MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Spain: Cobre las Cruces accused of lying about the damage caused in mine landslide

Published by MAC on 2019-02-06
Source: Ecologistas en Acción

The recent landslide reported below is the fourth collapse of the Cobre las Cruces Mine in Sevilla, happened on 22nd January 2019.

Ecologistas en Acción are calling for an investigation about the causes of the collapse of the northern slope of the mine, and demanding that verifications about whether the conditions established in the Environmental Impact Statement are being complied with, to avoid contamination of the groundwater and guaranteeing a safe working environment in the mine. Heavy machinery have been buried beneath the debris, although there were no injuries reported.

Cobre Las Cruces, S.A. is wholly owned by the Canadian First Quantum Minerals.

A slideshow of photographs from the landslide can be seen here - https://www.ecologistasenaccion.org/?p=114039

Ecologistas en Acción reports that Cobre las Cruces is lying about the damage caused

Ecologistas en Acción press release

30 January 2019

The landslide has covered 675,000 m2, including the slopes of the open-pit mine, with polluting non-inert waste. The wave of toxic waste travelled 1300 metres from the mine’s waste management plant to the bottom of the mine.

Once again, the company Cobre las Cruces has lied, the scale and consequences of the landslide proving much more significant than first reported. By analysing aerial images of the landslide, it can be seen that 50% of the mine’s waste management plant has collapsed, taking with it a basin of contaminated waters and carrying several million cubic metres of toxic non-inert waste to the bottom of the mine. The northern slope of the mine has also collapsed, burying the entrance to a tunnel whose construction was completed one year ago. Another triangular-shaped basin of contaminated waters has been left at the edge of the landslide. It is possible that the waste treatment plant may also have suffered considerable structural damage and could collapse at any moment, having been affected by a previous landslide in June 2008 when still under construction. A collapse of this plant could result in the spillage of very dangerous contaminated waste into the Garnacha river, which flows between this treatment plant and the Hydrometallurgical Plant and on into the Guadalquivir River.

It is difficult to believe that a landslide of this magnitude would not have been detected in advance by the mine’s technicians. There has been no natural phenomenon which could have caused it, such as torrential rain or seismic movement, and the mining complex is presumably equipped with a geotechnical sounding system, including an extensive network of inclinometers which should detect the first signs of any movement in the earth.

It seems increasingly clear that the cause of the landslide was negligence in the management of the subterranean waters of the Gerena-Posadas aquifer, which caused subsidence in the land upon which the mining complex was built. In fact, the direction of the landslide, from northwest to southeast, coincides with the direction of movement of the underground waters inside the aquifer, from its source near Gerena to the confluence of the Molino and Garnacha rivers.

Since construction work on the mine started in 2005, Cobre las Cruces has never fulfilled its obligations regarding the protection of the underground waters. In 2008, work to increase the mine’s depth was stopped for one year when arsenic pollution and illegal extraction of water was detected in the aquifer. For these reasons, in September 2016 the Provincial Court of Seville tried the three highest directors of the mine: the Managing Director, the Mine Director and the Environmental Director. They were found guilty of an offence against the environment and of ongoing damage to the public domain. There are two other ongoing criminal proceedings currently in the investigation phase, one since 2014 in the Court of First Instance No. 3 and the other since September 2018 in the Court of First Instance No. 1, both for the illegal extraction of subterranean waters, the more recent one due to the construction of the same tunnel which has now been buried by the mudslide.

Cobre las Cruces is directly responsible for all the environmental consequences which may follow from the landslide, given that the aquifer has been left completely unprotected. Flooding and the complete destruction of the mine may result if urgent preventive measures are not taken to seal the aquifer, as was done in 2008.

It seems significant that on 15 January 2019, the Regional Department of Knowledge and Employment in Seville agreed to open a public consultation period (announced in the Official Bulletin of the Government of Andalucia of 21 January) to amend the mine’s Environmental Restoration Plan and to authorise a project to encapsulate the non-inert waste (from the waste management and treatment plants) in the mine. It seems clear that the technical managers of the mine knew of the risk of a landslide, and therefore proposed to store the waste at the bottom of the mine, exactly where it has in fact come to rest.

--
Samuel Martín-Sosa Rodríguez
Responsable de Internacional/International Coordinator
Ecologistas en Acción
C/ Marqués de Leganés 12 28004 Madrid (Spain)
+34 91 531 27 39 Ext. 5805
www.ecologistasenaccion.org
skype: internacionalecologistasenaccion
Twitter: @SamuelMSosa
https://samuelmartinsosa.wordpress.com/

 

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