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When the reports were made, there was no Glacier Law. This is the rule that expressly prohibited mining activity in glacial and periglacial areas. Perhaps that is why Barrick Gold admits that Veladero and Pascua Lama are located in those environments. And perhaps that is why the Canadian mining company opposed the regulation during the debate and, once it was approved, resorted to the courts to stop its application in San Juan.
The first of the reports in question is the Environmental Impact Report (IIA) - Exploitation Stage, on Veladero, prepared by the consulting firm Knight Piésold SA for Minera Gold SA, Barrick Gold's subsidiary. One of the most brutal confessions is on page 47, where it says: "In the Project area and surrounding areas the geoforms related to a current Periglacial environment predominate." He speaks of "underlying permafrost", admits that "ice is the main morphogenetic agent in the region", and concludes: "In several sectors there are rock glaciers".
Veladero's environmental impact report admits the mine is in protected areas
On the same page he describes different geoforms found in the area. The fifth point is conclusive: "Glaciers: It includes the masses of ice present in the area of the geomorphological map, although most of them do not reach the dimension of a true glacier".
Beyond the appreciation made by the mining company, Law 26,639 establishes that a glacier is a mass of ice "whatever its shape, dimension and state of conservation." In other words, what is in Veladero is a glacier, although for Barrick Gold "it is not a true glacier."
There is more. A lot more. On page 78, the report describes the "surface water bodies" in the Veladero area. Among them, he mentions the "glaciers that are located at the headwaters of the Arroyos Canito, Turbio and Los Amarillos basins." And he adds that "the presence of glaciers is important in the considerations of the water balance of the basins."
It continues: "The total glacial area within the Arroyo Canito basin is approximately 1.68 km2. The Arroyo Turbio basin, with a total glacial area of approximately 1.45 km2, contains two glaciers. The Arroyo basin de Los Amarillos contains a small glacier of approximately 0.61 km2. There are smaller areas of permanent ice along the high peaks of the study area. "
Special mention should be made of the maps presented in the report, one on the project works and the other on the presence of glaciers, glacial geoforms and periglacial environments in the area: when superimposed it is clear that the project is over the prohibited areas.
In the different shades of violet are glaciers and glacial geoforms
For the case there is an open legal case, promoted in 2009 by citizens of San Juan and supported by three NGOs. The Supreme Court had the file drafted for 6 years, until last September 1 it was declared incompetent. Twelve days later there was a spill of at least one million liters of cyanide solution from the Veladero mine to the Potrerillos River. A few months earlier Barrick Gold had awarded the deposit as its safest project.
Pascua Lama: another project, the same story
A similar situation occurs in Pascua Lama, the first binational mining project to be carried out in Argentina and Chile, but which was stopped by the Trans-Andean Justice after the presence of a layer of particles was confirmed in the Toro 1 and Esperanza glaciers. a few centimeters thick caused by the construction of roads. Even so, the Government of San Juan aspires to exploit the area.
Originally the project included the unusual proposal to relocate three glaciers, Toro 1, Toro 2 and Esperanza, but the Regional Commission for the Environment (COREMA) of Chile did not authorize it.
The same body, COREMA, made a visit to the area in 2005, when the project had not yet started. In the report he detailed: "The area of the Toro 1, Toro 2 and Esperanza glaciers, which are in the most affected area during the preliminary project stage, have decreased their area between 1981 and 2000 by 56% (Toro Glacier 1) up to 70% (Esperanza Glacier), not the Guanaco and Estrecho Glaciers, which are further away, which have maintained their area during the period of time mentioned above. "
According to COREMA, this statement makes it possible to rule out Barrick Gold's theory that the decline in glaciers is due to climate change, since the most affected glaciers are those in the mine. A clarification: the dates may attract attention, but although Barrick Gold arrived in the area in 1995, mining explorations began in the 70s.
