Barrick Gold’s US$8.5 Pascua-Lama mine formally suspended by Chilean court until pollution standards met

SANTIAGO — A Chilean appeals court on Monday formally suspended Barrick Gold Corp’s controversial US$8.5 billion Pascua-Lama gold mine until the company builds infrastructure that will prevent water pollution.

In April, the Copiapo Court of Appeals temporarily and preventively froze construction of the project, which straddles the Chile-Argentine border high in the Andes, while it examined claims by indigenous communities that it has damaged pristine glaciers and harmed water supplies.

On Monday, the court said it was ordering a freeze on construction of the project until all measures required in the government’s environmental license for adequate water management, “as well as urgent and transitory measures required by the environmental regulator,” are adopted.

Chile’s environmental regulator has also suspended Pascua-Lama, citing major environmental violations, and asked Barrick, the world’s top gold miner, to build water management canals and drainage systems. Barrick has said it is fully committed to complying with all aspects of the regulator’s order.

The court ruling also called for the project’s environmental license to be reviewed and for all data on nearby glaciers to be presented to the regulator.

Barrick or the indigenous Diaguita community now have days to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

A source close to the company said Barrick is not likely to appeal the decision.

The Diaguitas could contest the ruling if they deem the measures imposed by the court are too weak, and could potentially ask the top court to seek Barrick’s permit be revoked, lawyer Lorenzo Soto told Reuters.

“If we appeal it would be because the safeguard as ordered aren’t sufficient,” Soto said.

A potential decision from the Supreme Court would likely be issued this year, but it is tricky to anticipate how it might rule on Pascua-Lama, originally forecast to produce 800,000 ounces to 850,000 ounces of gold per year in its first five years of full production.

Last year, the Supreme Court suspended a key permit for Canadian miner Goldcorp Inc’s El Morro copper-gold project, and rejected the planned US$5 billion Central Castilla thermo-electric power plant.

But it also cleared the way for the unpopular HidroAysen hydro-power project.

A full court-ordered halt of the project would be a major hit for Barrick as 80% of the metal reserves are on the Chilean side. It would also be a further blow to Chile’s business-friendly reputation.

Several big mining and power projects have faced setbacks in recent months in Chile, the world’s No. 1 copper producer, where around 60% of export revenue comes from the metal.

It remains unclear what kind of legal action Barrick could take if the permit for its project – whose construction was already well underway – were canceled or placed under review.

To be sure, the regulator told Reuters the project shouldn’t face a permanent block if Barrick meets all the requirements. The regulator added the earliest Pascua-Lama could be reactivated is one to two years.

But Chilean courts have appeared increasingly open to lawsuits from environmental or social groups against mega projects.

While Chile’s economy is riding a copper boom, many in the economically stratified country feel mining profits have bypassed them and hurt the environment, and are increasingly taking their demands to court.


PH 2012 gold output sinks over 50%

GOLD MINE. Gold production nosedives in 2012. Newsbreak file photo GOLD MINE. Gold production nosedives in 2012. Newsbreak file photo

Philippine gold production i 2012 slid over 50% while copper rose marginally, the government’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) said.

The MGB said gold production in the country, one of the most highly mineralized in Asia, dropped to 15,762 kilograms from 31,120 kgms in 2011.

The bureau blamed the fall in gold on a slump from small miners and traders selling to the country’s Central Bank after the government tightened the collection of taxes.

“The Bureau of Internal Revenue strictly imposed the collection of the 2% excise tax and 5% creditable withholding tax from small-scale gold producers/traders,” an MGB statement said.

Obliquely, the MGB also pointed to the executive order signed by President Benigno Aquino III for the sour, depressed mood in the mining industry which was not lifted until the government removed the moratorium on new mining applications.

The MGB quoted industry analysts as saying the order “set a new investment climate for mining in the country, posing a big challenge to the industry in the short- to medium-term.”

The bureau said another factor for lower gold output would include the accident in the country’s biggest gold miner Philex Mining Corp, which had to shut when a tailings pond spilled, and negative growth in miners Apex Mining Company Inc. and Philsaga Mining Corp.

Copper production for 2012 rose a modest 2.52% to 65,444 metric tons, from 63,835 tons. Nickel and chromite also posted gains in 2012, but not enough to cushion the impact of falling gold output.

