Chile Plans to Step Up Glacier Protection in Copper-Rich Andes

May 22, 2014 11:15 am ET

May 22 (Bloomberg) -- Chilean President Michelle Bachelet intends to strengthen protection of glaciers in the Andes Mountains where miners including Anglo American Plc and Codelco plan to expand copper operations.

“Glaciers represent a freshwater resource of incalculable value,” Bachelet said yesterday in a state-of-the-nation address in Valparaiso, Chile. “We will present a bill to protect the glaciers and their environment, making it compatible with national and regional needs and aspirations.”

Codelco, the largest copper-mining company, said it would remove six rock glaciers as part of a $6.8 billion proposed expansion to its Andina mine above capital Santiago. Andres Allamand, a senator representing the metropolitan region, voiced his opposition to the expansion last month because of its potential threat to water supply.

Anglo American also plans expansions to its Los Bronces mining district that neighbors Andina. Barrick Gold Corp. suspended work at its $8.5 billion Pascua Lama gold project on the border of Argentina and Chile in the Andes amid a dispute over potential water-supply contamination and court injunctions.

Chile, which used mining profit to became Latin America’s richest nation per capita, is contending with a fourth year of drought resulting in wildfires that have affected the port city of Valparaiso and regional farming areas. The government has to improve laws governing water as drought becomes more common in coming years because of climate change, Bachelet said.