Pascua Lama is a mining project of the Canadian company Barrick Gold through its affiliate company named Compañía Minera Nevada S.A., located in the middle of the Andean Mountain Range, on the border between Chile and Argentina, which consists of an open-pit mining operation to mine ounces of gold, silver, and copper. All the minerals are under the Toro I, Toro II, and Esperanza glaciers.

In Chile, the gold-bearing project was visualized in the Atacama region, Huasco province, Alto del Carmen commune, whereas in Argentina, in the San Juan province, Iglesias department, at more than 4,500 meters above sea level. Seventy-five percent of the work would be done on the Chilean side and 25 % in Argentinian territory.

Although the above-mentioned glaciers represent a small percentage in relation to the enormous Andes, they were essential as water supplies for both communities and the ecosystems of several basins and valleys.

In the project’s exploration stage, the company destroyed (by drilling, digging, and building roads) more than 62 % of theToro I glacier, 71 % of the Toro II glacier, and 70 % of the Esperanza glacier, according to comparative photographs from 1995, 1981, and 2000 registered on the study financed by the mining company itself to the consulting company Golder Associates in 2005. Nowadays, the damage to these glaciers is estimated to be over 90 %.

The biggest environmental impact of the project (on the Chilean side) is that the deposit is under the glaciers that supply the Chollay river, which is one of the main tributaries of the Tránsito river that feeds the Huasco river.

The Diaguita Huascoaltina native community were the principal victims by this project since Pascua Lama was first intended to be established in their ancient territories.

There were many years of struggle for the community in the Atacama region since the lives of more than 75,000 inhabitants were put at risk with the project. The crops of the Huasco valley were damaged due to the pollution of the water tributaries. The Toro I, Toro II, and Esperanza glaciers were reduced by more than 90 %, and the existing ecosystems of flora and fauna were destroyed, so in this report, we will provide a timeline of the most relevant facts from the origin of the project to its final closure.

Pascua Lama deposit seen from above.


1977: First record of mining exploration activities in the area by geologists of the San José mining company.


1987: The Australian company Bond Gold International purchases the San José mining company.


1989: The assets of the Australian company Bond Gold are handed over to the Canadian LAC Minerals company.


1993: The company LAC Minerals starts its environmental baseline and feasibility studies of the mining project.


1994: Barrick Gold purchases the assets of LAC Minerals.


1997: Chile and Argentina, represented by their Presidents Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle and Carlos Menem, sign the Tratado de Integración y Complementación Minera [Mining Integration and Complementation Treaty], under which the cross-border project becomes possible.


2000: Both countries ratify the Tratado de Integración y Complementación Minera.


2001: In April, the Comisión Regional del Medioambiente (COREMA) de Atacama [Regional Environmental Commission of Atacama] (predecessor of SEA [Environmental Assessment Service]) approves the Estudio de Impacto Ambiental(EIA) [Environmental Impact Study] presented by Barrick Gold, even though the document includes the unusual action to remove parts of 3 glaciers of the area to develop the open-cast deposit. However, the initiative was postponed until 2004 due to the huge rejection of the administrative initiative by the community.

2004: The chancelleries of Chile and Argentina sing the Protocolo Adicional Específico [Specific Additional Protocol], which concerns the practical and logistics aspects of the border labor.


2006: Due to several criticisms and controversies made by the community, COREMA of Copiapó decides to check the imposed Resolución de Calificación Ambiental [Environmental Assessment Resolution] and include more than 400 conditions to the original project. A new Estudio de Impacto Ambiental is approved on February 15, in which Barrick Gold commits, among many other things, not to remove the ice or the glaciers of the place.

In December of the same year, the Argentinian government approves Barrick Gold’s Estudio de Impacto Ambiental.

The Huascoaltinos are recognized as native people by Chile.


2012: The Dirección General de Aguas [General Water Authority] takes some measurements on the glaciers of the zone and informs through report the huge damage on the Toro I, II, and Esperanza glaciers due to the accumulation of many centimeters of dust released by the drilling of the mining, which produced the change in the color in the surfaces and the increasing ice melting by absorbing more sun radiation because their albedos are affected, which refers to the capacity of the glacier to reflex the sun radiation and not to hold it.


2013: The Canadian bank takes away USD 500 million in finance from Barrick Gold.

The problems for the mining company increases because, by that time, it was reneging on many commitments with the countries, such as the pollution of the Estrecho river due to discharges of acidic water in its slopes. Because of this, the SMA (Superintendencia del Medio Ambiente) [Superintendence of Environment] opens a sanctioning process against Barrick Gold between 2013 and 2015, in which the SMA filed 33 charges against Pascua Lama.


2016: By Decree N° 349/16, the Argentinian Government removes the payment of a fee of 5 % to the exploitation and exportation of minerals that the acting President Eduardo Duhalde had set in 2002 to benefit Barrick Gold.

Barrick agrees to pay USD 140 million to stop a collective lawsuit of minority shareholders in the USA, who accused Barrick of distorting information about Pascua Lama.


2017: A spill causes ravages in the Argentinian area.

In October of the same year, Barrick Gold paid USD 20 million to the Junta de Vigilancia del Río Huasco [an organization for the integrated and sustainable management of the water resources of the Huasco river] to end an arbitration process that started in 2016.


2018: On January 18, the SMA announces the permanent closure of Pascua Lama and imposed a fine of USD 11.5 million for serious and numerous violations to the Resolución de Calificación Ambiental.

In October, the Primer Tribunal Ambiental [First Environmental Court] of Antofagasta rules in favor of the closure of the project.


2019: In March, the Supreme Court derogates the previous ruling.

In October, the Supreme Court of Ontario give the green light to the collective lawsuit headed by a retirement fund that argued that Barrick Gold misrepresented environmental information in its reports about Pascua Lama, which produced a millionaire capital loss. Nowadays, the process is a pending management trial.


2020: On September 17, the Primer Tribunal Ambiental of Antofagasta confirms the permanent closure of Pascua Lama. In addition, they set a fine of CLP 7,000,000,000. On September 18, Barrick makes public his will to not appeal the condemnatory resolution.


Remember that the Pascua Lama mining project is binational, and the sentences of the courts are only effective in their own country, thus the operations in Argentina still exist under the Argentinian legislation.



  • Argentinian Greenpeace. Link
  • Coordinadora por la defensa del agua y la vida. (2013) [A space of convergence of organizations that defend water as a common good, a human right and a collective right]. Link
  • La Nación, Ricardo Pérez Vallejos. (2020) [Digital newspaper] Link
  • Bío Bío Chile, Manuel Cabrera. (2020) [Digital newspaper]. Link
  • Interferencia, Victor Herrero A. (2020) [Digital newspaper]. Link
  • Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales (OLCA) [Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflicts]. Link
  • La Tercera, Francisca O´Ryan. (2020) [Digital newspaper]. Link
  • Documentary “El Dorado, La sed de oro”, Martin Frigon. (2008). Link

Featured image:

  • Pascua Lama mining project, Atacama region, Chile / © Google Earth. Location link