Photo via Ambito

Argentina’s Environment Minister Sergio Bergman, has filed an injunction calling for the suspension of all mining activities at San Juan’s Veladero mine, in response to a new risk of spillage. The concern over a new leak comes after faults were found in the mine’s lixiviation system — the part responsible for separating the precious metals from the rock ore using cyanide water.

Environmental groups are largely opposed to the mine, which employs around 3,500 workers. On March 30, the government of San Juan suspended all mining activities at Veladero due to a spillage of waste containing cyanide. This was the third spillage in the last 18 months. The local government has said that the surrounding environment has not been contaminated, however.

Yet Bergman wants the suspension to remain in place until it can be confirmed that the mine’s operational activity will not result in environmental damage. The possible environmental dangers — as highlighted in the Environment Ministers statement — include interprovincial rivers, groundwater and bodies of ice in the National Glacier Inventory being contaminated by cyanide, a highly toxic substance.

The official document noted that it was the most recent in a history of complaints, and which hopes that the courts will identify those responsible for recurring mishaps in the running of the mine. It also spoke of the necessity of carrying out “substantive reforms, and changing monitoring plans and contingency plans in the business.”

San Juans Mining Minister Alberto Hensell said that Barrick Gold “will receive a sanction and a fine” to make up for the incident.

Barrick Gold Corporation, a Canadian company and the largest gold mining company in the world, publicly announced just this week that they had finalised a strategic cooperation deal with Chinese firm Shandong Gold Group Co. Ltd. It is a three-part deal, the first stage of which sees the Chinese company buying 50 percent of the Veladero mine for 960 million US dollars.

Barrick and Shandong will form a group, in the second stage, to explore the development of the Pascua-Lama combined binational mining project between Argentina and Chile. The third stage would find both companies looking into further investment opportunities in the Cinturón de Oro El Indio region, on the border of Argentina and Chile.