Moving Glaciers to Make Way for Gold Mine

Residents of Vallenar protesting
Residents of Vallenar, Chile, are protesting plans for the Pascua Lama project. PHOTO: Natanael Vivanco

Canada-based mining giant Barrick Gold has upset communities in Chile with plans to develop a gold and silver mine high in the Andes, on Chile`s border with Argentina. The "Pascua Lama" project would relocate Andean glaciers and re-route mountain waterways around toxic tailings ponds. In October, E-LAW U.S. Environmental Research Scientist Meche Lu and Communications Director Maggie Keenan traveled to Santiago to work with E-LAW partners at Fiscalia del Medio Ambiente (FIMA), Chile`s leading grassroots environmental law organization. FIMA has joined ecologists, indigenous communities, farmers, and civil society groups that are mobilizing against the Pascua Lama project. Mining takes a severe toll on the environment, disturbing vast areas of land and polluting water and air with toxic by-products. Grassroots attorneys around the world call on E-LAW U.S. for help understanding the complex scientific and technical issues that mining raises. Many lawyers in the E-LAW network have little training in the sciences, so there is a tremendous need for this technical expertise. Meche is working with FIMA`s Andrea Reyes to review the project`s Environmental Impact Assessment and develop strategies to protect the region`s fragile natural resources. The Pascua Lama project is at the headwaters of the Estrecho River, under three glaciers that feed irrigation systems for 70,000 small farmers in the Huasco valley, 660 km north of Santiago. Olive, grape, and vegetable farmers fear the project will contaminate local water supplies. Communities are also concerned about the impacts of building roads, mining truck traffic, and the effects of dynamite on nearby glaciers.

Poster for forum

In November, a group of students that Andrea collaborates with from the University of Chile organized a forum: "Foro Pascua Lama: La Legalidad forzada en el reino de Barrick" (Pascua Lama Forum: Imposed law in the kingdom of Barrick), to help coordinate efforts to protect Chile from the ill-advised Pascua Lama project. FIMA President Fernando Dougnac was a featured speaker. Mining extracts an enormous toll on communities and the environment. E-LAW U.S. is helping partners around the world work to protect communities from environmentally destructive mining projects: In Peru, children in La Oroya have blood lead levels that far exceed World Health Organization standards. E-LAW U.S. is helping partners in their efforts to convince the U.S.-owned mining company in this Andean town to clean up its act. In gold mining, a highly toxic cyanide solution is often used to leach gold from piles of rubble, posing an immediate threat to nearby communities and wildlife. In Tanzania and Ghana, E-LAW U.S. helped partners respond to cyanide spills. In Kenya, a proposed titanium mine threatened ecosystems near Mombasa, on the Indian Ocean. E-LAW U.S. helped partners evaluate the environmental impacts of the proposed mine. In Zambia, huge tracks of land have been mined and rendered useless by the copper industry. E-LAW U.S. worked with partners to address these and other abuses of the copper industry. In Indonesia, communities suffer from mercury poisoning around Buyat Bay. E-LAW U.S. helped partners evaluate mining pollution in the Bay.

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E-LAW U.S. staff traveled to Santiago to work with E-LAW partners at FIMA, Chile`s leading grassroots environmental law organization. FIMA has joined the fight against Barrick Gold`s Pascua Lama project, which would relocate Andean glaciers and re-route