INNOVATION January-February 2014

federal government, since the provinces have autonomy over their natural resources. However, since rivers originat- ing in the Andes are intra-provincial, the federal govern- ment feels that it should have say,” says Jakob. Objective assessment in these regions by geo-engineers and geoscien- tists has become a necessity. “We are sometimes attacked by NGOs or other people who say our reporting is biased since we get paid by the min- ing industry,” says Jakob, who adds that these accusations are often misinformed. “As Earth scientists, we try to provide the physical truth.” The Pascua-Lama Project When Canadian Barrick Gold Corporation, a worldwide lead- ing gold producer, wanted to determine the environmental and social impact of its proposed Pascua-Lama project—a major gold and open-pit mine, which straddles the Chilean-Argentine border high in a mountainous region—it needed a geoscientist’s expertise to assess local risks. Jakob and his colleagues Drs. Lukas Arenson and Pablo Wainstein at BGC are specialists in the field of geological engineering and geomorphology in periglacial high-mountain environments. In the past, periglacial environ- ments were largely covered by academics, but as the mining industry pushes higher into remote mountainous areas, many firms need experts in this science who are knowledgeable about the specific region and the challenges of mining clients. It was 2005 when Jakob first visited the Argentine por- tion of the proposed Pascua-Lama mine site and its sister property, the Veladero mine, located approximately 10 kilometres away. “It is a beautiful area but extremely cold and windy in their winter,” says Jakob, speaking of the 3,800 – 5,200-metre elevation on the continental divide where today the Pascua-Lama mine sits. The high elevation creates the periglacial conditions. “It is the perception of the public, and some NGOs, that mining in the periglacial area would negatively impact the water resource both in terms of quality and quantity,” says Jakob. “Barrick wanted us to examine the reality of such con- cerns, especially whether the ground ice would be impacted and, if so, to what degree this would lead to a negative down- stream impact on the water resource.” Jakob’s team was able to gather field data for the existing and proposed mine sites at that time and provide a thorough inter- national literature review. “The impact of mining in the periglacial environment, as measured by the water supply to downstream end-users, was found to be negligible,” he says, adding, “Every mine has various impacts on the landscape and the people who live there.” But, the studies by BGC concluded that in this case that impact was low, largely because the area where mining would take place was small in comparison to the entire watersheds that supply water to downstream users. Another issue at Pascua-Lama involved a concern that mining would speed the melting of the glaciers and glaciaretes (small glaciers) found in both Chile and Argentina. “These [glaciers] are distinctly different from those in BC, Alberta, or Patagonia. They are cold-based and frozen to the subsurface,” says Jakob. Research data has shown to date that glaciers in the project area, which provide a portion of the

L. ARENSON, 2014

South American resource exploitation has become an interna- tional hot button as many countries search elsewhere for more min- erals, oil and gas, and other commodities. It has prompted govern- ments, driven by local concerns for the environment, to issue new laws restricting development or outlining more stringent environ- mental or pollution guidelines. Chile, according to Associated Press, is in the midst of passing legislation to prevent any mining develop- ment in the glacier region (although periglacial areas—a term used to describe permafrost areas that have a surface ground layer subject to cycles of seasonal thawing and freezing—are exempt). In 2010, Argentina implemented stricter legislation, similar to what Chile is passing, which places severe restrictions on mining activity in periglacial environments. “There are also struggles between the provinces (especially San Juan) and the Small glaciarete in the background located in a typical periglacial environment, northern Argentine/Chilean Andes


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