Chile

El caso de contaminación ambiental en Catemu que vuelve a penar a la minera de Rassmuss

Si bien todos los frentes –que implicaron acciones civiles y penales– se fueron cerrando, uno quedó abierto. Se trata de una querella presentada originalmente por Huertos de Catemu, que acusaba a varios ejecutivos de la minera de haber presentado falso testimonio en el citado juicio ambiental.

La acción penal se presentó en San Felipe y en el Séptimo Tribunal de Garantía de Santiago, donde sí prosperó, y apunta a dos ejecutivas de la empresa que prestaron testimonio en el juicio ante el Tribunal Ambiental, que enfrentó a Minera Amalia y la señalada compañía Huertos de Catemu.

continuar leyendo está noticia :https://www.elmostrador.cl/destacado/2019/09/03/el-caso-de-contaminacion-ambiental-en-catemu-que-vuelve-a-penar-a-la-minera-de-rassmuss/

Chile

4º Consulta Regional sobre Empresas y Derechos Humanos

¿Pueden las empresas afectar los derechos humanos de las personas? ¿Cómo? ¿Qué se puede hacer frente a ello?

Hoy se lleva a cabo la 4º Consulta Regional sobre Empresas y Derechos Humanos para América Latina y Caribe, en Santiago de Chile.

CooperAcción organiza la mesa: “Perspectivas de las comunidades indígenas” presentando el informe de Impactos de las empresas mineras en los Derechos Humano en el Corredor Minero del Sur Andino. Participan de la mesa: Julia Cuadros y Leonidas Wiener del Programa de Derechos Colectivos e Industrias Extractivas de CooperAcción (Perú); Carmen Chambi Surco vocera de la Plataforma Nacional de Afectados por Metales Pesados (Perú); Relmu Ñamku, dirigente indígena de la comunidad Winkul Newen del pueblo mapuche (Argentina); y Marina Paula Oliveira, testigo del desastre de Brumadinho por la empresa minera Vale en Minas Gerais (Brasil).

Fuente:http://cooperaccion.org.pe/4o-consulta-regional-sobre-empresas-y-derechos-humanos/

Chile, Litio

Comisión de Constitución declara inconstitucional la expropiación del litio

Ministro de Minería había acusado vicios de inconstitucionalidad.

Tras una larga discusión en la que se escucharon posturas de los profesores de Derecho Constitucional como Jorge Correa Sutil, Arturo Fernandois y Jaime Bassa, la Comisión de Constitución, Legislación, Justicia y Reglamento de la Cámara de Diputados votó hoy el informe que declara inconstitucional la iniciativa que buscaba expropiar el litio.

La instancia legislativa estaba encomendada por la sala de la Cámara de Diputados para emitir un pronunciamiento sobre la constitucionalidad del proyecto de Ley que “declara Interés Nacional la Explotación y Comercialización del litio”, situación que fue resuelta este lunes.

En esta oportunidad y por 7 votos contra 5, se declaró “inconstitucional y expropiatorio” el artículo 2 del Proyecto de Ley. En tanto, el artículo 1 terminó con un empate sobre la declaración del litio como interés nacional.

Al respecto, el ministro de Minería, Baldo Prokurica, explicó que “se ha declarado inconstitucional el artículo segundo que declaraba de interés nacional los Contratos Especiales de Operación de Litio (CEOL)”, además agregó que “el único contrato especial de operación de litio que existe es el que posee Codelco. A veces se confunde con los contratos que tiene Corfo con SQM o Albemarle, que no son contratos especiales de operación de litio, sino que son contratos de arriendos”.

El titular de la cartera al final de la sesión añadió que “este es el camino que tenemos que ir haciendo. Los parlamentarios han expresado su opinión, nosotros éramos partidarios que ambos artículos eran inconstitucionales, y se ha tomado este camino que yo espero sea ratificado también por la Sala de la Cámara”.

Por su parte, el subsecretario Ricardo Irarrázabal manifestó que “el artículo primero resulta meramente declarativo, y el artículo segundo es inconstitucional, lo que constituye un antecedente muy importante porque es precisamente la Comisión de Constitución la llamada a evaluar la constitucionalidad de los proyectos de ley y las mociones”.

 

Fuente:http://www.nuevamineria.com/revista/comision-de-constitucion-declara-inconstitucional-la-expropiacion-del-litio/

Chile

Conflicto entre habitantes de Caimanes y minera Los Pelambres entra en terreno judicial

El Comité de Defensa del lugar ingresó una demanda acompañada por la desvalorización que han sufrido las viviendas por la construcción de los tranques «El Mauro», además de los efectos sicológicos que produce el miedo de tener ese centro de desechos tan cerca del sector habitacional.

Los residentes de la comuna de Caimanes dieron inicio al conflicto legal contra la minera Los Pelambres. El pasado viernes 30 de agosto, el grupo de Comité de Defensa de Caimanes (compuesto por 127 personas) presentó en el 16° Juzgado Civil de Santiago una demanda que busca indemnización por perjuicios.

El documento que compone la acción legal está acompañado de diferentes antecedentes que respaldan la búsqueda de una respuesta. Entre ellos, están las dimensiones geográficas de la zona (la distancia entre Caimanes y el tranque de relaves “El Mauro”, principal motivo del conflicto dada la peligrosidad de su ubicación; distintas resoluciones judiciales relativas al uso y distribución del agua del lugar; los efectos psicológicos que el conflicto mismo ha tenido en los habitantes de Caimanes, entre otros).

“Vivir en una comunidad regida por la desconfianza y la falta de afecto; vivir sin agua y con la conciencia de estar enfermándose; vivir en tierras contaminadas cuya capacidad agrícola ha desaparecido; y, finalmente, vivir con el miedo constante de morir aplastados por una avalancha de relaves incontenible y veloz, es el resumen de todos los daños que Minera Los Pelambres ha provocado en los habitantes de Caimanes (…) Contamos con estudios psicológicos y científicos que permitirán a S.S. observar aún con mayor claridad la plena justificación de esta acción legal. Este daño, como se insistirá, es un daño moral o sufrimiento psicológico que comparten todos los habitantes de Caimanes, sin perjuicio de los daños económicos directos (o daño emergente) derivado de la desvalorización de los inmuebles y de la pérdida real de los derechos de aprovechamiento de aguas”, se lee entre las conclusiones de la demanda.

