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Nickel Mining Sparks Controversy in Guatemala

August 11, 2006

GUATEMALA CITY – Nickel mining in Guatemala’s Caribbean region has pitted the government against environmental groups in the wake of a congressional effort to seek cancellation of a license issued to a company to mine the metal.

Jorge García, deputy minister of energy and mining, said the government would not take away the license issued in December 2004 to Compañía Guatemalteca de Niquel, (CGN), because the decision made by Congress was based on a preliminary environmental impact study.

On Aug. 3, the chairman of the congressional energy committee, Julio Morales, said legislators would ask President Oscar Berger to pull the license granted to CGN to mine nickel in LakeIzabal because the study showed the project would pollute the environment in the area.

García said the company was still in the exploration phase of the project and did not need approval via an environmental impact study until it began production.

The deputy minister admitted that studies of the project concluded that it would cause some pollution of freshwater sources, as well as destruction of plant and animal life in the region. He added, however, that the land would be restored during the 20-year operating life of the project.

The Berger administration authorized the mining of nickel, cobalt, iron, chromium and magnesium in a 6.29-square-kilometer area, with the quarries alone covering some 4.56 square kilometers.

CGN plans to invest some $540 million in the project, which would restart an operation abandoned by another mining company in the early 1980s.

The decision by the Energy and Mining Ministry not to rescind the license caught environmentalists by surprise, after they had welcomed the congressional move against the project.

Conservation group Tropico Verde claims mining will destroy animal and plant life around LakeIzabal, which has one of the country’s largest aquifers.

The harmful effects of the project will outweigh the benefits for residents of the area, said Carlos Albacete of Tropico Verde.

José Cruz, a leader of environmental group Madre Selva, said the license given to CGN was illegal because it was issued for a protected area.

As of December 2005, the Energy and Mining Ministry had granted 23 licenses for mining gold, antimony, iron, zinc, uranium, nickel, chromium, platinum and cobalt, among other metals.

 

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