BUENOS AIRES--Argentina's Supreme Court reversed a lower-court decision that had suspended a glacier-protection law in San Juan province, threatening a number of multibillion-dollar mining projects in the province.
The reversal means that projects such as Barrick Gold Corp.'s (ABX, ABX.T) $3.3 billion-$3.6 billion Pascua-Lama mine will have to conduct an inventory of glacial ice at the mine site before proceeding with construction, according to the ruling issued Tuesday. Pascua-Lama is scheduled to start production in the first half of 2013.
In November, a federal judge in the mining-friendly San Juan province suspended key provisions of the glacier law at the behest of labor unions and mining-industry associations until the Supreme Court could rule on its validity. The Supreme Court still hasn't addressed the challenge to the law's constitutionality, but for now the law remains in effect following the reversal of the lower-court ruling.
In 2010, President Cristina Kirchner signed into law a bill limiting economic activity in the areas surrounding glaciers. The government has started conducting a nationwide inventory of glacial ice that will determine which areas will be put off limits to mining, but the process has been slow. Just one area of Mendoza province has been inventoried so far.
A number of local environmental groups--armed with images from Google Earth which they say show glacial ice at mine sites--have targeted Barrick and other big-ticket projects in San Juan province such as Xstrata PLC's (XTA.LN) $4.1 billion El Pachon copper-mine project and Canada-based McEwen Mining Inc.'s (MUX, MUX.T) $2.9 billion Los Azules copper project.
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