Según la información que manejan los demandantes, las casas del sector de los Caimanes han sufrido una desvalorización del 70 por ciento desde 1998.

Por lo pronto, ahora queda esperar el camino que tome el conflicto.

 

Fuente:https://www.eldesconcierto.cl/2019/09/02/conflicto-entre-habitantes-de-caimanes-y-minera-los-pelambres-entra-en-terreno-judicial/

Chile

Minería inquieta por fallos ambientales y proyecto sobre glaciares

En su Cena Anual, sector subrayó que la certeza jurídica es clave y reafirmó compromiso con la sustentabilidad.

La inquietud por los últimos fallos de los tribunales ambientales, el proyecto de ley sobre glaciares y el aporte a la lucha contra el cambio climático, fueron temas medioambientales destacados en la Cena Anual de la Minería que se desarrolló ayer en CasaPiedra. En la ocasión, los representantes del sector subrayaron que la certeza jurídica es clave para la inversión y reafirmaron el compromiso con la sustentabilidad.

El encuentro reunió a alrededor de 900 invitados encabezados por el ministro de Minería, Baldo Prokurica, a quien se sumaron autoridades, embajadores, parlamentarios, líderes empresariales y productores de la pequeña, mediana y gran minería.

En ese marco, el presidente de la Sociedad Nacional de Minería (SONAMI), Diego Hernández, cuestionó la presentación de proyectos como el de un nuevo royalty minero para la minería del cobre y litio, o el que apunta a declarar la explotación del litio como una actividad de interés nacional, lo que abriría la posibilidad de nacionalizar empresas privadas. «Este tipo de iniciativas no solo impacta negativamente y levanta dudas respecto de toda la institucionalidad, sino que también envía señales negativas respecto de las condiciones para invertir en el país», sostuvo.

Asimismo, expresó la inquietud de la industria por el curso que ha tomado el proyecto de ley sobre glaciares. «La protección de los glaciares requiere que se consideren las particularidades de cada uno de estos cuerpos. Sin esas especificaciones y solo con definiciones generales, un proyecto de este tipo terminaría costando miles de empleos, al poner en riesgo el desarrollo de numerosas iniciativas de nuestro sector y dejando en manos de la Corte Suprema la definición de glaciar, ambiente periglacial y permafrost», aseguró. Luego añadió: «Da la impresión que el objetivo del proyecto, más que la protección de los glaciares, es abrir la puerta a la judicialización de todos los proyectos futuros y en operación en la alta cordillera».

Hernández también expuso la preocupación del sector por la incertidumbre jurídica causada por fallos como el del Tribunal Ambiental de Valdivia que prohibió las tronaduras en Mina Invierno. «Nos preocupa que los esfuerzos públicos y privados desplegados para reactivar la economía nacional y atraer inversiones, se vean frustrados por el actuar arbitrario por parte de los Tribunales Ambientales, como el de Valdivia», indicó. Agregó que la decisión sobre Mina Invierno «levanta una alerta en la minería nacional, no solo por la falta de fundamento jurídico y técnico, sino porque el impedimento de realizar tronaduras en la práctica implica el fin de la actividad minera».

Compromiso Sustentable

El compromiso con la sustentabilidad y la lucha contra el cambio climático fueron otros temas abordados por el presidente de la SONAMI. Al respecto, Hernández señaló: «Estamos conscientes de que un futuro bajo en carbono requiere de nuestro activo rol, porque somos los proveedores de insumos indispensables para las tecnologías limpias, tales como centrales de energía renovables no convencionales, la eficiencia energética y la electromovilidad, que requieren de gran cantidad de cobre, hierro y litio, entre otros minerales».

En la misma línea, el ministro de Minería, Baldo Prokurica, planteó: «No va a haber lucha contra el calentamiento global sin la minería. La minería es absolutamente indispensable para poder revertir la situación que nos aqueja». Agregó que frente al escenario adverso que vive el rubro en la actualidad, marcado por la baja en el precio del cobre, «no debemos olvidar que seguimos siendo un actor relevante a nivel mundial, ya que poseemos los mayores yacimientos a nivel mundial de cobre y de litio, metales que serán altamente demandados por el acelerado crecimiento de la electromovilidad».

De igual manera, concluyó: «Somos un gobierno pro inversión, pero al mismo tiempo partidarios de compatibilizar esta actividad con el cuidado del medio ambiente».

 

Fuente:https://www.induambiente.com/actualidad/noticias/mineria-inquieta-por-fallos-ambientales-y-proyecto-sobre-glaciares

Chile, Litio

Chile persuade a India para establecer nuevas plantas de litio

El segundo mayor productor mundial de litio —un componente clave de las baterías de vehículos eléctricos— está en busca de inversiones de empresas en India, cuyo objetivo es convertirse en un centro global para la fabricación de vehículos de nuevas fuentes de energía.

Chile se ha acercado a empresas que incluyen a Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. con el fin de establecer plantas de fabricación de baterías en la nación latinoamericana, según Rodrigo Yáñez, viceministro de Comercio chileno. También busca inversiones de compañías en otros países asiáticos, incluidos China, Japón y Corea del Sur, dijo Yáñez en una entrevista en Nueva Delhi a principios de esta semana.

«Nos hemos reunido con Mahindra y otras compañías indias aquí», dijo Yáñez, quien se encontraba en la capital india para firmar los términos de referencia para ampliar un acuerdo comercial preferencial entre los dos países. «Sabemos que cuando hablamos de movilidad electrónica, India está realizando muchas actividades al respecto y podemos ser socios estratégicos en el desarrollo».

