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Barrick's gag order is broken: the spill from within

Barrick's gag order is broken: the spill from within

How the lack of control by the State, the precarious security conditions and the concealment of information are experienced from within. Processed parsley.

Matías is not called Matías and he asks to protect his real name. He is afraid of risking his job at Veladero, the mine operated by the multinational Barrick Gold. From somewhere in San Juan, Matías agrees to talk about what happened a year ago.

Matías is one of the many professionals who work at more than 5,000 meters above sea level for the Canadian mining company that has exploited the Cordillera since 2004, although he was hired less than three years ago. Until September 13, 2015 Barrick had been silently mining gold and silver, but a WhatsApp alerted of a spill.

Matías says: "The mishandling of information was perhaps the worst, but hey: they are attitudes of the corporate company."

He is not a simple operator, but he does not have a hierarchical position either. Matías' role is to monitor production processes, in particular the management of waste produced at the mine. Therefore, your look is key.

Matías says: “We are many biologists, engineers, and young people who work to arrange things as they should be. If we have to put an act of non-conformity into our internal system, or send someone to the front, we do it: we are like the internal police ”, he describes.

Matías says: “I don't wear the shirt. I do my job and my colleagues do too. And neither is a mercenary: we work to organize ourselves professionally, it is quite ethical. We are like the tool that the system itself generated to prevent these things from happening. But it happened ”.

Matías says it: He passed.

And it happened again.


Million and a blind eye

The most important thing that Matías' testimony reveals is the lack of state control of the Veladero mine.

Matías says: "In my case, only once a year the Secretary of the Environment comes to check on me."

That Secretariat was raided this Thursday by federal judge Sebastián Cassanello to collect information on Veladero, after the news of a new spill (see here)

Matías says that the state's blind eye worsens his work: “For me, let them go every month. I have nothing to hide and it also helps me to chase someone who sent a shit. Because I can tell you: "Look, I am being watched by inspectors." But no, everyone knows that control is minimal ”.

In San Juan, the boundaries between state officials and mining companies practically do not exist. An example: the director of Hydraulics in the province -that is, who controls water management- is a former employee of Barrick Gold, Jorge Millón. It is the same person who, on one side of the counter, signed with the government the hydraulic plan that, on the other side, it must control. The plan devised, signed and monitored by Millón himself sets the fee that Barrick must pay for the use of water in five years of exploitation in Veladero.

Run from behind

This story is more complex. The government signed a contract with the UN in 2013 as Veladero's external controller. The UNOPS - that's the name of its local office in Latin America - is tasked with monitoring the "environmental performance of large mining projects." The results of the work of this team were unknown until December 2015. It is also unknown what their responsibility is in preventing the spill of a million liters of cyanide solution.

UNOPS released the “preliminary” findings of an emergency study to the press, in reaction to the spill of September 13, 2015. The report details the discovery of cyanide and metals in the areas closest to the mine, but is responsible for indicate that there is no danger for human consumption.

Contrary to how the media showed it, which emphasized the alleged lack of danger, the Jáchal assembly stated that the study confirms what they had been denouncing: that the contamination existed (see here).

UNOPS not only makes delayed reports but, according to Matías, it also does not control: “The last time it went up in April. The winter has been hard, with a lot of snow, and they were a bit restricted to climb. I don't know if they are going to resume ”.

Spill on the Titanic

Matías was one of the few who was in the mine in the days after the 2015 spill. To explain what happened, he uses an example: “The Titanic did not sink solely by hitting an iceberg: there was a succession of events that caused the sinking . The same thing happened here ”.

Not even justice said it so clearly.

Judge Pablo Ortija stated that the cause of the spill was the rupture of a valve, of which his expert opinion is not yet known, a year later.

The versions that raise suspicions and secret sources spoke of:

• the temperatures,

• an earthquake,

• human error,

• overexploitation of the mine.

Matías includes all of them: “That year we had a temperature of 30 degrees below zero. The valve froze. It may have been due to external climatic factors, and due to some deficiency regarding the revision ”.

