LatinNews Daily - 19 January 2023

CHILE: Gov’t refuses go-ahead for major iron and copper mine

On 18 January Chile’s committee of ministers ruled to reject environmental permits for the US$2.5bn Dominga copper and iron mining project, on the grounds that it would have a negative impact on wildlife, water sources, air quality, and protected maritime areas.


The struggle to approve or reject the Dominga project has been fought over for much of the last 10 years. The project would be based 500km north of Santiago in La Higuera municipality, Coquimbo region. It calls for an open cast copper and iron mine, desalination plants, and the construction of a large port, only 30km distant from a Humboldt penguin reserve. The committee of ministers said the proposal made insufficient efforts to mitigate environmental impacts.

  • The decision to block development was criticised by business leaders and centre-right opposition parties. Jorge Riesco of the mining lobby Sociedad Nacional de Minería (Sonami) said the decision was not based on technical criteria but on politics since President Gabriel Boric had promised to shut the project down during the 2021 election campaign.
  • Dominga has been at the centre of controversy. The ‘Pandora Papers’ leak in 2021 revealed that the mine had been 56% owned by former right-wing president Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014; 2018-2022) and his family, and had subsequently been sold to a close business partner, in a deal conditioned on it achieving environmental approvals. Piñera denied any wrongdoing. Centre-left parties initiated impeachment hearings over the affair in 2021 but failed to gather the necessary two-thirds approval in the senate.
  • Andes Iron, the mine owner and operating company, claimed that despite the ministerial decision, the project meets and exceeds all environmental standards set by the government. The company said it would appeal against the decision.
  • Pro-government parties and environmental lobby groups welcomed the decision. Greenpeace said it hoped the government would follow up by declaring a wider protected area around the Humboldt archipelago.     

Looking Ahead: With Andes Iron announcing an appeal against the decision the dispute is likely to continue for some time. The worry, identified by some business groups, is that prolonged litigation will send a negative signal to other potential investors.

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