Amid Atacama Water Crisis, Chile's Zaldivar Mine Asks for Extra Time to Respond to Questions

Chilean copper miner Antofagasta Plc stated on Tuesday it might ask regulators for extra time to reply to questions about an environmental impact study for its Zaldivar mine, which pulls water from Chile’s lithium-rich Atacama salt flat.

Chilean administrators in 2018 delayed their evaluation of Zaldivar’s environmental study amid rising worries over diminishing water supplies at the Atacama. Regulators recently reopened the process.

Antofagasta stated it planned to search for a further extension to provide it time to “obtain all the observations submitted by the general public … and allow us to answer them.”

The Atacama salt flat is residence to lithium miners SQM and Albemarle Corp, which together produce one-third of the world supply of the ultralight battery metallic. Atacama’s aquifers are additionally a critical water source for BHP’s Escondida copper mine, the world’s largest.

Antofagasta, which co-owns Zaldivar with Barrick Gold Corp, stated the expansion would give it time to think about a proposal from neighboring Escondida to share information on the supply of water beneath the flat.

BHP Group Ltd is also searching for environmental permissions to draw water from the Atacama.

Antofagasta stated in the assertion it had chosen to attract less than half the water it was currently approved with a view to “contribute to the sustainability of the watershed.”

The corporate said it held permits to draw 500 liters (132 gallons) every second from aquifers underneath the salt flat however that it had chosen to draw not more than its current rate of 212 liters (56 gallons) per second.

Water is a sensitive subject at the Atacama.