Miners in Latin America must pay as much attention to local communities as they have historically done with national governments. Although examples of stakeholder distrust are plentiful, often stemming from the historic misconduct of past miners in a region or the malfeasance of political leaders whose promises were never kept, there are also examples of companies that have successfully navigated local community opposition.
Carmen de Andacollo is a copper and gold mine located in the mountains of Norte Chico in the Coquimbo region of central Chile. Small and medium-scale artisanal mining has been the primary economic driver in the local community for generations, ranging from informal subsistence mining by individuals to small commercial mining operations. Across Latin America, conflicts with informal miners can plague community relations and are complex to tackle: turning a blind eye to informal mining operations can expose miners to reputational risks, and confronting them head-on and adopting a zero tolerance policy will likely antagonize local residents.
Teck has engaged with informal miners by developing a free land use program to help them carry out work on Teck-owned land in compliance with Chile’s National Geology and Mining Service safety requirements. Under this program, the mine lends the land to the artisanal miners for a specific period of time without requiring them to pay rent, and the artisanal miners return the land to Teck at the end of the contract period.
The Importance of Community Roundtables
Understanding and leveraging the importance of these miners, some of which have mined informally for decades, sustaining the community with their small production, was possible by promoting dialogue at a local level. The Andacollo Artisanal and Small Miners Union, in particular, acted as an organized representative of workers’ needs that articulates their concerns to Teck. For example, Teck designed an ore processing plant to be used by small miners to help optimize ore recovery, promoting a sense of joint profitability and further cementing confidence in a common future.
Teck has also implemented initiatives for improving emergency response services and installed photovoltaic systems to provide power to the nearby agricultural communities. The Microenterprise Development Fund (Fondemi) was also created by Teck to provide funding for emerging and pre-established entrepreneurs in Andacollo and nearby Alfalfares. With a monetary value of US$2.1 million in 2021, Teck’s community investment in Andacollo was the largest across the company’s operations.
But not all jurisdictions near mining projects in the region have organized neighboring communities that can clearly define and communicate their concerns or interests. In those cases, AMI can step in to identify stakeholders, understand the local context, mitigate adverse effects and develop an engagement plan that improves the efficiency of investments in healthy community relationships.
The 2022 Latin America Mining Risk Index
A qualitative and quantitative analysis of the risks facing both miners and investors in the region’s 16 leading jurisdictions
Navigating Inherent Operational Constraints and Limited Resources
Since 2009, the Carmen de Andacollo mine has worked to resolve grievances from residents in neighboring Rincón del Toro, Matedoro-El Cobre and Chepiquilla communities with respect to mine blasting activities and associated noise, vibration, odors, and dust. There is little that can be done to eliminate the incidence of an industrial operation on its vicinity, but miners benefit from permanently monitoring their impact and working to mitigate undesired effects as soon as possible. Over the years, Teck specialists have worked with the local government to develop an Atmospheric Decontamination Plan (ADP) and the company has invested technical resources in a Vibration Optimization Model (VOM) that uses machine learning to predict the incidence of operational vibrations. The company also implemented dust mitigation measures, including the use of electromagnetic waves to decrease airborne particles, and permanently monitors their efficacy with an Environmental Monitoring Platform that integrates a geographic information system (GIS) with meteorological information.
Teck has also shown good faith by voluntarily committing to the removal of legacy tailings unrelated to their operations through a cooperation agreement with Chile’s Servicio de Evaluación Ambiental and the municipality of Andacollo and designed the El Runco biodiversity area to protect 4,200 endemic species and maintain endangered cacti relocated from the operating area.
In 2020, Teck partnered with multinational utility AES to purchase 72MW/ 550GWh per year of renewable electricity from AES Gener’s wind, solar and hydroelectric portfolio, effectively becoming 100% reliant on renewable energy. The decision is certain to promote confidence with urban communities and policymakers across the country.
The Challenge Ahead
The mine will now look to tackle water scarcity, a sensible topic for communities across Chile. Andacollo is near the southern limit of the Atacama Desert, where average rainfall is less than one millimeter per year. Field trials have been conducted to evaluate the use of additives to reduce the water content of the tailings discharged into the facility, lowering the amount of water lost to evaporation and ultimately leading to the reduction of overall site water consumption. The company is looking to inform water management decisions with real-time optimization of water use and flows via sensors installed in the field, as well as a digital tool that displays real-time quality and flow rates.
Teck will look to be as effective guaranteeing joint usage of hydric resources with communities as they have been with other community concerns throughout the years.
Contact us to find out how we can help you with community engagement and monitoring. To successfully manage the challenges arising from community opposition, the first step is to be aware of the issues.
AMI has strong local presence in all LatAm jurisdictions where industrial mining takes place. Our teams gather intelligence to help understand community concerns and alert our clients, offering strategic guidance to help resolve these problems. Our guidance is based on two decades of operating in the region and hundreds of projects involving risk, particularly local community risk.
This proactive approach allows miners to positively engage with local communities and avoid the conflicts that have led to mine shutdowns and even violence—and continue to do so.
Explore now how we can help you create success stories with the communities around your mining operations in Latin America.