Last update:

Mining company Cerro Colorado, Chile

Currently (2020) several judicial processes are still open between the communities and the company BHP-Billiton, the largest private mining actor in Chile

This case form has been translated for your convenience using translation software powered by Google Translate. Therefore, they may contain errors. Any discrepancies or differences created in translating this content from the original version into another language are not binding and have no legal effect. If any questions arise related to the accuracy of the information contained in these translations, please refer to the version of the case in: Spanish (Original)


Minera Company Cerro Colorado Ltda. (CMCC) is part of the North Pampa Business Unit, belonging to the BHP-Billiton International Group, the largest private mining actor in Chile. It is in operation since 1994, located in the commune of Pozo Almonte, Tarapaca region of Chile, in the Atacama desert at 2,600 m.s.n.m. It bases its production of 120,000 ton / year average copper cathodes, and the subsequent processing of mineral by crushing in three stages, leaching in batteries, solvent extraction and electro obtaining.

The installation of the mining project has strongly impacted the ecosystem of the area, which has led to a series of conflicts with local indigenous communities over the years. The first of them, goes back to the beginnings of the project - and continues to this day - with the Aymara Community of Cancia, who in 1991 agree a lease with the locals. CMCC approached the Aymara to engage in a relationship of mutual aid: the sponsorship mining to the community and this one was registered in 1991 the Huantija property for a period of 30 years. The agreed sum was 6,000 annual dollars, which at the end of the period add 180,000 dollars. The Aymaras use that money for different development projects and cultural activities. The community accepts that CMCC will perform exploration work aimed at finding underground water and installed the necessary wells to light it. The only limitation was the prohibition to make work in the slopes and in the huge Laguna de Huantija Aledaña to the Bofedal.

however, by mediating the decade, BHP pressed The elderly Aymara to sell or lease their properties, which I think resistance in the rest of the community. What more suspicious was the hydric studies that the company showed to sustain the low impact that Cerro Colorado would bring. The description of the basin that in these studies was not towards the relationship with what the inhabitants knew, so the community look for a study of an independent entity. The results were conclusive, the company lies. Cancosa has no more than 300 members, therefore the degree of social mobilization that could generate could not press enough to the political and economic powers. For this reason they opted for Judicial and Administrative Via.

In 2002, the Community could see that the company was consuming 90 liters per second of water, in circumstances that had authorized 35 , as a consequence, the water level of the lagoon had dropped considerably and freshwater aspects from the sector and bofedal (lagunillas), had dried. The company was fined, committing to mitigating the damage, but ultimately its mitigation measures ended up rotting the Bofedal, compromising more the waters of the area and promoting the massive migration of the community to the cities, because their sources of sustenance were no longer Viables.

In 2005, the governmental general direction of waters (DGA) established that this ecosystem had been dried by the underground water extraction performed by the CMCC copper operator .

The Cancosa Community took your case up to the State Defense Board (CDE) for the patrimonial commitment that these damages have for the country, without clutter, to which the CDE did not answer any response, then opted for the judicial via, placing several demands against Cerro Colorado, one who seeks compensation for losses due to environmental damage (for US 40 million), filed on April 25, 2006; and the other, by repair of environmental damage, established on April 18, 2007. In March 2008, the Community of Cancia filed a third demand in the court of Pozo Almonte, commune in which the mining site is placed, as the Company has not even answered the other demands in Iquique, but has only presented dilatory resources. Nothing indicates that this situation shows satisfactory results, unless sufficient social pressure will be generated as to require responses.

Since then, the controversies that have surrounded their operations do not They have ceased. To those already mentioned, new judicial actions are added interposed by indigenous and particular communities.

In 2014, the indigenous communities affected by the project presented two protection resources against Cerro Colorado, who proposed the construction of work protection works in the Quipisca Quebrada sector (US $ 6.8 million). According to the company, it would be a non-productive work that sought to avoid damage that would occur in rainy times on the ravine and its communities, without any productive end. However, the communities appealed to be the beginning of a greater productive work, so they requested the indigenous consultation, according to the provisions of Convention 169. However, the company argued that as it is a minor work, This did not qualify for the realization of an indigenous query.

while in parallel, the company followed the process of consultation with the same communities by the environmental impact study that would allow Give operational continuity to the deposit until 2023, whose expansion would involve an investment of more than US $ 467 million for a production of 80,000 tonnes of copper cathodes per year. Given this the communities accused that fractioning both projects would be a strategy for not making such a consultation.

