After spending 32 years working for one of the world’s largest engineering and construction firms, I retired home to Idaho and settled in Cascade. During my career I was involved in large construction projects in the U.S. and around the world many of which were mining projects in South America.
These mine sites were owned and operated by some of the world’s biggest international mining companies so I have seen the “good, the bad and the ugly” of the mining world.
When we settled in Cascade the Midas Gold Project at Stibnite obviously got my attention and I began to read about it and follow it in the news. My initial impression of Midas Gold was good and I was cautiously optimistic about their intentions for the Stibnite site and Valley County.
In fact I wrote letters to the editor of this paper with a view to giving them the benefit of the doubt. Whether we like to admit it or not all of us are consumers of products that use materials from the mining industry This fact will not change any time soon but we can at least hold the mining companies accountable and not allow irresponsible exploitation of our state.
I became discouraged and disappointed when I read that Barrick Gold had bought into the project since I am all too familiar with their track record in South America and in Chile in particular. Obviously mining by nature is not an environmentally friendly endeavor, but believe it or not there are mine owners that are both good stewards of the environment and responsible members of the communities they impact. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Barrick is not one of them.
However, don’t take my word for it but instead do some reading about the Pascua Lama site in Chile and Argentina. I am a permanent resident of Chile and still spend a lot of time there so am fairly familiar with this site and the history behind it.
After spending somewhere around $8 billion dollars* Barrick was forced to permanently close the site by the government of Chile due to environmental noncompliance. This without even going into production.
Fortunately Chile is likely the most environmentally advanced country in South America. The project is only somewhere around 45% complete, vastly over budget and now sits there mothballed. So much for promises made to the local communities.
The site literally sits on top of the Andean cordillera between 14,000 to 17,000 feet above sea level and is surrounded by vulnerable glaciers. The permitting for the site was very complicated, involved the governments of both Chile and Argentina and took many years to accomplish.
Barrick was so obsessed with exploiting this site that at one point they actually proposed “relocating” the glaciers. It was ultimately damage to the glaciers caused by acidic dust from excavation which accelerated melting and contaminated the run off water that was a big part of Barrick’s undoing. This disastrous project was almost curtains for Barrick financially and put them in a scramble for new investors and partners.
There is plenty of information available online regarding Barrick’s other mine sites in South America and around the world. I promise it will be eye opening reading for anyone that takes the time.
For all of the good intentions that Midas Gold might have for the Stibnite site and Valley County they have already began the predictable process of selling out to the big international mining interests. Barrick now owns 20% and as the project moves closer to approval they will likely increase their share.
We need to ask ourselves as Idaho citizens if we want a non U.S. mining company with a miserable environmental and sustainability track record involved in even 20% of the future of something so vulnerable as our unique and irreplaceable natural environment as well as the outstanding quality of life in our communities.
Samuel Stoddard, Cascade
Originally printed in the McCall Star-News, Nov. 7, 2019
*Barrick Gold has spent $5 billion to date against an original estimate of $1.5 billion and are now estimating $8 billion to complete the Pascua Lama project.