The Chilean Mining Minister, Marcela Hernando, was in London this week (24-28 October 2022) to participate in the London Metal Exchange Week (LME Week). The LME Week is a lobbying space that seeks to bring together all the economic actors in the metals markets industry to decide the future in these areas.
At a public event organised by the Anglo-Chilean Society and sponsored by mining giants such as Antofagasta Minerals, Anglo American and Rio Tinto, the Chilean Minister of Mining was the special guest, invited to share the Chilean government’s vision of the future of mining, the energy transition and its relationship with lithium. However, this event did not rigorously discuss the impacts of mining operations on communities or ecosystems.
London Mining Network delivered a letter to the Minister of Mining to make her aware of our concerns about the impacts of Anglo American and Antofagasta Minerals’ operations on neighbouring communities and especially about the impacts on the environment.
Concerns about the impacts of Antofagasta Minerals on the Caimanes community
Protest against Antofagasta Minerals. Credit: El Ciudadano, Chile
One of the main concerns of the community of Caimanes, where the Los Pelambres mining company of Antofagasta Minerals operates, is regarding the need to simulate the possible collapse of the El Mauro tailings dam and the danger of the emergency plan. We want to insist on the “Specific Emergency Plan for Variable Risk: Unscheduled Emptying of the El Mauro Tailings Dam in 2019” from the perspective of the best international standards and practices. From our perspective, the plan must be governed by the guidelines of Safety First: Guidelines for Responsible Mine Tailing Management, since they are criteria that seek to protect communities, and must comply with other international standards that are identified in the preparation process plan (1), void modelling (2), and independent review and post-emergency planning. We believe that it is of vital importance to make improvements to this plan, according to the points that have been sent to you in advance. The lives of the people of the Caimanes community could be at risk. For more information you can check https://earthworks.org/
Concerns about the impacts of Anglo American on the communities of Lo Barnechea, El Melón, Colina, Lampa, Til Til, Los Andes, Catemu and Putaendo
Protest in front of Anglo American’s office in Chile. Credits: No+Anglo Movement
In relation to Anglo American’s operations in Chile, this year the Integrated Los Bronces Project was rejected by the Environmental Assessment Service and the decision of the Committee of Ministers is awaited. The El Soldado Phase V Operational Continuity Project was also rejected by the Environmental Qualification Commission of the Valparaíso Region. We believe that both decisions are important, since these operations are a threat to the environment and people’s lives.
However, communities are being harmed. The Los Bronces mine has caused scarcity and contamination of water, destruction of glacial areas (which threatens water security for the entire population of the metropolitan region), irrecoverable damage to biodiversity despite the fact that it is a world class biodiversity hotspot; noise, air pollution, damage and hazards caused by company trucks travelling day and night; health impacts; the need for some households to use cistern trucks to access drinking water; non-compliance by the company with water conservation requirements; local farmers increasingly unable to make a living due to lack of water and other factors; fear of a tailings dam bursting; concern about collusion between the company and government institutions; and others.
The main impacts of the El Soldado mine and the tailings are also water scarcity and loss of biodiversity, including the unrepaired destruction of high biodiversity forests; diseases faced by community members that could be due to water and air pollution have not been adequately studied; the cost to some households of having to buy filtered water, while others are forced to use water provided by the mining company; unreliable communication by the company of its environmental monitoring; fear of the collapse of a tailings dam; a history of irregular, unjust, divisive and in some cases fraudulent land purchases, without remedy to this day; aggressive legal land claims against some community members and company interference in community life.
- It is critically important that the people who would be directly impacted by a tailings dam failure are involved in all phases of developing an emergency plan. It is not enough to open a consultation space after having developed a document, but it is important to design a participatory process that takes into account the experiences, knowledge, and expertise of local communities.
- The Specific Emergency Plan for Variable Risk: Unscheduled emptying of the El Mauro Tailings Dam makes projections of possible failures and delineates the risk zone. The plan contemplates two scenarios: a discharge of 7 Mm3 associated with a normal operating condition, and another of 22.3 Mm3 in extreme hydrological conditions. The analysis presented in the plan determines that, in the most extreme case, the tailings would reach the lowest points of Caimanes, without significantly affecting the majority of the community. According to the plan, the flow will run alongside the community and stop suddenly, with no explanation as to how or why it will stop. The plan also does not include any details on the correspondence between the amount of tailings and the identified events.