There is little awareness that a milestone in Chilean mining is approaching. The Cerro Colorado mine, which began in 1994, will close in 2023, perhaps the first case of completion of one of the mines that gave rise to the mining boom that began in the 90s and that made Chile the world’s copper superpower. There are not many cases of mine closures in progress, however, the cases of El Indio and the mining company Pudahuel stand out positively, the latter in view of all those who travel along Route 68, in the vicinity of the Lo Prado tunnel.
Cerro Colorado has an updated closure plan approved by the corresponding authority, which stipulates a detailed program of closure and post-closure actions, involving hundreds of millions of dollars and monitoring that spans more than three hundred years. This plan is framed, by the way, in the country’s mine closure legislation, which, not without difficulties, managed to establish criteria that ensure a responsible closure process.
In these times, characterized by the dissemination of erroneous images about mining, it is worth emphasizing that responsible mining carried out in Chile takes on the challenge of properly closing its operations, as this process is complex due to the potential impacts environmental and socioeconomic issues that it involves.
Therefore, the latest events around the Cerro Colorado mine are highly worrying. Environmental justice processes have advanced to the point of threatening the continuity of this mine and causing its closure earlier than it is planned in 2023. If the current rulings materialize, Cerro Colorado will not be able to continue using water from October 1, in other words, in a few more days, so its closure would be inevitable in a few weeks.
This scenario would be very serious and should be avoided, otherwise the mining company would not have the time to activate the responsible closure plan and the environmental risks would be relevant. The country and the Tarapacá region in particular would suffer an economic shock with no time to prepare. And mining could receive a severe blow, since its image would be affected when a closure materializes without the due standards due to the haste with which it should be carried out.
A good implementation of a closure plan requires time to move from the conceptual stage established in the permits, to the engineering and execution stage.
Respect for justice is not in doubt in any way, but this delicate situation requires a country-look that is capable of finding a way that mitigates the environmental and socioeconomic impacts and directs things in a rational way.
In this way, the basic aspects of closure could also be favored, that is, those related to the physical, chemical stability and safety of people and also better cover other critical elements such as the social transition of communities dependent on the mine, the impact on workers and the ecological evaluation of future land uses, among others.
Juan Carlos Guajardo, Executive Director Plusmining.