Matías continues: “It is a physical issue: the leaching ponds have an embankment of ground material, which is stabilized by a natural slope provided by the material. Like an avalanche, when a sector does not absorb more moisture, it moves because it no longer acts as a solid; it is saturated with water and moves. This movement of material made the pool overflow ”.

Matías sums up: "The valve wets the place, the material begins to become saturated with water and that causes it to come out of the containment devices."

What was the iceberg that Veladero hit?

Matías: "The containment area had the hatch raised."

What does this mean?

The disaster.

The gate is the last safety link that separates the cyanide from the water basin.

The eternal no return

After a year without any other official version than the judicial one, of which the neighbors disbelieve, the Assembly maintains that the spill was the product of the over-exploitation of the mine. To compensate for the loss of turnover due to international prices, they increased the volume of production.

Matías maintains: “The system means that everything that is put into the leaching valley never stops growing. The material that is placed is not removed: it accumulates more and more. And every year it is built to make that place bigger. There are sectors made so that it continues to accumulate, and it is stipulated how much they are going to throw away throughout the year ”.

What happens at this time of year for spills to occur?

Matías: "You can't build in September, you have to wait until October, November."

Spill measures

The Assembly reads between the lines a report from Barrick Gold itself that appears in the court case: it lists a compendium of backhoes and construction machines, used to repair the damage left by the spill. "If it was just a valve, why did it take so much apparatus?" They wonder.

Matías explains: “When you have a pipe break, solving these kinds of problems is not easy and it is not immediate. It is a complicated contingency. For the arrangement, what was done was to contain that material and return it to the original place. The valve was cut off and that material is contained there with a machine ”.

Matías says: "For me, the right steps were taken."

Another of the Assembly's questions: Is it the first time this has happened?

Matías responds: “In the years that I have been working (less than three), yes. There has been some internal spill, inside the facilities, but outside it was the first that I know of ”.

How many liters were they?

Matías answers: “I don't know the total liter version because I haven't seen those calculations. Yes, I can say that since it broke it is necessary to calculate that the liquid was contained in the containment system of the valley; that saturated the material; that once saturated, it displaced the containment limits and that created the ditch or the ditch so that it could start to get out there. In addition, the gate was open, he had to leave and from there reach a limit of no return. What could have come out of the valve is not necessarily what reached the river ”.

Risk a number.

Matías answers: "The worst situation is 2,400,000 liters."

The problem of the solution

What was spilled?

Matías answers: “Cyanide solution. It is water to which a cyanide salt is added, which passes through the lava stone - it is like soap in clothes - and it brings the gold and that carries away the minerals. What you have is a solution with cyanide, a little cyanide with gold, a little cyanide with silver: it was cyanide water with the complex materials that are used. Of course there is mercury in those rocks too. There is a process of dragging the materials. And there are other metals, but I don't know if they are associated with cyanide ”.

In various studies, minerals such as copper, zinc, manganese, arsenic, boron also appeared (see here)

Matías answers: “Among the other metals I can tell you that there was gold, silver, mercury, and the cyanide that may remain. The other metals are not specific, I can't tell you if they were ”.

What impact did the spill have?

Matías responds: “I trust the version of the UN reports. I think the impact is local, which speaks of 2,000 meters of affected basin, and says that the ecosystem is going to recover. My colleagues took the samples and I have taken samples and have not changed the results. And my company is not going to buy me. I'm not going to lie to my girlfriend, to my aunt ”.

Matías says: “For me it was an industrial accident as there is often in many places. That there are responsible and there are things that are badly done, for sure ”.

Matías says: "We work with the best that we can, in the conditions that we can."

Who chooses parsley

The court ruling indicts nine lower-level Barrick Gold employees. The residents of Jáchal say that those prosecuted by Judge Oritja are the famous "parsley".

Matías responds: “They said that those named were managers, but they are people like me, who have responsibility in the areas, but we don't make the real decisions. But you have to blame someone. I believe that the company is meeting with the authorities and they are looking for someone to nail the criminal issue to, so that they can free those from above ”.

Following the new spill, the Barrick Gold plant was preventively paralyzed. Hours before this news was known, Matías stated: “Veladero will continue because there is gold there. Sooner or later they will continue to remove it ”.

The cow, 09/16/2016


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