Lawmakers Pass Bill to Protect Argentina’s Glaciers

Bill passes that will ban mining and oil drilling in Andean ice fields.


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Lawmakers in Argentina approved a bill to protect glaciers in the country by restricting mining and oil drilling, Reuters reports.

Passed Wednesday in Argentina’s lower house, the bill will be voted on by the Senate later this month. Meanwhile President Christina Fernandez has stated that she will not veto the law, as she had done to a similar measure two years ago on the grounds that it would dampen economic development in the mineral-rich southern provinces, Reuters reported.

The bill sets standards for the protection of glaciers, which are a vital source of fresh water for much of the country, and the surrounding periglacial areas through a system of penalties and fines for pollution as well as damage to the ice fields. It will preserve Argentina’s existing water reserves and supplies by prohibiting mining, petroleum exploration and exploitation, construction, as well as pollution from waste and chemicals in the protected areas.

The initiative may have ramifications for many of the nation’s mining operations. The Cuyo Region, in the mountainous center of the country, houses vast mineral reserves—making it the epicenter for mining investment and development. Two major deposits, the Veladero and Pascua Lama, hold substantial gold and silver reserves. Barrick Gold Corporation, the largest gold mining company in the world, has invested heavily in mining projects in each of these deposits.

Many people accused Fernandez of favoring the company in her veto of the glacier bill in 2008, IPS News reported. The law would have placed limitations on Barrick’s Pascua Lama Project, an open-pit gold and silver mine located in the Andes on the country’s border with Chile.

In 2009, opponents tried to block construction, claiming that the mine would endanger three nearby glaciers and pollute a vital water source for 70,000 people in Chile’s Huasco Valley and Argentina’s Jachal Valley, according to IPS News.

Should the bill be approved by the Senate later this month, both of Barrick’s mines could be subject to regulation. While the company states that neither of its mines violate the terms of the bill, Deputy Miguel Bonasso, the main proponent of the bill, disagrees.

“If the law was enacted today Barrick would be infringing it because Veladero is on a periglacial area,” Bonasso told Reuters in an interview.

Sources: Reuters, Reuters, IPS News, Barrick’s Pascua Lama Project, IPS News, Environmental Health Perspectives, IPS News

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