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Environment and mining

Environment and mining

By Jorge Eduardo Romero

Mining as a primary and extractive activity generates direct and indirect impacts on the environment. The direct ones have an immediate impact on the ecosystem, (water use; tail dams; mineral treatment; open pit; waste treatment, material movement, action on fauna and flora, etc.), increasing impacts and risks in the production stage. … Indirect impacts are not easily identified causing long-term social and environmental changes due to pollution.


In the national and international context

The magazine Panorama Minero, in October 1995, published a supplement with the title Environment and Mining, with documents taken from the book, edited by the Institute for International Studies and the Chilean Copper Commission, where technical scientific knowledge is incorporated. , to face the challenge of the mining boom in Latin America.

Carlos Aranda says “Since the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in 1972, public awareness of the environment has gradually increased. In the industrialized countries this consciousness took political form and has established itself as one of the new forces in the political, economic and commercial activity "

In the mining activity; 1980 marks a milestone, when the US State of Montana applied "more restrictive allowable levels for gaseous effluents" causing the closure of the Anaconda Copper smelter and its refinery in Great Falls, after having invested 100 million dollars in structural modifications but not was able to reach the permitted levels.

This had an impact on the mining activity and was translated into laws, codes, regulations and international agreements, based on the concern that irresponsible environmental practices would occur in their territories or their natural resources would be depreciated.

According to Carlos Aranda “These laws tend to be more idealistic than realistic in their conception. This fact in itself makes them difficult to apply laws and therefore, they are generally not respected. They remain on paper ... Legislation tends to satisfy the needs of political bias and not those of a technical - scientific nature, for this reason it ceases to be a tool for consultation and conciliation between environmentalist positions and productivity and development, to become an element of confrontation between them "

In the national order, the reform of the Constitution in 1994, established with constitutional rank in its Art. 41 "The right to enjoy a healthy environment" indicating the responsibility of the Authorities of the three levels of Government (National, Provincial and Municipal) and the Executive, Legislative and Judicial powers that "must provide for the protection of this right ..."

In 2002, the General Environmental Law (25675) was enacted with the minimum budgets for environmental protection. The provinces enacted laws with complementary norms of said minimum requirements.

In our Province we have Law 7,801 (which is a copy of Law 7,371) and which neither art. 1 ° and the worst is that, to the Enforcement Authority, they gave him fundamental attributions that he does not know and does not apply. (Possibly they are already about to change it for another electoral law, which is more in line with financial interests and not those of the Community)

In the book, "Indicators on Justice and Environment" by María Di Paola, María Duverges and Alberto Esain, edited by the FARN, a series of fundamentals are given, "to evaluate the organization of justice as well as the response of the judicial procedure and its concrete application for the treatment of environmental controversies ". They carry out an analysis of the General Environmental Law, which defines "environmental damage of collective incidence" and of public action, therefore the authorities must act ex officio. (Will any public official be encouraged to fulfill his obligation?)

But as Carlos Aranda says; "They are not respected or remain on paper" and in our Province, "circular thinking" is more important than the Constitution.

Despite awareness, due to the care and respect for the Environment, has grown worldwide, and the Countries and in our case the Provinces and Municipalities are committed to sustainable development, ratified at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in the 2002, and surely with greater force in the summit of South Africa.


In our province

La Rioja by history, geography and resources, was and is considered a Province with mining, endorsed by studies, investigations and exploitations, specified by National, Provincial and International organizations, with a number of mineralizations, and exploitations; that one finds when traveling the territory and they were left as Environmental Liabilities, since they were and are exploited without any environmental control.

It is in our Province where the dichotomy and confrontation between Mining and the Environment occurred with greater force, eliminating the possibility of acting in a coordinated manner to face the challenges of this activity.

The most fanciful projects were promoted with the political support of the highest Provincial and National authorities (agreement with CRA and Barrick for the exploitation of Famatina; Baritine project with YPF; Precious Stones Plant, Rock exploitation plant applicable in the Llanos ; Gold Refining Plant, Uranium Exploitation; Projects in the Cordillera; etc.) but none were materialized; While almost all the Andean Provinces and especially the bordering ones such as San Juan and Catamarca, (with many inconveniences and environmental deficiencies, which originate Environmental Liabilities that become traps if they are not mitigated and controlled), managed to become Mining Provinces.

In our Province, the gap between Mining and Environment continues to increase, based on double discourse, the persecution of professionals and environmentalists, the ignorance of the Provincial limits to allow exploitation in Gualcamayo, the delivery of water resources, the lack of control and the systematic negotiation, by the authorities, of the strong impact of the activity, which is recognized and taken into account in their investments by the Mining Companies.

Denise De Olivera, in Mining Panorama Edition 348 says, Mining as a primary and extractive activity, undergoes various processes that generate modifications on the environment to be exploited, it is what is known as direct and indirect impacts. The direct ones have an immediate impact on the ecosystem, (water use; tail dams; mineral treatment; open pit; waste treatment, material movement, action on fauna and flora, etc.), increasing impacts and risks in the production stage. … Indirect impacts are not easily identified causing long-term social and environmental changes due to pollution. "

I think that if we begin to understand Mining and the Environment as something necessary and complementary, where guidelines and rules have to be defined, with the participation of society, especially on environmental issues, with organizations that fulfill the functions of controller and means to do so We could end this dichotomy and begin to listen and value experiences where mining activity is a reality, where the environmental impact is not denied, but controlled-mitigated, and if negative, even the activity is prohibited.

In order not to continue spending money to bring officials, politicians and leaders, to put on the mining helmet, and with this, they already handle mining techniques and become the standard bearers of this activity. Or continue beating or persecuting environmentalists and professionals, distributing tablets, or where the Authority controls the waste from the camps' bathrooms and kitchens and not the impacts of drilling and contamination of the water resource.

There is a great global challenge to take advantage of the mineral resource in a sustainable way. In our territory, there are potential mining resources that can allow us to create sources of work and growth, which with effective environmental control, clear rules of the game, serious and transparent studies, eliminating corruption and negotiations, and the support of the communities through Public Hearings, with a binding character to grant the social license, can allow us the sustainable development of Our Province.

They say "that there is no worse deaf than the one who does not want to hear and worse blind than the one who does not want to see."

They constantly talk about the development of Chilean Mining, evaluating its economic and growth impacts, but they do not listen when the Mayor of the III Region says “we are very rigorous with the controls of commitments and regulations, especially the use of water "... since in our area it is scarce" and affirms "we are a great region that has a great shortage of the vital element, that is why we have an institution that evaluates the different projects and is open to the community so that it can participate in the evaluation of the proyects"

And as for Environmental Liabilities, in Chile they exist and are concerned about that. Since 2002 they have been working to control, mitigate and even prohibit the continuation of projects that do not meet environmental requirements. Together with the Japanese Agency JICA they developed the FOCIGAM project and in our Country the Ministry of Mining also has a budget and a Project to control Environmental Liabilities.

It would be important to define State Policies that allow us Sustainable Development with the use of resources and comply with art. 41 of the Constitution, valuing the concern of the Environmentalist Assemblies and their collaboration "to have the right to enjoy a healthy environment"

Jorge Eduardo Romero - Geologist Matrix. 1414 - Aimogasta, La Rioja, Argentina.


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