EIA Process in Peru: Overlooking Public Participation in the Minas Conga Gold Mine Project

by: Laura Peterson

Conflicts over natural resources are not new to Peru.

Since Inca times and the Spanish Conquistadores of the 1500s, Peru’s gold reserves have been the subject of international fascination, exploration and consequently, to exportation and development.

In understanding the rigorous EIA processes to which proponents must comply to before undertaking their projects in Canada and the USA [1][4], and knowing that one of the foundations of EIA is Public Participation* [6], one would like to be reassured that Canadian and US mining companies in Peru are also subject to the same genre of inclusivity.

This is not the case.

Newmont Mining Corporation is one of the largest gold companies in the world. It is already responsible for the Minera Yanacocha in Cajamarca, Peru, an open-pit gold mine so large that it can be seen from space [7]. Unabashedly, Newmont is seeking to open another gold mine nearby called Minas Conga, a wound to the country which would be three times the Yanacocha mining footprint [7].

Newmont prides themselves on having one of the “most thoroughly studied mining projects in the world”, with 13 years of analysis on the Minas Conga project [5]. However, critical examination suggests that this should be seen less as a source of pride and more as of a glimpse into the inadequacy of Newmont’s EIA itself.

Location of Minas Conga near Cajamarca, Peru

Location of Minas Conga near Cajamarca, Peru

The EIA for Minas Conga was approved in 2010. It faced so much criticism and public backlash that the Peruvian government postponed the mining project until it was submitted to further review

The main public concern? The effects to the water supplied to hundreds of hamlets from the four glacial lakes Newmont planned to drain and replace with artificial reservoirs.

Rightfully so, community leaders are asking for warranted inclusiveness in a huge mining development project which will affect their water supply, their already crumbling transportation network and their livelihoods [2].

The Peruvian government is now forced to act as a mediator between EIA process, international mining companies and local communities [8], adding to the overall ineptitude of the project EIA.  Newmont should have addressed public participation within its EIA process to begin with and ensured full public awareness of its planned course of action concerning the vital resource for the surrounding communities.


Humbly… I don’t know… there are many people who are better educated and who sometimes think or study more, but I think for a good human being, and knowing that water is essential for life, it can never be possible for our natural lake to be replaced with an artificial lake.

– Jose Cruz Rios Izquierdo, Farmer in Paucapampa, Cajamarca [2]


Adding to the national EIA problem, unlike Brazil, Chile and Colombia who’s EIAs are approved by their Ministries of Environment, Peru’s EIAs are approved the Peruvian Ministerio de Energia y Minas (Ministry of Energy and Mines, or MEM) [3].  Since the MEM works closely with the mining companies it is possible to streamline EIAs to get to the construction phase of a project and a direct conflict of interest results.

This compromises independence, objectivity and validity of the Peruvian EIA process to the detriment of its very citizens.

Resonating with Noble’s (2010) warning that the “lack of public involvement during an EIA process […] can be detrimental to the success of an EIA and to project approval”, Newmont has since acknowledged that the debacle has had “a huge impact on its business strategy.” [9]

Thus, overlooking public consultation can even have economic impacts.

And today? The $5 billion project is still stalled and awaiting approval from independent consultation. All the same, to the chagrin of nearby villages, Newmont has already built their first reservoir and plan to drain the first mountain lake by the end of this year [5][7].

Mochica, from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Exhibition, Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and Moon

Mochica, from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Exhibition, Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and Moon

Social conflicts, international embarrassment, money and time may have been saved if the public had been involved from the very beginning, and if the Newmont Minas Conga EIA had been carried out in a transparent, inclusive manner.

Ultimately, the case of Minas Conga shows that public consultation is essential for large projects, especially those such as gold mines in sensitive ecological areas of a developing country already pockmarked by natural resource exploitation 600-years in the making.


*benefits of involving the public from the beginning of the EIA process include (a) defining the problem more effectively, and (b) the opportunity to access traditional knowledge [6]


Sources

[1]    CEAA 2013, “The Basics of Environmental Assessment”: http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=B053F859-1

[2]    Guarniz 2012, “In the Heart of the Conga”, Independent documentary about the Minas Conga Project from the perspective of local residents, produced by Isabel Guarniz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqDgpY1BQFQ

[3]    Molleda 2011, “Razones para declarar inconstitucional la forma de aprobación de los EIA en el Perú”  (“Reasons to declare EIA approval process as unconstitutional in Peru”): http://www.justiciaviva.org.pe/notihome/notihome01.php?noti=710

[4]    NEPA 2013, about the NEPA process and public participation: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/basics/nepa.html#publicrole

[5]    Newmont 2012. Various documents from the Newmont Mining website about the Minas Conga project: http://www.newmont.com/south-america/ops-minas-conga-peru-details

[6]    Noble, B. F. (2010). Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment: A Guide to Principles and Practice: Oxford University Press.

[7]    Sullivan 2012, “Andean Self-determination Struggles against Extractive Capitalism”: http://upsidedownworld.org/main/peru-archives-76/4438-peru-andean-self-determination-struggles-against-extractive-capitalism-

[8]    Sylvester 2013, “Is the Peruvian government becoming more mining friendly?”: http://www.resourceinvestor.com/2013/09/17/is-the-peruvian-government-becoming-more-mining-fr?t=precious-metals

[9]    Trefis Team 2013, “A Closer Look at Newmont’s Mining’s Stalled Conga Project in Peru”: http://www.trefis.com/stock/nem/articles/205942/a-closer-look-at-newmont-minings-stalled-conga-project-in-peru/2013-09-16

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