Los comentarios de Yáñez llegan en un momento en que la administración del primer ministro indio, Narendra Modi, redujo los impuestos y dio a conocer un plan de US$1.400 millones para alentar la adopción más rápida de vehículos eléctricos como parte de sus esfuerzos por combatir la toxicidad del aire en un país que cuenta con algunas de las ciudades más contaminadas del planeta. La nación, que tiene el consumo de petróleo de mayor rápido crecimiento en el mundo, prevé convertirse en el cuarto
mercado más grande para los vehículos eléctricos en 2040, según BloombergNEF.

Chile está haciendo un nuevo intento de atraer a inversionistas para desarrollar productos de litio de valor agregado, al ofrecer litio más barato después de que tres compañías, incluidas Posco y Samsung SDI, se retractaran de sus contratos para establecer instalaciones de procesamiento en el país. Chile, hasta ahora, solo ha podido exportar el mineral en bruto a países como China o Corea del Sur, donde se fabrican la mayoría de las baterías.

«No queremos convertirnos simplemente en un exportador de materias primas», dijo Yáñez. «Queremos comprometernos con nuestros socios comerciales en esta iniciativa. Esto proporcionará estabilidad en
el suministro de litio a precios más baratos».

Se pronostica que la demanda de baterías de iones de litio utilizadas en vehículos eléctricos aumentará de 151 gigavatios-hora en 2019 a 1.748 GWh en 2030, a medida que las ventas de vehículos eléctricos de pasajeros aumenten a 28 millones en ese año, informó BNEF.

 

Fuente:https://www.redimin.cl/chile-persuade-a-india-para-establecer-nuevas-plantas-de-litio/

Chile, Litio

Comisión de Constitución votará hoy sobre constitucionalidad del proyecto de litio

La Comisión de Constitución de la Cámara de Diputados debe votar este lunes su informe sobre la constitucionalidad del proyecto que busca declarar como interés nacional a las empresas del litio en nuestro país.

Según sus impulsores, esta iniciativa es el primer paso para expropiar Soquimich y otras grandes empresas explotadoras de litio.

Pero en la antesala de esta votación, han surgido críticas desde la bancada comunista, a la que pertenece el diputado Daniel Núñez, autor del proyecto, porque acusan que la comisión de Constitución está traspasando sus atribuciones.

Según Hugo Gutiérrez, la sala de la Cámara ya validó la constitucionalidad de la iniciativa y no corresponde que se vote en dicha instancia.

Pero el presidente de la Comisión de Constitución, Matías Walker, defendió el mandato de la comisión y manifestó que los diputados deben conocer las implicancias que tendrá esta legislación desde el punto de vista legal y constitucional.

La otra reclamación que ha hecho la bancada comunista, es que el ministro de Minería, Baldo Prokurica, ha intentado bloquear la votación de este proyecto.

Sin embargo, Prokurica contrató al abogado constitucionalista, Jorge Correa Sutil, de la Democracia Cristiana, quien aseguró haber detectado al menos cinco vicios de constitucionalidad en la iniciativa.

En días previos, el jefe de bancada de los diputados comunistas, Boris Barrera, envió una carta al presidente de la Cámara, Iván Flores, acusando al presidente de la Comisión de Constitución de tratar de votar, sin atribuciones para ello, el proyecto que declara al litio de interés nacional y permite expropiar operaciones relacionadas con la extracción del mineral no metálico.

 

Fuente:https://www.redimin.cl/comision-de-constitucion-votara-hoy-sobre-constitucionalidad-del-proyecto-de-litio/

Chile

Glaciólogo advierte que en próximos años tendríamos al “río Maipo seco desde finales de la primavera y todo el verano”

Basta de eufemismos. A raíz de la sequía, la situación sobre el centro-norte del país es crítica. Una alerta que levantamos con el aval de los expertos, uno de ellos, es Francisco Ferrando Acuña, glaciólogo y académico de la Universidad de Chile.

El profesor de hidrología señala que estamos en presencia de una “sequía severa”. Luego agrega que “esto sumado al alza en las temperaturas y, por ende, a la evaporación de la poca agua que hay, la situación es crítica. Estamos asistiendo a un balance de masa negativo en los glaciares y a una reducción en la cubierta de nieve.

Además, cada vez, la Isoterma 0 se marca más arriba, por lo que estamos recibiendo lluvia (cuando la hay) a mayor altitud, entonces, estamos perdiendo importantes superficies de nieve. Y eso significa que los recursos de agua en estado sólido para el verano se han minimizado”.

Río Maipo, la gran fuente de agua

De acuerdo con los datos de la Dirección General de Aguas, dependiente del Ministerio de Obras Públicas, “el agua que consume Santiago depende en un 88% del Maipo. Los glaciares aportan cerca de un 10% del caudal hídrico anual del río Maipo en promedio. Pero en un año de sequía pueden aportar hasta el 60% del agua”.

Con esta realidad, entonces conviene preguntarse cómo está la situación de los principales glaciares de la zona central. Según Francisco Ferrando, “el río Maipo, en relación con la estacionalidad, tenía su máximo caudal de agua en la primavera por la fusión de la nieve. Y, el segundo máximo, en el invierno”.

“Este régimen cambió, porque hay menos nieve y más temperatura. Entonces cuando llueve, el agua escurre rápidamente por los cauces como verdaderos aluviones provocando una mayor erosión y no alcanzando a filtrar esas aguas hacia las napas subterráneas”, añadió.

Ante las circunstancias, y de seguir como estamos, “lo más probable es que en los próximos años tengamos un río Maipo seco desde fines de la primavera y todo el verano”, anticipa el especialista.

– En los próximos años, ¿cuántos?

“Uno no le puede poner una fecha exacta, pero que de seguir así, se dará. En el largo plazo, si las condiciones de cambio climático no se frenan, esta falta de agua se agudizará. Las conexiones dentro del complejo ciclo hidrológico presentan cada vez más complicaciones”.

