21. Gold Mining Threatens Ancient Andean Glaciers

by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

CorpWatch.com, June 20, 2005
Title: “Barrick Gold Strikes Opposition in South”
Author: Glenn Walker

InterPress Service, February 15, 2006
Title: “Chile: Yes, to Gold Mine But Don’t Touch the Glaciers”
Author: Daniela Estrda

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Roth
Student Researcher: Michelle Salvail

Barrick Gold, a powerful multinational gold mining company, planned to melt three Andean glaciers in order to access gold deposits through open pit mining. The water from the glaciers would have been held for refreezing in the following winters. Opposition to the mine because of destruction to water sources for Andean farmers was widespread in Chile and the rest of the world. Barrick Gold’s Pascua Lama project represents one of the largest foreign investments in Chile in recent years, totaling $1.5 billion. However, some 70,000 downstream farmers backed by international environmental organizations and activists around the world waged a campaign against the proposed mine.

In the fall of 2005, environmental activists dumped crushed ice outside the local headquarter of Barrick Gold in Santiago. Thousands had marched earlier in the year shouting slogans such as, “We are not a North American colony,” and handing out nuggets of fool’s gold emblazoned with the words oro sucio — “dirty gold.”

In February 2006, Chile’s Regional Environment Commission (COREMA) gave permission for Barrick Gold to begin the project, but did not approve the relocation of the three glaciers.

“The mine will cause severe damage to the local ecosystem because it will pollute the Huasco River as well as underground water sources,” said Antonia Fortt, an environmental engineer with the Oceana Ecological Organization.

The Pascua Lama deposits are considered one of the world’s largest untapped sources of gold ore, with a potential yield of 17.5 billion ounces of gold. Barrick’s removal of the gold will employ cyanide leaching for on-site processing of the ore. Cyanide is a chemical compound that is extremely toxic to humans and other life forms. Environmentalists are worried that the cyanide will leach into the water systems and contaminate entire ecosystems downstream. Construction of the mine will begin in 2006 and begin full operations in 2009.

Barrick Gold also succeeded in convincing both the Chilean and Argentine governments to sign a binational mining treaty, which allows the unrestricted flow of machinery, ore, and personnel across the border. Lawsuits against the treaty are pending in Chilean courts.

Barrick Gold has been accused of burying fifty miners alive in Tanzania and blatantly disregarding environmental concerns in operations all over he world. George H. W. Bush, from 1995 to 1999, was the “Honorary Chairman” of Barrick’s international Advisory Board.

Barrick Gold is the third largest gold mining company in the world, with a portfolio of twenty-seven mining operations in five continents. Gold sales in 2005 were $2.3 billion.

The company is based in Canada, but U.S. directors include: Donald Carty, CEO of AMR Corp and American Airlines, Dallas, Texas; J. Brett Harvey, CEO CONSOL Energy Inc., Venitia, Pennsylvania; Angus MacNaughton, President of Genstar Investment Inc., Danville, California; and Steven Shapiro, VP Burlington Resources, Inc., Houston,Texas.