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Chile: Court upholds complaint from indigenous communities against SQM over water usage rights linked to lithium mining

Author: Reuters and Mining.com, Published on: 31 December 2019

"SQM dealt blow by environmental court ruling", 27 December 2019.

A Chilean environmental court has upheld a complaint by indigenous communities in the country´s northern Atacama Desert about the use of water by SQM, the world´s No. 2 producer of lithium. The decision by the First Environmental Court in the nearby city of Antofagasta calls into jeopardy SQM´s $400 million plan to expand its lithium carbonate production plant to feed appetite for the ultralight battery metal...Soaring lithium demand has raised questions about whether Chile´s arid northern desert can support current and future levels of lithium production along with the needs of sprawling nearby copper mines, a booming tourism industry and indigenous communities.

The court ruled that a compliance plan presented by SQM in response to a multi-year investigation by Chile´s SMA environmental regulator that found the miner had overdrawn lithium-rich brine was “insufficient.”...The court said its decision was based on a “precautionary principle,” taking into account the “particular fragility” of the Atacama´s ecosystem and the “high level of scientific uncertainty” about the behavior of its water table. It said SQM had no way of proving that the measures it had proposed were capable of “containing and reducing or eliminating the negative effects generated by the breaches of the company.”...

The complaint was brought by indigenous people living in surrounding communities of Peine and Camar, and the Indigenous Advisory Council of Atacameno People...SQM said in a statement sent to Reuters that it was considering whether to take further legal action...“The company regrets this decision and remains convinced that its plan – which was meticulously evaluated by the competent authorities – safeguards the protection of the environment,” the company said. “SQM is evaluating the range of options available to it before the law.”

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Related companies: Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile (SQM)