibility of state officials. What hopes remain? “What little we have left is with Cassanello: we already know about the justice here (in San Juan),” says Seguí.

What We Know, and What We Don’t

How many litres were spilt?

Many more than the company acknowledged (1m litres). Roberto Adaro, an environment official that went to the mine on the 26th September, made basic reports and suggests that the estimate has to be counted from the last time that a lookout passed. It could be more than 3mn litres.

What do we still not know?

– The volume of the spill
– What happened
– The impact
– What other metals are polluting the rivers.

What do we know?

The effects that are not a product of the spill, which have to do with the work from the day the mine began. The judge in this case has acknowledged three previous spills. Seguí states that: “talking about ‘the’ spill is a way for Barrick to wash its hands of others, because it singles it out: I’m certain that there were more than three. We also know that the government’s neglect of the Jáchal area since the day of the spill is shocking.”

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