Environmental Challenges at Las Bambas: Peru's largest copper mine.

11 July 2015

When Chinese stock market regulations forced Glencore to divest itself of some part of its holdings to continue to be quoted in China, the result was the sale of Peru’s largest copper project, Las Bambas in Apurimac, to a Chinese consortium. The latter inherited a situation of serious disquiet over environmental impacts. To the Chinese company’s credit, they appear to be working hard to respond to that disquiet. They have opened an office to consider CVs from local people wishing to apply for jobs, they have promised to publish the amended environmental impact assessment (EIA), to take part in an environmental commission, and provide plant nurseries and cattle to assist in alternatives to mining. There will be a waste material management programme and new arrangements for the management of water.

A separate – and major – change is the abandonment of a pipeline to convey ore to Espinar, following protests not from local communities but from those in Espinar. This will mean instead a road transporting 450 million tons of copper a year through local rural communities. This will create pollution and noise, and has been a surprise to the local community – not debated. Pedro Gamio, ex-Deputy Minister of Mines and Energy, says the change “ought to have been more broadly discussed with local people, because its impacts will be greater than those of the pipeline.” We are learning the hard way – from Tia Maria above all – that responsible and consensual improving of EIAs is difficult to manage. The process is not as regulated as the initial approval, with fewer requirements for public discussion.

It is good news, however, that the Chinese group is struggling to engage. We reported in April that Chinese companies had requested ‘training’ in good practice in environmental management: this should be encouraged. The tensions will only get greater as the project moves from construction, needing 10,000 workers, to production, needing a mere 2000.

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