Antofagasta Minerals faces a lawsuit in Chile for over-extraction of water and continues to generate conflicts in the Caimanes community.

local people protest Antofagasta, which is currently the subject of a court case
“Luksic (Antofagasta Minerals) pays, the State oppresses and the media are silent” Caimanes resists” 
Credit: Consejo de Defensa de Caimanes

Antofagasta Minerals is a Chilean mining company listed on the London Stock Exchange. It has mining operations in two regions in Chile, in the Coquimbo region and in Antofagasta. It intends to expand its operations in the USA. The Luksic Group is the majority shareholder of Antofagasta Minerals. The Luksic Group, led by Andrónico Luksic, is the most powerful financial group in the country, with a fortune of around 13.7 billion dollars.

In Chile, the company owns the copper operations of Minera Antucoya 125 kilometres northeast of the city of Antofagasta; Minera Centinela, a copper producer from 1,350 kilometres north of Santiago; the open-pit copper miner, Minera Zaldívar, which is located at an average height of 3,000 metres above sea level and 175 kilometres southeast of the city of Antofagasta. And the copper operation of Minera Los Pelambres 240 kilometres north of Santiago.

In 2021, the company obtained profit of US$7. 500 million, this sum was obtained thanks to the increase in the price of copper, which helped increase its profits by 77% compared to the company’s profits in 2020. Copper production in 2021 exceeded 721,500 tons. However, this financial success carries with it large socio-environmental costs in the places where the company operates.

On the one hand, the community of Caimanes, whose neighbours are Minera Los Pelambres and the El Mauro tailings dam, have been fighting for more than 19 years. One of the main conflicts is over El Mauro, since it is one of the largest tailings dams in Latin America. The collapse of these tailings could plunge the entire community into toxic waste. In addition, the underground layers that are the main source of water for the community are located downstream, causing significant damage to the ecosystem. In 2014, the Supreme Court of Chile determined that Minera Los Pelambres should return the water to the community, since it was evident that the construction of the dam had caused significant damage to the environment and people’s lives. Demonstrations due to conflicts over water, pollution and socio-environmental impacts in Caimanes are innumerable. Despite the visible impacts in Caimanes, the company insists on expanding its projects in the region.

On the other hand, in the Antofagasta region, which is one of the desert regions of Chile, the Atacameñas communities also face a deep water crisis due to mining action. The water rights held by the company have caused an increase in drought in the region, affecting the life of ecosystems and communities. In the Tilopozo sector, south of the Atacama desert, Minera Zaldivar has been exploiting water from one of the most important aquifers, the Monturaqui-Negrillar-Tilopozo Aquifer. It has been shown that the impact generated by the over-extraction of water has been serious and irreparable.

This May 11, Antofagasta Minerals will hold its AGM at Church House Westminster. The meeting will be held from 2 pm, it will be the first face-to-face AGM after the COVID pandemic. The London Mining Network will attend the meeting to ask questions about the company’s impacts in Chile.

On water extraction in the Monturaqui-Negrillar-Tilopozo aquifer, south of the Salar de Atacama

In its 2021 sustainability report, Antofagasta Minerals presents itself as a company that works for a better future. In addition, the Executive President, Iván Arriagada, has stated that “We want to make sure that we are part of the solution to climate change. We are investing to grow sustainably.” However, the Chilean State Defence Council (CDE) has filed a lawsuit against the Zaldivar mining company due to impact over water. 

The Chilean State’s lawsuit against the company is for environmental damage, due to the over-extraction of water from the Monturaqui-Negrillar-Tilopozo Aquifer, in the south of the Atacama desert. As a consequence of the overexploitation of water, there has been a drop of more than 25 centimeters in the water table. Since 2005, this level has exceeded the permitted limit that the vegetation systems of the Tilopozo sector can support. It is estimated that the extraction of water carried out by the Zaldivar mine in the sector is around 212.75 l/s. According to the most conservative studies, the company’s extraction is equivalent to half of the recharge capacity of this sub-basin.

The demand of the Council of Defense of the State in the First Environmental Court, determines that the over extraction of water in the Tilopozo sector has generated serious permanent and irreparable deterioration. As a result, the aquifer has compromised its regeneration capacity and its biological diversity in the southern area of ​​the Salar de Atacama, thus causing an irreversible impact on the ecosystems and human groups that inhabit the Salar de Atacama.

The accumulated and irreparable damage to the Monturaqui-Negrillar-Tilopozo aquifer, in the Salar de Atacama, is public knowledge. Minera Escondida ceased extracting water in 2019, however, Minera Zaldivar has extended its extraction until 2025.

Expansion of the INCO project: Case in the Supreme Court for prior consultation

The community of Caimanes presented before the Courts of Chile, an appeal on the “Complementary Infrastructure (INCO)” project. The resource is related to not ensuring citizen participation (PAC) of the People of Caimanes. Caimanes is directly affected by this project, since it is located in the “influence area”.

According to Minera Los Pelambres, the PAC complied with the requirements, since activities would have been carried out in nearby towns, such as Los Vilos, Salamanca or Illapel. However, the Caimanes community criticizes the company’s actions and questions whether these activities have complied with the legal standard. Very few people from the Caimanes community participated. It is not explained or justified that activities have not been carried out in the town of Caimanes, considering that it is an area directly affected and that citizen participation processes should not create obstacles and difficulties, but rather, on the contrary, facilitate participation.

Lawsuit for psychosocial damages

The Caimanes community filed a case in the 16th Civil Court of Santiago for psychosocial damages, which the company has generated in the community. Compensation is requested for moral damages, related to psychological damage suffered by the population. Minera Los Pelambres has already been notified for this reason. The case contains psychological reports prepared by professionals from the University of Chile. The reports demonstrate the effects and consequences that the construction, installation, and operation of the El Mauro Dam has had on the lives of the inhabitants of Caimanes.