The Chilean Supreme Court (SC) has overturned an environmental court’s order to permanently close operations at the $8.5bn Pascua-Lama Project owned by a subsidiary of Barrick Gold.

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Image: Barrick Pascua Lama project area, 2010. Photo: courtesy of Antonio Gritta/Wikipedia.org.

Last October, the Antofagasta Environmental Court rejected four of the five closure orders issued by Chilean environmental regulator Superintendencia del Medio Ambiente (SMA) pertaining to the Pascua-Lama Project.

Located in the Andes Mountains, along the Chilean-Argentine border, the open-pit mining project has been suspended since April 2013, owing to sanitation issues and alleged violation of the Glacier monitoring plan. The mine, which holds gold, silver, copper and other mineral deposits, is located 75% in Chile and 25% in Argentina.

In its latest ruling, Chilean Supreme Court annulled the administrative decision of the Antofagasta Environmental Court on procedural grounds. Further, it has order the case to be relooked by the country’s Environmental Court by a different panel of judges.

Barrick Gold believes that the process could take several months, thereby prolonging the uncertainty on the future of the Pascua-Lama project.

The mining giant said that the apex court did not look into the merits of the SMA’s closure orders issued in January 2018, which remain in place and are subject to an appeal by the company.

Barrick Gold president and CEO Mark Bristow said that the company continues to be focused on clearing the legal and environmental hurdles surrounding the Pascua-Lama project. The company will also be engaged in the ongoing remediation work, it had initiated based on a technical review of the project parameters and potential.

Extensive geochemical and geohydrological studies are said to have been carried out by the mining giant as part of the work to chalk out a water management plan which it believes would be acceptable to the Chilean environmental authority.

Bristow said: “Chile is an investor-friendly country, with a significant mineral endowment, and which encourages the development of mining projects.

“We believe that despite the legacy challenges relating to the Pascua-Lama project there are exciting opportunities here, especially in the El Indio Belt, and we will be pursuing this in line with our strategy of creating value for all our stakeholders, including the governments, and people, of our host countries.”