McGill Research Group Investigating
Canadian Mining in Latin America

Proyecto Andacollo, Argentina

Key Data

Company:Andacollo Gold Operational status:In production since 2001 Materials extracted:silver, gold Type of mine:open pit, underground Main issues:water, health, labour


The Andacollo mineral deposit is located in the western province of Neuquén about 40 kilometers from the Chilean border [1].  The Andacollo mineral deposits were expropriated in 1998 by the Corporación Minera del Neuquén, Sociedad del Estado Provincial (CORMINE SEP). CORMINE then created a 20-year usufruct contract and optioned 10 years to the Canadian-Chilean mining company (and subsidiary of Barrick Gold) Minera Andacollo Gold SA (MAGSA) [2]. An usufruct is a contract which gives another party the right of enjoyment to a piece of property, allowing them to derive profit as long as the property is not damaged. This contract allowed MAGSA to perform mining operations and gain capital with out having formal property rights.  The Andacollo mineral deposit consists of the Erika, Sofía, and Julia mines which use floating extraction methods. Together, the mine sites total 23,000 hectares.

In 2001, MAGSA received approval by the Neuquén government to begin mining activity in the Andacollo zone, a zone traditionally used for livestock production and artisanal mining [3].  A primary concern for many communities in the surrounding regions when the mine was proposed was how the mining project will affect their water sources.  Open pit mining rock processing procedures use vast quantities of water as well as toxic chemicals such as cyanide in order to extract the precious minerals from the rock [4].  The mine is located 500 meters away from the Huaraco stream which is a major water source for the region, and so the mining activity threatens both the quantity and quality of the water through overuse and contamination [5].

In 2003, shortly after construction and production began at the Andacollo mines, many people from surrounding communities found that their fears had been realized.  They complained that the contamination of the Huaraco stream from the use of cyanide was causing bad health effects on their communities [6].  Many held MAGSA and Barrick Gold responsible for these negative effects.  In 2004, local residents and community members of Andacollo denounced MAGSA and the mining projects in the region because the company was responsible for diverting the natural flow of their local water sources and left many in their community without water [7].  These community members called upon the officials of the Water Resources to intervene [8].  In 2009, the family of José León Fonseca publicly denounced MAGSA for contamination of their land and water and they presented their case to the Legislature of Neuquén on Monday May 11 using scientific analysis of the air and water [9]. These concerns have not been officially addressed. In addition, community members had more cause for unease when MAGSA felled fifteen hectares of forest in order to further develop their mining project.

Despite seemingly widespread community opposition to the project, there has been some debate among local residents about the merits of the project. For many, the mine and the mining company have provided jobs, loans, credit, and a commitment to development. In 2011, MAGSA gave the locality of Andacollo 200,000 pesos to form the basis of the support fund for residents of Andacollo to start businesses and other economic ventures. MAGSA is attempting to create a credit-based community development program with this fund and by 2015 will have donated 400.000 pesos to this fund [10]. In response, the opposition claim that the model of sustainable and responsible mining development is a narrative created in order to justify the extractive, exploitative practices of the mining companies and that their only motivation is capital gain [11].

The Andacollo mine is still in production and community members continue to express their concerns over the mines’ harmful effects.  Neuquén is one of the few Argentine mining provinces that has not yet passed the ban on cyanide and other harmful chemicals used in mining processes, and this ban could be a crucial step for community members to further their cause.

[1] http://basedatos.conflictosmineros.net/ocmal_db/?page=proyecto&id=398

[2] http://www1.hcdn.gov.ar/dependencias/cmineria/andacollo.htm

[3] http://lavaca.org/notas/las-minas-de-la-polemica-breve-recorrido-por-los-17-emprendimientos-mas-controvertidos-de-argentina/

[4] www1.rionegro.com.ar/arch200402/12/m12s11.php

[5] http://basedatos.conflictosmineros.net/ocmal_db/?page=conflicto&id=165

[6] Ibid

[7] http://orosucio.madryn.com/articulos/07_04_10.html

[8] http://www1.rionegro.com.ar/arch200402/12/m12s11.php

[9] http://www1.rionegro.com.ar/diario/2009/05/14/124226964387.php

[10] http://www.rionegro.com.ar/diario/andacollo-crean-un-fondo-minero-para-creditos-643210-9862-nota.aspx

[11] http://www.noalamina.org/mineria-argentina/mineria-neuquen/actividad-minera-en-andacollo-los-discursos-que-no-cierran