In June 2009, Barrick Gold commissioned BGC Engineering to carry out a study in Pascua (Chile) and Lama (Argentina) on the presence of permafrost, which is soil that was below 0 degrees for more than one year and it is also protected by the Glacier Law. The map published below shows the permafrost areas in pink, those that possibly are in yellow and those that are not in gray. A glance is enough to verify that the project is located almost entirely in a prohibited area.
The Pascua Lama map shows permafrost areas in pink and possibly areas in yellow
The same study warns that "possibly most of the dump area is permafrost", that "the entire pit area is permafrost" and that in the area where the plant will be "small parts" are permafrost.
The study on the presence of permafrost commissioned by Barrick Gold proves that three central parts of the deposit on the Argentine side are above protected areas
The conclusions coincide with the Pascua Lama Environmental Impact Report, also made by Knight Piésold SA, which admits that the dump and the Argentine part of the pit "will be located at more than 4,000 meters above sea level, where conditions of permafrost ".
The curious thing is that the "Environmental Audit" carried out by the Government of San Juan in November 2012 ensures that "potential or generated environmental impacts on glaciers or periglacial environment have not been identified and quantified." This work was carried out by the engineer Jorge Millón, who headed the Department of Hydrology at the University of San Juan and was hired by the consulting firm Knight Piésold. In other words, the audit was carried out by a professional who worked indirectly for Barrick Gold and today is a provincial official.
José Millón participated in the Environmental Impact report commissioned by Barrick Gold and headed the "Environmental Audit". Today he is Director of the Hydraulic Department of the province of San Juan.
Barrick Gold's reports agree with other sources. For example, a study carried out by the National University of Cuyo in August 2010 and published on the website of the San Juan Ministry of Mining, which warns of the progressive and irreversible disappearance of the Brown Inferior, Brown Superior, Conconta Norte and Conconta glaciers South.
Number 1 is the Superior Brown Glacier. The 2 is the Concota or North Glacier. The 3 is the lower Brown, which received the ablations of the other two glaciers and which today disappeared.
Indeed, the Environmental Audit warns that "in the fall 2010 the distal snowfield of the Upper Brown Glacier has disappeared, and in the fall 2011, the Lower Brown Glaciarete", although it attributes it to climate change.
However, critics of mega-mining have suggested that activity in the area was directly involved in these phenomena. "The lower Brown disappeared because it was ablated by the other two glaciers that were above, which are retreating. By cutting off its power, they condemned it to disappear. Today it does not exist. The other two were reduced, but it is not known for sure how much because the monitoring is not published, "environmentalist Fernando Berdugo explained to Infobae.
The intervention was such that Barrick Gold was denounced for cutting glaciers to build the road to Veladero and Pascua Lama. Berdugo himself presented some photos about the destruction of the Brown Superior glacier snowfield, while the former employee of the mining company Fredy Espejo revealed what happened in 2005 with the Conconta. "It had to be opened to trace the road there, which today is 35 meters wide. The glacier is affected by the large trucks that are used, and the incessant traffic there is. That glacier gives water to (the town de) Tudcum, "he detailed.
Further back in time, in 2005, IANIGLA –which is a state body– presented a work to the then Subsecretariat of Mining of San Juan in which it expressly warns that Veladero is located on glacial and periglacial environments. And it specifies that in the Lama-Veladero area are the Los Amarillos, Guanaco, Canito, Gla C34, Potrerillos and Gla P08 glaciers. The study also mapped the periglacial environment within Pascua Lama and Veladero.
At that time, the Ombudsman of San Juan, Julio Orihuela, issued resolution 6,828, in which he recommended carrying out new studies in the area, because the first environmental impact report of Veladero hid a series of glaciers that did appear in the Easter Lama report. No authority paid attention to him.
The provinces that are part of the Federal Organization of Mining States (OFEMI) have a double strategy to try to overcome legal impediments through provincial regulations. On the one hand, they aspire to modify the definition established in the national law of "periglacial environment". The goal is to shrink the protected area, as San Juan did a few days before the national law was passed. On the other, they seek to make their own inventories of glaciers and periglacial zones. However, a provincial law cannot modify a national provision regarding the care of the environment. Neither of the two alternatives is legal.