Mining has become a controversial industry in the Philippines, with activists, the Catholic Church and several local officials trying to block the opening of some mines and challenging the constitutionality of the law in the country’s Supreme Court.

Aquino’s government has been criticized for its indecisive stance on the issue, seeking to curry favor with the anti-mining groups and mining companies/investors at the same time.


Al Gore’s Golden Years

The house in Nashville is gleaming white, with symmetrical wings and four twenty-foot-high Victorian columns. Under the soaring portico stands Al Gore, dressed in his casual uniform—a button-down blue dress shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots.

This is Gore’s White House, a 10,000-square-foot mansion he and Tipper renovated in 2007. It’s currently uninhabited but for his dog, Bo (by strange coincidence, the name of the dog in the real White House, too), a chow mix, who is barking wildly. “I’ve got the house to myself most of the time,” Gore says.

By mansion standards, the house is modest. The most famous feature of the Gore living room, Tipper’s drum kit, has been moved out since they separated in 2010. Off the living room is Gore’s writing room, with floor-to-ceiling whiteboards, where he spent the better part of two years—nights and weekends included—writing his latest book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change, 533 pages, 154 of which are endnotes and bibliography. Shortly after finishing his manuscript, he sold his cable channel, Current TV, in a deal worth $784 million—Al Gore is now richer than Mitt Romney, according to Forbes magazine. Add that to his books, his investment company, his Oscar-winning movie, and his Nobel Prize, and you have a flawless American success story—except, of course, for one little detail.

We pass through the kitchen, where Gore delivers a brief disquisition on the dangers of aspartame in diet drinks, which may cause you to crave sweet things, and thus help make you fat—one of Gore’s concerns, along with saving the planet.

In the backyard, the poplars have just started to bloom, white as teacups. Gore settles us onto cushiony patio furniture not far from a rectangular pool. Bo, finally quiet, has taken up a spot on the well-tended lawn.

It’s perfectly pleasant here in the yard—but wherever Al Gore is, it’s hard not to get the sense that there are dark clouds lurking. This is partly because of his core identity—the man who should have been president. And it’s also because his writings are apocalyptic—like nature hikes through the Book of Revelation, a phrase he sometimes uses in a different context. His environmental writings are replete with biblical images of the destruction that awaits unless we change our ways. His best seller The Assault on Reason laments the fading power of evidence and logic and the disdain with which intellectuals are treated. Even The Future proposes that America has lost its way and that its current course leads to “the possibility that civilization as we know it would come to an end.”

“Your books all seem to be built around a sense of loss and hopelessness,” I begin.

Gore quickly rebuts my premise.

“Oh, gee, it doesn’t come from that place,” he says. “Look, there are some dangers here and some opportunities. And we have to make conscious choices.

“I’m trying to push back against the idea that my writing comes from a place of sadness or lament.”



“You’re optimistic, then?”

“Yeah, I’m very optimistic. We’ve faced stormy days in the past. Good things can happen quickly. They can, and they do.”

The image of Albert Gore Jr. as a man for whom the sky is always falling was created in the five weeks after November 7, 2000, a day when he believed he’d won the presidency (and many still believe that he did). The Supreme Court, by one vote (and Sandra Day O’Connor, a retired justice, has just suggested that the court perhaps should not have taken the case), put an end to that dream. “For two and a half decades, he was on a trajectory that was supposed to end in the presidency,” says one of his closest advisers, Carter Eskew. Then it was ripped out of his hands, and that changed everything.

Part of Gore’s gift is that he’s always managed to make light of the situation. He’s developed a big banging laugh and a talent for self-deprecation—“I used to be the next president of the United States,” he likes to say. Or he play-acts.

“How hard was it to be so close?” ­Charlie Rose pressed one recent evening at the 92nd Street Y. How, in other words, could you bear it?

Onstage, Gore, in a suit that looked too small for him, mock-blubbered: “Oh, Charlie, you have no idea.”

In the absence of direct testimony, those close to him have filled it in. “He endured a long night of the soul,” says one aide, echoing the standard view of Gore after 2000.

Gore shifts us inside—it’s gotten a bit cold, and the host is hungry. There are relatively few signs of the wealth he’s lately accumulated. There’s a sideboard with dishes on display, a compact living room facing a flat-screen TV, and a dining area where the table is set for three—we’re joined by a young aide, Betsy ­McManus,­ who addresses her boss as “Sir.”