– ¿Cuáles son los principales glaciares que abastecen al Maipo?

“El campo de glaciares Olivares da origen al río Olivares. Este, a su vez, es afluente del río Colorado. Y este, del Maipo. Ahí tenemos la principal masa de glaciares ubicadas en la cabecera del río Olivares. A ellos les sumamos otros glaciares de menores dimensiones que están por el lado de los volcanes Maipo y San José. Todos esos glaciares contribuyen a mantener con caudal el río”.

– ¿A qué ritmo se están derritiendo los glaciares en la zona central del país?

“Se han medido derretimientos por fusión con retrocesos de entre 5 y 10 metros en promedio por año en la zona central. A eso debemos sumarle el adelgazamiento de los glaciares, lo que significa del orden de 2 a 3 metros por año en promedio como cifra general. Eso se traduce en una reducción drástica en el volumen de hielo”.

Faena minera y ley de glaciares

En el límite de las regiones Metropolitana y de Valparaíso se ubican las mineras Los Bronces (Anglo American) y Andina (Codelco) dedicadas a la extracción de cobre. Faenas cercanas a importantes glaciares como los campos Olivares, El Plomo, La Paloma, El Altar, entre otros.

De acuerdo con los estudios que maneja Francisco Ferrando, toda esta actividad “está afectando el balance de la masa de los glaciares, lo cual configura un escenario complejo”.

El glaciólogo añade que “la presencia de la actividad minera con dos centros importantes en esa parte han tendido un rol destructivo en el pasado, porque muchos glaciares, incluso rocosos, ya no existen. Ahora estas empresas están asumiendo, según dicen, que eso no debe ocurrir en sus faenas. Ese es un objetivo imposible de logar, porque siempre generaran un impacto”.

Mientras, Argentina ratificó una ley que prohíbe la intervención minera en sus glaciares, en Chile la iniciativa que pretende proteger estas fuentes de agua congelada aún se discute en el congreso.

La ley de protección a los glaciares es necesaria. Porque más allá del compromiso de las distintas empresas que están en la cordillera, sobre todo las mineras, se requiere establecer un sistema de control y monitoreo. Es muy necesaria para saber si cumplen o no con los estándares medioambientales”, afirma Ferrando.

Todo lo anterior porque ese respaldo hídrico que nos entrega la cordillera de Los Andes se está destruyendo por efectos del cambio climático, la variabilidad natural y las faenas mineras. Y, de no actuar rápido, esto tendrá consecuencias insospechadas en el mediano plazo.

 

Fuente:https://www.chvnoticias.cl/trending/glaciologo-advierte-rio-maipo-seco-primavera-verano_20190827/?fbclid=IwAR0acVDg3PFsXewuskxPdfNI_diVQj6l3YdJYcYFk5l-RBpbMQLhGkPlFZA

Chile, Litio

Lithium firms depleting vital water supplies in Chile, analysis suggests

Evidence uncovered by E&T appears to show that lithium-mining company SQM is playing a direct role in damaging the local environment in Chile’s Atacama salt flats, as its activities reduce water levels in an already dry region, with severe effects on local communities, protected lagoons and areas of alluvial muds.

As worldwide battery demand is expected to triple and reach a value of $100bn by 2025, failing to boost lithium supply could make or break the global electric vehicle supply chain and jeopardise global climate efforts, a new investigation by E&T finds.

To ensure supply, lithium mining must increase or otherwise a deficit may harm progress, warn experts. Most of the world’s lithium production takes place in South America, where 70 per cent of global reserves are concentrated. Chile, accounting for 38 per cent of the production, is in a difficult spot. Firms are doing their best to exploit reserves, but environmental concerns increasingly challenge their endeavours.

Since the lithium rush started, corporations like Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile (SQM), a multibillion-dollar Chilean chemical company, as well as US-headquartered Albemarle Corporation, bet on one effective way to extract lithium from the Atacama salt flats: lithium extraction from brine.

A method dating from the 1950s, it has encountered more and more scrutiny because it affects surrounding water reserves and could affect the climate. With pressure on Chile’s lithium demand and anticipated regulatory hurdles, the price of lithium has skyrocketed, according to data by the US Geological Survey (see chart).

What is lithium extraction from brine?

The way lithium is ‘water-mined’, says Ingrid Garcés, a researcher from Chile’s University of Antofagasta and chemical civil engineer, is by pumping saline groundwater up from the subsurface. The brine contains around 0.15 per cent lithium, and is pumped through a cascade of ponds where impurities or by-products are precipitated by solar evaporation, wind, and chemical additives.

The problem with this comparatively cheap method is that up to 95 per cent of the extracted brine water is lost to evaporation and not recovered, researchers estimate. As the brine water is in hydrodynamic relation with its surroundings, the water-intensive mining process in this extremely arid region causes aquifers to deplete and affects the water balance. This is leading to continuing outcry among local communities living in close proximity to the Atacama salt flat.

Cristina Dorador, a Chilean biologist who studies microbial life in the Atacama desert, says, “San Pedro de Atacama and other small towns are drying out”. Also drying out is Peine, a small township declared a National Monument in 1982 and situated only a stone’s throw away from gigantic lithium-brine mines.

“It is a paradox in Chile. On one side we are talking about decarbonisation, [to mitigate] climate change and the loss of biodiversity and on the other side we exploit the environment for resources to power the electric mobility revolution that supports climate change,” Dorador says.

Albemarle change 2015-2019

E&T, in collaboration with satellite analytics firm SpaceKnow, has been able to produce further quantitative evidence that lithium brine mining efforts between 2015 and 2019 by SQM took a heavy environmental toll on a fragile water ecosystem within the Atacama salt flats.

