On Wednesday, 20 May, at 10am, Antofagasta will hold its behind-closed-doors AGM for the minimum quorum of shareholders. The rest of us will not be able to attend – but shareholders have been invited to submit questions in writing, which the company undertakes to answer on its website after the AGM.

Most of Antofagasta’s operations are in Chile, and it is controlled by the Chilean Luksic family. LMN has had contact in recent years with people in Chile concerned about its Los Pelambres and Zaldivar copper mines. We have submitted the following questions to the company.

Questions about Minera Los Pelambres

1) The Complementary Infrastructure Project

Once again, Antofagasta’s Minera Los Pelambres mine is the subject of legal challenges, this time over its Complementary Infrastructure Project.

In February, the Chilean Environmental Court accepted claims from residents of Caimanes against the Servicio de Evaluación Ambiental (SEA, the Environmental Evaluation Service), for approving the Resolución de Calificación Ambiental (RCA, Environmental Qualification Resolution) for Minera Los Pelambres’ Complementary Infrastructure Project. The hearing was planned for Tuesday, 24 March 24.

  • Did this hearing take place? If so, what was the result?

In their claim, the residents of Caimanes complained that “the Complementary Infrastructure Project will harm, and already is harming, the lives of the inhabitants of Caimanes, as it presents a latent, permanent threat to their legitimate right to live in an environment free of contamination.”

They therefore seek invalidation of the SEA resolution that approved the project’s RCA and the resolution that rejected the invalidation request presented by the residents. Regarding the RCA, the residents maintain that there were defects in the citizen participation stage and that “it suffers from a fundamental defect” because local residents “were not allowed or enabled to present their observations since they were never duly informed of the carrying out of this important activity.”

They affirm that “the inhabitants of Caimanes are not against the completion of the Complementary Infrastructure project. What they are simply demanding and asking is that they not be considered second-class citizens,” according to the complaint.

• What is the company’s response to this complaint?
• Why is the Minera Los Pelambres project subject to repeated legal actions?
• Why has the company consistently failed to win the confidence of the people of Caimanes?
• What has been the impact on the company’s reputation?
• When will the company begin to treat the residents of Caimanes with respect, rather than ignoring their requests and resisting their demands?

2) Raising the height of the Mauro tailings dam above Caimanes

Minera Los Pelambres has asked the National Monuments Council for permission to drill 900 boreholes in works associated with heightening the Mauro tailings dam. In three successive meetings, the Council of Monuments has refused this request for technical and legal reasons.

• Why does the company persist in presenting technically poor projects that are rejected by the technical oversight bodies?
• How much company time and money has been wasted in this way?
• Will the company abandon its plans to raise the height of the Mauro tailings dam?

3) Toxic dust and further legal challenges

Since 6 May, the residents of Caimanes have suffered a new environmental problem: toxic dust has been rising like a mist from the stored mine tailings and being blown over the town. Minera Los Pelambres failed to report this: it was residents of Caimanes who raised the alarm about it. This is a serious failing on the part of the company.

Residents fear for their health and have suggested that this dust could be more dangerous than Coronavirus. Some local residents blocked the mine access road in protest, demanding a solution to the problem of pollution from the mine and an end to the use of the Mauro dam for storage of tailings. Juan Pablo Galvez, Governor of the local Province of Choapa, intervened, and the company committed to setting up a roundtable with local residents to discuss pollution. This roundtable has met but Minera Los Pelambres has not proposed any useful solution to the problem of contamination, simply blaming the wind and the drought. Residents want action, not simply promises.

Local Member of Parliament Daniel Núñez has also intervened, denouncing Minera Los Pelambres in the Environment Superintendence for the pollution coming from the Mauro tailings dam. He made a commitment to support local people’s complaints and called for Minera Los Pelambres to be investigated and punished. He accused the company of failing to comply with the Environmental Qualification Resolution, putting the local ecosystem at risk.

The community at Caimanes is now working on a new judicial complaint, calling for greater state control of Minera Los Pelambres’ activities and requesting the revocation of the environmental permits (RCA) of the dam. The company is guilty of numerous cases of non-compliance with regulations, including depriving local people of water fit for human use, presenting a danger to human life because of the proximity of the tailings dam to the town of Caimanes, and consequently causing damage to psychological health. The RCA can be revoked when repetitive breaches are found. The episode of air pollution, now recognized by all, is one more. If the environmental permit is revoked, use of the Mauro tailings dam will be stopped. If the tailings dam cannot be used, the Pelambres mining operation cannot continue – and this will cause massive financial losses to the company and its shareholders.

• Why has the company fought all along to continue use of the Mauro tailings dam when its negative impacts are so clear?
• Why has it allowed a situation to arise in which toxic tailings dust can be blown over the town of Caimanes?
• Is this not proof that local management is incompetent and that overall company management is negligent?
• Why is company management willing to put local people’s lives, and local ecosystems, at risk from air pollution from the Mauro tailings dam?
• When will the company finally attend to the concerns of local residents about pollution from the dam?
• Why has the company yet again driven local people into taking legal action against the company, this time with support from local political representatives?
• What will be the impact on the company’s reputation and profits and, thus, the effect on shareholders?

Questions for Minera Zaldivar, operated by Antofagasta Minerals

From Sergio Cubillos Verasay, member of the community of Peine, and President of the Consejo de Pueblos Atacameños (Council of Peoples of the Atacama)

Concerning the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) currently being evaluated by the Chilean Environmental Evaluation System (Sistema de Evaluación Ambiental, SEA):

1. You have a permit to extract 212.5 litres per second from the Negrillar aquifer in Tilopozo, which the company uses for its mining operations. If the project is finally approved, will you restore these subterranean property rights? If the answer is yes, would you be willing to give them to the community of Peine as its ancestral territorial property?

2. As you know, at the beginning of this year, as part of its project Environmental Impact Assessment, which is currently being evaluated in Chile, Minera Escondida, just like you, considered extracting subterranean water from the Monturaqui aquifer, near to Negrillar Tilopozo, where you extract water for your mining processes. We understand that a result of the indigenous consultation carried out for this project with the community of Peine was that the community opposed the project. So, we ask, if the Atacama community of Peine oppose your project, would you also drop it?

3. The area of subterranean extraction from which you draw your water is very sensitive, to the extent that the Chilean state water agency, the National Water Directorate (DGA), has established certain zones of restriction for water extraction. Can you give an assurance that your operations (past operations as well as those which you are trying to pursue) will not affect protected areas within the current extraction area?

4. You have indicated that the effects on the extraction of groundwater that you are currently carrying out and that you intend to carry out if your Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is approved, will be seen after you stop pumping the groundwater. We want to know, what are the effects that your studies have revealed will happen? For how long will they be evident? How do you plan to mitigate those effects?

5. If your answers to the previous questions should imply that the effects of groundwater extraction will be felt for tens or even hundreds of years, do you maintain that extractive activity in the Negrillar Tilopozo aquifer is sustainable, ethical and consistent with respect for the human rights of indigenous peoples, especially the Peine community, and the future development of their culture?