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International Review of Peru’s Conga Mine Recommends Improvements for Water

Large-scale protests over resource extraction have swept the country in recent years, posing significant hurdles to a mining industry that is expected to bring Peru $US 50 billion in future investment over the next decade.

Protesters Cusco Peru national day of strike President Alan García Amazon logging mining
Photo courtesy of Illuminaut via Flickr.
In 2008, protesters in Cusco, Peru, take part in a national day of strike against the government of former President Alan García, who opened up large areas of the Amazon to logging and mining interests.

After careful review, an international panel of environmental auditors has suggested that changes be made to Peru’s proposed $US 4.8 billion Minas Conga gold and copper mine. Some of the recommendations would likely drive up the cost of the mine, Reuters reported.

Peru’s government had requested the independent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) after a large-scale protest against the mine — involving 10,000 people in the city of Cajamarca — had lasted for 11 days in November 2011. Peruvian President Ollanta Humala had declared a state of emergency and sent troops to restore order, according to the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA).

Mining accounts for nearly 60 percent of Peru’s exports, and companies plan to invest $US 50 billion over the next decade in new projects. In 2010, Peru was the world’s largest producer of silver and second largest producer of copper, and the mining sector brought in $US 4.8 billion in foreign direct investment, according to the 2010 Minerals Yearbook compiled by the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Civil Unrest
Controversy over the mine has centered around its impact on water resources in the Cajamarca region, where Denver-based Newmont Mining Corporation, the project operator, already runs the Minera Yanacocha mine. Yanacocha is currently the largest gold mine in Latin America and has produced 808 million grams (26 million ounces) of gold since 1993, according to Newmont’s website.

Law Attempts to Stem Protests
In an attempt to calm protests over mining, the government published regulations earlier this month to implement the “Prior Consultation Law,” which was passed by President Humala’s administration in September 2011.
The regulations require companies to negotiate with local communities before starting natural resource extraction projects, allowing the two parties to address social and environmental concerns, though it does not give communities the power to veto projects.
The seven stages of the negotiation process are expected to take a maximum of 120 days to complete, the Peruvian Times reported. The government claims that the law is a victory for indigenous communities, who are often disproportionately impacted by mining projects.
Indigenous rights organizations like the National Organization of the Amazon Indigenous People of Peru (AIDESEP), however, have said that the law does not do enough. And analysts say it is unlikely to prevent further conflicts.

Conga is Peru’s biggest mining investment yet, Reuters reported, and it would be located 24 kilometers (15 miles) to the northeast of Yanacocha. The proposed mine is expected to yield 10.8 million grams (350,000 ounces) of gold each year and 54.4 million kilograms (120 million pounds) of copper in its first five years of operation.

Newmont claims the Conga project, a surface mine, will employ 5,000 to 7,000 people during its construction and will not harm the region’s watershed. But other surface mines, like the protested La Alumbrera gold mine in Argentina, have been known to consume between 60,000 to 100,000 cubic meters (16 million and 26 million gallons) of water each day, Le Monde reported.

“It is estimated that the project has the potential to generate impacts on the environment. However, the envisaged mitigation measures, including the release of compensation flows from reservoirs, the effective containment of poor quality seepages through implementation of appropriate engineering measures, water treatment, and proper surface water and groundwater management, will allow adequate environmental protection,” states the Executive Summary of the Conga EIA, prepared for Newmont and its affiliates by Knight Piésold Consultores S.A. Newmont argues that reservoirs would be built to replace a string of natural lakes and would actually improve water supply to surrounding communities, according to Reuters.

Yanacocha gold mine Peru Cajamarca Latin America Newmont Mining Corporation Minas Conga copper
Photo courtesy of SkyTruth via Flickr.
The Yanacocha gold mine in Peru, located just 10 kilometers from the city of Cajamarca, is the largest gold producer in Latin America, yielding 26 million ounces since 1993, according to Newmont Mining Corporation, the mine’s operator. The Minas Conga copper and gold mine, another venture by Newmont and the source of much controversy in Peru, will be located 24 kilometers northeast of Yanacocha, if it is approved.

But Cajamarca’s regional president, Gregorio Santos, remains firmly against the mine.

In December 2011, the regional government unanimously passed an ordinance, effectively banning the Conga project. But the ordinance was overturned today by the Constitutional Tribunal, Peru’s highest court. The court, siding with the federal government, ruled that Cajamarca had overstepped its bounds, Dow Jones News Wires reported.

Source: Dow Jones Newswires; Le Monde; Newmont; North American Congress on Latin America; Peruvian Times; Reuters; USGS

Author: Codi Yeager-Kozacek  is a news correspondent for Circle of Blue based out of Hawaii. She co-writes The Stream, Circle of Blue’s daily digest of international water news trends. Her interests include food security, ecology and the Great Lakes.

Email: Codi Yeager-Kozacek  :: Follow on Twitter :: More Articles

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