The analysis found a strong inverse relationship between water reservoir levels at SQM’s ponds and the lagoons. As water levels in SQM’s ponds increased, those in the lagoons would drop. SQM’s second pond (see graphic) correlated with water reservoirs in alluvial muds. The firm’s first pond (see graphic) is linked to the fragile lagoons of the Soncor area, part of the Los Flamencos National Reserve. It is an important nesting ground for Andean flamingos. The statistical analysis can also prove causality, confirming that as brine extraction operation expanded, nearby areas suffered environmental degradation (see methodology notes).

Showing the study regions for E&T investigation

While anecdotal evidence from local community members is abundant and mounting and researchers have long had some inkling of the environmental damage, few gathered quantitative evidence on specific damage until recently. Open-source satellite imagery and machine learning have helped to change that.

Dorador adds that the evidence was obvious. Many flamingos reportedly left the lagoons. Understanding what happens with microorganisms is a bit more complicated, but they would basically exhibit the same symptoms and diagnosis: “There is no recharge of the water in the Atacama salt flat. Much of the water is being evaporated in the process. This isn’t sustainable”.

San Pedro-based Ramón Morales Balcázar from the Plurinational Observatory Of Andean Salt Flats – a network of people from the communities, NGOs and research universities in the region – says the only way to challenge the loss of water is by drastically cutting water extraction by the companies operating in the region.

Government figures issued by the Comité de Minería No Metálica (the Nonmetallic Mining Committee) confirm that the current extractive development in the Basin of the Atacama salt flat provokes hydrological imbalances. With a brine output of 8,842 litres per second, and a recharge capacity of 6,810 litres per second, it was found be more than 2,000 litres per second above a rechargeable threshold.

Adding to the concerns is the ambition by Chile’s government to open up more land to brine mining, says Balcázar. “There are actually 59 salt lets in Chile and the ministry of mining is now calling for their exploitation, as soon as possible. That is really worrying to us.”

Balcázar is not alone in his apprehensions. Sergio Cubillos, heading Chile’s indigenous council, told Bloomberg that the government is encouraging more and more companies to come to explore and mine lithium. Capacity to oversee all of this would be nonexistent.

E&T has learned from a source that only last week, the Servicio de Evaluación Ambiental, Chile’s environmental assessment service, permitted the company Wealth Minerals Chile SpA, a natural resources company concentrating on developing lithium brine property packages in Chile, to explore the northern part of Salar de Atacama. The location would lie near a Ramsar site – defined as a wetland site designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention – as well as based near tourist attractions where water supply is critical to provide local people with income.

Service of Enviromental Evaluation

At the beginning of August, state-owned Codelco (National Copper Corporation of Chile) and mining and metals company Minera Salar Blanco announced an agreement to explore the possibility of developing a lithium project at the Maricunga Salt Flat (see image). E&T was told that this happened without any consultation with the indigenous Qulla communities. The corporations are also allowed access to a national park area, the Nevado Tres Cruces (a massif of volcanic origin in the Andes Mountains, see map) as well as a Ramsar site, including Laguna Negro Francisco and Laguna Santa Rosa (map).

In Balcázar’s view, this could lead to consideration of “legal ways to protect indigenous rights, as well as social protests”, similar to those that took place in 2018 after the announcement of the deal between CORFO and SQM, he told E&T.

A comprehensive research study that was published this year supports the findings of E&T’s investigation and the satellite analysis. Wenjuan Liu and her research colleagues at the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University found that lithium mining in the area bore strong negative correlations with the vegetation and soil moisture – meaning, the more mining, the rarer plants and water become in the soil.

Arguably not 100 per cent caused by brine mining – a booming tourism industry and a slight population increase also contributed – the research identified lithium brine mining activities as one of the major stresses affecting local environmental degradation. Two decades, 1997-2017, were studied, recording soil moisture, vegetation and temperature. An expansion of lithium brine mining area of one square kilometre was found to correspond to a significant decrease in the average level of vegetation and in soil moisture.

One of four scenarios of land degradation

Other environmental consequences are observable in changes in the region’s microclimate. When climate changes, natural disasters can strike more often. At the beginning of the year, the area encountered a period of devastating rains, most untypical for the arid area. Ironically, the amount of water precipitated was insufficient to recharge the aqua-reserves, but did cause destructive floods, Balcázar recalls. “San Petro was isolated for almost a month in February due to flooding. The water is now coming also with a lot of salts, with heavy metals, which are naturally present in the environment. It is also affecting the communities that live in these territories”, he told E&T.

Sudden flooding in the Atacama salt flat in Feb 2019

A temperature rise over the course of two decades was observed that may be connectable to the rise in mining activities in the Atacama salt flat. Daytime land surface temperatures were found to have increased considerably from approximately 28.4°C to 32.9°C in the summer. Winter daytime temperatures climbed to 14.1°C, from 8.3°C in 1997.

Francisco Mondaca, coordinator of environmental issues at the Atacama People’s Council, says mining companies’ assessments of their environmental impacts do not take account of warming temperatures which accelerate the drying process, (according to a report by Bloomberg).

How do these trends link to climate change? In a report published in early August by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), researchers presented themselves as highly confident in their assumption that current levels of global warming are associated with moderate risks from increased dryland water scarcity; soil erosion; vegetation loss; wildfire damage; permafrost thawing; coastal degradation, and tropical crop yield decline – many symptoms found by researchers in the Atacama salt-flat mining area.

Dr Rich Crane, a lecturer in sustainable mining at the University of Exeter’s Camborne School of Mines, cautions that these brine ponds – effectively working as salt pans – not only result in huge amounts of potentially useful groundwater being lost to the atmosphere, but also require large areas of land for such evaporation. This results in widespread habitat removal. The irony, he says, lies in the fact that “the very regions where such brine ponds are so effective, i.e. those which have low rainfall, are often by definition those which can be water-scarce”.

Records for 2018 issued by the Comité de Minería No Metálica shows that the companies’ pumping efforts are not illegal, just astonishingly high. Not only brine water but also fresh water is being vacuumed up from the subsurface at a great rate – especially in the case of copper mining, which takes place not far from the brine extraction mines and uses huge amounts of fresh water.

