Monday, August 27, 2007

Pascua Lama dispute

Today, I received a chain email that seemed to me more interesting than the average message of its kind. It talked about the plans of a Canadian multinational mining company, Barrick Gold Corporation, to extract gold and other mineral resources from recently discovered deposits in the Huasco Valley, Chile, as well as in some areas of the neighbouring San Juan province in Argentina. The project, named Pascua Lama, would allegedly require to drill two big glaciers, which provide two rivers with fresh waters. The glaciers would disappear and the water of the rivers would suffer irreversible pollution effects, making it unsuitable for human and animal consumption. Moreover, the email emphasized the interests and influence of some stakeholders in the project, such as former U.S. President George Bush Sr and former Prime Minister of Canada Brian Mulroney, who are supposedly involved in Barrick's Board of Directors and among its main shareholders.

The email, which requested every recipient to write down the name and to forward it to as many people as possible to "gather signatures" that would eventually be sent to the Chilean government to show the opposition to this project, really touched my emotions. I found especially worrying the description it gave about the potential pollution that would be generated in the region and the irreversible effects that it would cause to local ecosystems and agricultural activities of local communities. However, I found necessary to research a bit more about the topic before forging a solid opinion about it.

I went through several websites, trying to find a neutral opinion about the case (because obviously the email was biased against Barrick). After going through several sources, such as Wikipedia and newspapers, I found that Barrick was indeed a company that has been involved in some legal issues concerning unfair deals to purchase lands in various locations, such as Australia, Philippines, the United States... and even Chile. In fact, a person named Rodolfo Villar sued the company when he sold his land to Barrick and received much less money than he expected from the Canadian corporation. This lawsuit is still on process, and it's Barrick's one of the key hurdles that Barrick is facing in order to begin its Pascua Lama project.

On the other hand, Barrick has a very clean record environmentally speaking, having notorious performance and waste management systems put in place in mines around the world, as are the cases in Australia and Papua New Guinea. They were also conditioned by the Chilean government to fully comply strict measures to make sure that Barrick will have little or no impact in the environment, and that they will benefit local stakeholders. Barrick agreed to these measures.

However, it looks that people don't trust Barrick about their intentions in Chile. What is Barrick's attitude towards these scandals? It was surprising to go through such multinational's internet site and find out that they have got the same email I received! They actually wrote an entire page of myths and facts about the Pascua Lama project, in which they take some key ideas written in the email message and respond to them by giving what they say are the true facts. The page can be accessed by clicking here.

What's the truth behind all this issue? As usual, more questions than answers are left in the air and there are two opposing parties that depict the situation in two radically different ways. On one hand, Barrick boasts about its corporate responsibility in environment, social responsibility by creating temporary and permanent jobs for the local communities. On the other hand, we have the project's foes who claim that environment will be affected regardless of what plans Barrick thinks of implementing to avoid so, and that local communities and their economies will be negatively affected by Barrick's operations. In between, the Chilean government who wants to attract foreign capital to keep its economic growth, but who also has the responsibility of keeping its population happy and protected. The landscape couldn't be more complex than that.

In the end, it looks that Barrick will be successful to set up and begin operations of their Pascua Lama project. Will opponents stand back and forget about the issue? Time will say. But it is an international issue that will have to be watched closely.


At 7:22 AM , Blogger sakums said...

You can't very well trust Barrick's reporting on the issue, because they have been known to lie. For example, in their initial Environmental Impact Assessment, they did not even mention the existence of the glaciers which are now the source of such controversy. Of course, the chain letter as well contained many inaccuracies and should not be considered the voice of the movement.

One thing I would like to point out is that in Papua New Guinea, they dump toxic mine waste directly into the river. This practiced is banned in most areas and is in no way a best environmental practice.

Please check out and for more on these issues. There is no such thing as responsible open pit gold mining.

At 8:39 AM , Blogger Eddie said...

You make very interesting points in your comments. It is true the fact that it's not possible to do any kind of mining activities without having any impact on the environment at all as Barrick suggests... but the concern, how critical will be that impact? As a person concerned about sustainability and corporate ethics, I'd prefer not seeing Barrick having success in operating this project. But there are several interests from many stakeholders in this matter.

I went through the pages you suggested and I found them extremely useful and informative.

Thanks for sharing your opinion (and your links) in this humble blog with us!


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