(AP) A Chilean appeals court ruled against the world's largest gold mining company on Monday, favoring Chilean Indians who accuse Barrick Gold Corp. of contaminating their water downstream.
The judges in the northern city of Copiapo unanimously ruled that the company must keep all its environmental promises before moving forward with construction of the Pascua-Lama mine at the very top of Chile's mountainous border with Argentina. They also said Barrick must repair environmental damage to the Estrecho and Huasco rivers, and monitor the condition of three glaciers next to the mine project.
Chile's environmental watchdog agency already ordered construction stopped until Barrick builds systems to keep the mine from contaminating the watershed below, and Barrick executives have publicly committed the company to fulfilling the requirements of its environmental permit.
But Monday's ruling goes beyond that by demanding repairs to the rivers that run through the Diaguita Indians' subsistence farms. The water is vital to life in Chile's Atacama Desert, and the Diaguitas fear that the Pascua-Lama mine above them is ruining the resource.
Barrick Gold Corp. did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press, but its top executive for Pascua-Lama, Eduardo Flores Zelaya, said last month that the Canadian company is committed to upholding the world's highest environmental standards.
The ruling is yet another setback for the $8.5 billion, bi-national mine, whose opening is now delayed for years. While Argentine officials are eager to keep building, the Chilean regulators have raised questions about the mine's viability. On the Argentine side, where Barrick fuels a third of San Juan province's economy, officials have been watching closely and trying to figure out how to preserve thousands of jobs.
Barrick's stock was trading up slightly Monday at $15 a share after reaching what market analysts have described as possibly historic lows last week due to falling gold prices and the Pascua-Lama setbacks.