As part of the production process, copper-rich rocks are crushed into a dust that’s mixed with water to flow through giant pipes. The water is then mixed with chemicals to separate the copper from the slurry.

Despite watertight water-pumping rights, the corporations’ alibi for causing damage has flaws. Brine water is typically 70 per cent water, 30 per cent salt. Despite this, the Law of Mining (Código de Minería) defines it not as water but as a mineral. The definition would require reformulation to see any progress in water loss, Balcázar argues. The presence of bacteria and other living organisms in the brine sustaining life should count as a scientific argument to ‘prove’ that salty water is still water, he says.

The history of how SQM and Albemarle acquired extraction rights is long. Handed to SQM during a period of dictatorship, they were not given under the current environmental law, says Balcázar. He also laments that the members of the local community were not consulted about the rights to operate near their territories.

Albemarle’s mineral extraction rights with respect to the Salar de Atacama in Chile cover an area of around 16,700 hectares. They are based on a long-term contract with the Chilean government, which was originally entered into in 1975 by one of the company’s predecessors. It was subsequently amended and restated, according to the company’s latest annual report. Nonetheless, moving forward quickly appears difficult. At present, researcher Garcés told E&T, Albemarle’s quota increase is delayed because its carbonate plant is not fully operational.

SQM

Showing change for SQMs brine ponds between 2015 & 2019

Comparably little has changed on SQM’s brine pond property between 2015 and 2019, as the following interactive graphic shows:

The case of SQM appears to be slightly different from Albemarle’s. The company is known to have influence in government circles, but Chilean newspaper La Nacion has reported several cases where people associated with the company have faced investigation or trial on matters such as tax evasion and bribery. In 2017, the US Securities and Exchange Commission said SQM had agreed to pay more than $30m to resolve parallel civil and criminal cases, finding that it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by making improper payments to Chilean political figures and their associates.

There is also a question of whether SQM knew about the damage its brine pumping operation had on freshwater reserves before independent studies reviewed it. SQM claimed in earlier reports that lakes and salt flats were separate, isolated water systems and that brine and freshwater would not blend. Without an independent report, this was taken as the truth until recently, when SQM acknowledged that there was some interaction between the systems. The truth, that the two water systems do indeed mix – brine and fresh water – which according to research jeopardises nearby freshwater reservoirs, came only to light after independent scientific studies began to publish their own results. However, Garcés says “it is possible” that SQM could have been aware of the fact earlier than independent reviews, given that the company had studied the area in detail.

Under the brine extraction rights, Albemarle’s environmental impact appears the lesser of two evils. SQM can pump much more – around 1,700 litres per second, compared with Albemarle’s 400.

Now a new letter to the Chilean ministry of mining has warned of the inconclusive results issued by SQM’s lithium-mining operation. The letter sent by a chemical engineer to the ministry and seen by E&T warns authorities that SQM’s records for production would not correspond to the actual figures delivered. At the time of writing, the ministry has not yet responded to the letter, E&T’s source claims.

SQM's figures do not add up - efficiency rates for SQM and Albemarle companies in lithium mining

In other words, parts of the total lithium extracted by SQM, numbers for the raw mineral and the final product simply don’t add up. The difference would be worth several billion dollars. Balcázar, who came across the letter, has not seen any response from the ministry, so far.

Researcher Ingrid Garcés is worried. “This is very serious,” she says. On the question of whether the Chilean government should impose harsher regulatory measures on the exploitative water pumping practices by SQM and Albemarle, Garcés says there should be sanctions and prosecutions and any penalties should be exemplary. She has little hope this will happen under the current government: “It is unlikely, as it was under the previous one”.

Warning signs of water scarcity problems in the Atacama salt flat were visible to companies six years ago, but were largely ignored, as a government inspection report showed. 32.4 per cent of the native Algarrobo trees prosopis chilensis on SQM’s property – a drought-tolerant species, sending their roots deep into the underground to survive – were found dying as early as 2013 due to the effects of water shortages.

Large Prosopis chilensis tree in the Talampaya National Park, La Rioja, Argentina

Large Prosopis chilensis tree in the Talampaya National Park, La Rioja, Argentina

Nowadays, to overturn negative public sentiment, it appears Albemarle’s strategy is to hand out money to municipalities, local universities and communities, Balcázar says. “In this way, Albemarle is very different [from SQM]. They give money to all these communities in the Atacama salt flat, so they can solve basic problems inherited from centuries of systematic abandonment and discrimination by the State”.

This practice effectively replaces the role of the state, he argues, with the effect that the government loses control over what mining companies actually do. With no government accountability for the damage, “and no actual chance to say no to these projects”, he says, communities are made responsible for controlling and monitoring the levels of water and the operations of the mining projects with the very money the companies give them.

“Although participation and access to first-hand information by local communities is their indisputable right, it is a state duty to look after and ensure water for future generations”, Balcázar adds.

Garcés takes a similar view, warning that the Chilean state is failing in its duty to oversee and protect assets that belong to all Chileans. “How is it possible that we have a General Water Directorate in the region with one inspector?“ she asks. E&T has been told that the directorate has now added two more inspectors.

Garcés asserts that compensation payments paid [by Albemarle] to the local communities are not fair. “It is a major fallacy to think so. The income from extractive activities is not distributed equally among the Chilean population due to structural problems; moreover the money given to local communities, as has happened in many other cases in the country, can be used at will and there is no public control on its use or distribution, which may provoke conflicts and divide the population of San Pedro de Atacama”, she said.

Albemarle would reach agreements with communities through signing a value agreement, she explains. Three per cent of the sales would be directly paid to communities. This does not solve the structural problem of uneven distribution of wealth in the country – caused by exploitation of minerals – and payments given directly to communities might be unequally distributed. By talking to several community members, “money provided does not end up fairly in locals’ pockets”. One scenario possible, she says, is that a lack of control by the state might lead to corruption and could spark disputes.

