Chile’s glacier protection bill faces fresh delays

15.10.2020, 19:19 - eeppo

Lawmakers in Chile will have to, once again, wait to vote on a bill to protect the country’s glaciers, a rule that could hinder development of mining projects in the world’s top copper-producing country.

In 2014, a bill was introduced in Congress to ban certain dangerous industrial activities near the glaciers. The proposal underwent several modifications before it was finally ditched altogether by the first government of current right-wing President Sebastian Piñera.

Rule could hinder development of mining projects in the world’s top copper-producing country.

The bill in its current form was introduced in 2018 and a vote on it has been pending since October 2019. 

Opposition senate members blame mining companies, saying they have successfully lobbied to delay the Glacier Protection Act for years.

Discussions stalled again this week due to modifications proposed by the government. Deputy mining minister Iván Cheuquelaf said on Thursday that before a vote could take place it was necessary to better define what a glacier, periglacial area and permafrost were. 

Miners on guard

If the bill is approved without any changes, Codelco’s copper mines El Teniente and Andina would not be able to continue operating and over 30,000 jobs could be lost, local paper El Mercurio reports.

A glacier protection law, opponents argue, could hinder construction of large mining projects high in the Andes or imply higher costs to meet regulations.

If approved in its current form, the bill could force Codelco to shut El Teniente and Andina copper mines.

Chile’s environmental court put in September the final nail in the coffin for Barrick Gold’s (TSX: ABX) (NYSE: GOLD) giant Pascua-Lama gold-silver project, straddling the border with Argentina.

The venture had been on hold since 2013 over environmental concerns, including the Canadian miner’s failure to properly monitor glaciers surrounding the project on the Chilean side.

Chile is home to 82% of the glaciers in South America, most of which are already receding due to higher temperatures linked to global warming.

Almost seven million people living in the capital Santiago rely on glaciers to feed most of their water supply in times of drought. About three-quarters of the country’s population of 19 million live in areas whose water supply is greatly glacier-dependant.

Chilean lawmakers are set to vote on the bill on Oct. 28th.