Risks and hurdles for brine mining in Atacama salt flat

There are financial and environmental problems concerning land use. Dr Crane points out that “such [evaporation] pools can require an operation time of several years and as such can be susceptible to the inherent boom-and-bust nature of the mining industry: if the lithium price were to undergo a significant downturn then there could be a major problem”.

At the end of last year, the Chilean environmental regulators rejected plans by Albemarle to expand its output from the Salar de Atacama salt flat, according to filings with Chile’s Environmental Assessment Service. Albemarle did not present the “details necessary to rule out significant adverse impacts on the quantity and quality of renewable natural resources, including the soil, water and air.”

Andrew Miller, head of price assessments at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, confirms the commotion in the market: “On the supply side, extending the production for these companies was challenged by regulators”. Companies in Chile tried to expand their production around 2016 and 2017 but various government agencies in Chile challenged them.

Economic challenges as well as regulatory challenges may lie ahead. Brine grew to be the primary source for lithium production for a generation because it is a low-cost source. Despite the extraction and evaporation process being cost-effective for now, changes in demand in the future could present issues for the producers’ bottom lines.

Miller explains that the two main chemicals resulting from lithium extraction are lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide. Brine mining is most competitive for lithium carbonate. This would still be the primary chemical on the market – still, a lot more lithium carbonate is produced than lithium hydroxide. The crucial question from a battery standpoint is whether there will be a shift towards cathode chemistries more dependent on lithium hydroxides.

Lithium hydroxide is not where brine extraction and the likes of SQL and Albemarle would excel, says Miller. This is because an additional step is required in the process. “They have to produce lithium carbonate first and then convert it to lithium hydroxide, adding additional costs and pressure on the costs curve”.

This raises questions on how responsive supply can be to the big surge in demand expected in the market, Miller says. It appears certain that hard-rock lithium mining will grow ever more dominant. This is confirmed by data from the US Geological Survey.

Whether or not the days of brine extraction are numbered, companies like US-based Albemarle today increasingly seek to cover their backs by diversifying their portfolios. According to its annual report, Albemarle entered into an agreement to acquire a 50 per cent interest in Mineral Resources Limited’s Wodgina Project, located in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, forming a joint venture with Mineral Resources to own and operate the Wodgina Project to produce battery-grade lithium hydroxide. The deal is expected to conclude in the second half of the year.

Missing data expected to remain a problem going forward

One way in which Chile’s lithium producers are attempting to appease public concern, as well as that of the regulators, is by increasing lithium output while using less brine. According to Reuters, Albemarle is developing a process to boost Chilean lithium output by 30 per cent without extracting more brine from the Atacama. It would re-inject salts into the ponds to effectively increase the concentration of the white metal in successive evaporative steps.

Garcés remains highly sceptical of the apparent good news. The yield – the amount of lithium extracted from the brine – remains brutally low to the present day, only around 30 per cent in SQM and a little more for Albemarle, is her guess, she told E&T. Even this would be hard to judge: “They keep it a state secret”. This ambiguity raises questions about how much lithium is really lost to inefficient practice by operators. “Why so much secrecy if it is so easy to calculate it? It is not a matter of secret patented process, either”, she says.

SQM was approached by E&T but was not immediately available for comments and did not respond to E&T’s enquiries.

One of the biggest problems is transparency, say many researchers. The correct calculation of how much water is being lost, according to Garcés, is faulty in so far as actual data is being withheld by companies. “Unfortunately the balances are made theoretically and then you estimate the performance or efficiency of the process,” she says.

It has been possible for E&T to piece together an estimate of how much water has been lost to the environment due to brine evaporation over the course of the past three decades, 1985-2017. E&T’s estimate puts the figure at around 433 billion litres for water lost as a result of lithium exploration over the period. Albemarle’s extraction contracts previously belonged to Sociedad Chilena del Litio (today under the name of Rockwood).

If that volume of water was laid out with a kilometre-square footprint across the city of London, the block would protrude nearly half a kilometre into the sky (see graphic), or around four and a half times the height of Big Ben. The amount would also rival the annual fresh water withdrawal rates of small countries like Papua New Guinea or the West Bank and Gaza, according to World Dank data.

E&T’s calculations were made on the basis of figures provided by the Nonmetallic Mining Committee as well as calculations for Albemarle’s lithium brine production history by the head of the Lithium Committee from IIMCh. It was produced under the assumption that two million litres of water would be evaporated in mining ponds for each tonne of lithium extracted. As the lithium extraction process evaporates around 95 per cent of the brine water, it was possible to compute how much water actually disappeared.

Perhaps even more worrying are extrapolations for the future, based on projections for Albemarle’s lithium extraction between 2018 and 2043. 1.5 trillion litres of water may be at stake within the Atacama salt flat, according to the same principle of calculation as above. With SQM pumping nearly four times as much brine as Albemarle, it is not unreasonable to assume that rates could be much higher.

Water use of Albemarle corporation

Albemarle Corporation was given the chance to respond to allegations and issued a statement to E&T saying it updated its hydrogeological model of the Salar de Atacama in March with the measurements of the last few years, making it the most up-to-date tool that exists, and that it “serves as a basis for authorities, communities and other companies with operations in the area”.

While monetary payments were not mentioned in the response, the company confirms it has established a “series of voluntary commitments with the authority to ensure the proper care of the Salar ecosystem” – entailing “a monitoring system of 150 wells in the Salar basin and a permanent plan for water and lake level monitoring, flamingo monitoring and an Early Warning Plan”. All of this would be “always available to the authority and the communities,” Albemarle said, adding: “we all benefit from sustainable management of the Salar de Atacama.”

The state’s aspiration to toughen regulation is high but action is scarce. In January, after an investigation proved that SQM did in fact overdraw lithium-rich brine from the Atacama salt flat, the Superintendencia del Medio Ambiente (Chile’s environmental regulator) approved a compliance plan including an online system to monitor SQM’s extraction rates as well as its use of fresh water alongside its industrial process. Whether this is enough to stop overdrawal of brine and prevent environmental damage, many doubt.

Recent changes by mining companies on how they monitor wells without authorisation, according to Chile’s environmental regulator, make it ever more complex to monitor what companies do.

“If you want to exploit, the companies must determine the amount of water they can safely extract without compromising the ecosystem and the wildlife, including the loss of flamingos and other species,” Balcázar says.

Another problem for regulators and the public is to access unbiased information. So far, the only information available about the Atacama salt flats are the details shared by the companies. “The state doesn’t have its own models. This is very basic stuff. You cannot exploit something that you don’t know. If you don’t know the real damage, you cannot regulate it. The state wouldn’t respect this principle”, says Balcázar.

However, efforts to monitor adverse effects independently seem to be under way. In May, the Atacama People’s Council built a monitoring station in a lagoon on the salt flat. Its installation was the first in a series – 14 more stations are expected soon – to continuously monitor water levels, as opposed to the once-per-month measurements overseen by mining companies.

Before the Chilean President Sebastián Pinera took office last March – when his administration disbanded a group working on this – the Committee of Non-Metallic Mining began to work on a model that could have allowed the government to independently monitor environmental changes.

How and whether the Chilean government will vindicate its lithium mining ambitions and the effects climate change has in its land in front of a global audience at the upcoming COP 25 – a global climate change conference taking place in Santiago in December – remains to be seen. Microbiologist Dorador asserts that it is an important opportunity for the country, with regard to mining.

Next to climate change and environmental issues, lithium production companies are accused of providing poor working conditions for their staff. On Chile’s brine deposits, workers suffer poor health and safety standards, according to an E&T interview with Lisa Belenky, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit organisation fighting to protect endangered species through legal action and activism.

Solutions to the water evaporation frenzy

Instead of increasing the quota to pump more brine, companies must replace the current evaporation process in the pools with a truly sustainable one, say researchers like Ingrid Garcés.

Answers to the prayers of those asking for a cleaner mining process are in the works. Different technological solutions appear viable in the lab, but many remain very far from being a commercial reality. Dr Crane is confident that science can come up with alternatives: “In academia, there is a lot of research currently being conducted to improve how we can remove lithium from the earth. Solutions include electrodialysis, nanofiltration and adsorption, as well as recent progress in using graphene-based filtration approaches.

″[Some of these techniques] have real potential to herald a new paradigm for the mining industry. If someone can invent a truly cost-effective, environmentally friendly, adaptable and rapidly deployable method to extract the lithium from water, they would be very successful”.

To solve the problem in the Atacama Desert, one may not need to look much further than the United Kingdom. Even without the ultra-dry climate, the county of Cornwall has what it takes, geologists argue. To start with, it has been found to host the fifth-largest lithium deposits in the world. A company called Cornish Lithium is developing a solution that should soon allow the pumping of Cornish geothermal brine and direct extraction of lithium from it in a climate-friendly way, without the use of chemicals, the CEO of the project has assured. Heat extracted from the brine would provide additional benefits. After lithium and energy were extracted, the brine would be cleanly re-injected into the subsurface.

“There is no water loss, there are no chemicals going into the water. The heat brought up with the brine, we can use in an environmental friendly way”, Jeremy Wrathall, CEO of Cornish Lithium, explained.

Such plans for domestic lithium extraction have multiple advantages. Local production could abolish the need to ship lithium around the world and reduce the carbon footprint connected to lithium-ion battery production. It could also help to alleviate the pressures on Chile’s lithium supply and allow the government to regulate Chile’s lithium mining companies without the risk of pushing global battery supply into turmoil.

What Cornish Lithium develops may not immediately bear direct application in the Atacama desert, as easy access to power would be needed. If a geothermal power plant could be connected to the brine extraction, though, self-sufficiency may be in sight, Wrathall says. Some companies in Chile could already explore the idea, but to Wrathall’s knowledge, it is early days for those projects. In contrast, in Europe, a lot more is going on. Alongside Cornish Lithium, an array of other European companies are chasing the idea of domestic lithium extraction.

From a market perspective, new technical developments are crucially needed, according to Benchmark analyst Miller. Even with the investments expected going into the market, he expects an upcoming deficit in 2023. Processes in development that may not be commercial today could add that “critical extra bit to the lithium supply balance in the next couple of years” when the electric vehicle penetration kicks off and lithium demand explodes.

Methodology and comments:

* To bring evidence forward, a satellite imagery analysis model was created to test the relationship between lithium brine extraction between hydration and vegetation levels of nearby lagoons and alluvial muds located in the north of SQMs and Albemarle’s evaporation ponds.

Fuente:https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2019/08/lithium-firms-are-depleting-vital-water-supplies-in-chile-according-to-et-analysis/?fbclid=IwAR0j9BKvRouMgVDe_QNXz4NeSuln0YUQVnHOrqELMrGqiESADQHO2wNwd_4

Chile

Core pide al SEA explicar por qué Medio Ambiente no fue parte de la consulta de proyecto en el salar

Proceso resolvió la pertinencia solicitada por Wealth Minerals que busca realizar una campaña de exploración de minerales cerca de la laguna Tebenquiche. Comunidades, cpor su parte, advierten que la empresa no tiene el permiso aún.

Durante la última sesión del Consejo Regional sus integrantes aprobaron que se solicite argumentar al Servicio de Evaluación Ambiental (SEA), su decisión de dejar a la seremi de Medio Ambiente fuera de la consulta de pertinencia solicitada Wealth Minerals, firma canadiense que busca desarrollar una exploración de minerales en el sector norte del salar de Atacama.

Siga leyendo esta noticia en la edición impresa de http://www.mercuriocalama.cl/impresa/2019/08/29/full/cuerpo-principal/5/

Fuente:http://www.mch.cl/2019/08/29/core-pide-al-sea-explicar-por-que-medio-ambiente-no-fue-parte-de-la-consulta-de-proyecto-en-el-salar/