On June 6, 2014, the Aymara Parca community, advised by Lorenzo Soto , it presents a resource for protection against Tarapacá's environmental assessment services by questioning the RCA delivered.

On June 26, 2014 the Regional Government of Tarapacá and the Intendant Michel Cartes reject the protection resource presented by Lorenzo Soto and the communities.

June 26, 2014 Cerro Colorado starts the defense of your project and is part as a coadjudant in the process that is processed in justice.

On the other hand, for a decade a particular that in 2007, bought 25% of the 111 thousand hectares that has the Cancosa Hacienda, also claims your rights on land, stating that the territory from where the company extracts water for its Operations would be owned by the San Isidro Indigenous Agricultural Association of Quipisca and the heirs of the family whom Luis Jara represents. The company, for its part, has responded that it is a terrain superimposed on an indigenous territory belonging to the Canosa community with which they maintain two agreements for the use of such wells. Cone respect your right as an owner and are requested permission to them and not others to intervene in the place. Finally, in 2018 before the demand filed by those affected, the court fails in favor of the legitimate owners and orders Minera Cerro Colorados Close water well used illegally.

Meanwhile, the Mamiña community has also made its claims against the mining by the use of waters. This was thus detailed in the lawsuit filed by the Water Community of Tampo de Mamiña in 2017 before the Environmental Court. These judicial processes were also accompanied by the action of the communities who have manifested against the copper for the non-compliance with the agreements agreed for the benefit of the Community.

However, the Supreme Court rejected the resource of protection submitted by the Indigenous Association Quechua Mamiña united against the Tarapacá Environmental Commission that approved the project: "Operational Continuity Cerro Colorado". The project contemplates the extension and deepening of the Rajo; the extension of the southern Botadero, from the West Boat and the Boat of Ripples of the Plant 2; the modification of the layout of the Aqueduct Lagunillas-CMCC; the modification of the CMCC-Mamiña electric line; and the construction of service infrastructure that is contemplated is relocated, namely: used landfill, used tire storage patio, storage cellar of disuse radioactive equipment and sludge pool from the truck workshop washing slab, All this in a total area of ​​378.78 hectares; cessation of the productive operations of CMCC in the mine sector and end of groundwater extraction destined for production in the Lagunillas sector. Once the operation is completed, up to 20 l / s for artificial irrigation of the Bofedal Lagunillas.

In March 2017, the company started the process of sale of Cerro Colorado EMR Capital Advisors Pty Ltd. However, by the end of 2018, BHP informed the decision to end the company's transfer agreement, because EMR capital did not meet the financing commitment within the stipulated period.

In February 2019, the Environmental Tribunal or partially annul the environmental qualification resolution to the company, suspend its operations and to carry out new environmental studies. The opinion justifies that "the climate change scenarios must be contemplated", so that the procedure for the environment and environmental permits that had been obtained and approved will be reduced at this specific point at the level of the second consolidated report of clarification, rectifications and / o Expansions (ICSARA), so BHP will have to adjust its operation to the new conditions required by the Court and will have to carry out other studies that complement the RCA. The failure against the company happened after first instance, the company presented a resource to continue operating while a first instance judgment was resolved.

Main impacts :

The Colorado Cerro operations have a strong impact on people and ecosystem around to the site. In recent years, the company has been charged by the repeated damage to the ecosystem where its operations are located and the use of water basins that supply fresh water their productive processes. In addition to degrading soil, environmental, emissions of particulate material, vulnerating the fragile Andean ecosystem. This in turn would affect traditional lifestyles and practices such as grazing and livestock that developed around the wetland, as well as agriculture that would be supplying from the aquifer system. What has been affected that a large part of the communities have emigrated to urban areas in search of better economic opportunities. At present, the communities of Cancosa and Mamiga with the support of the State, try to reactivate the local economy, based on the development of strategies to enhance ecotourism and empower the weakened agriulture. However, any effort to promote the local development of both communities will be unsuccessful if the State does not guarantee the protection of the main sources of water that supply its villages.

Keywords: Copper Mining; Water Rights; Aymara Community

Basic Data
Name of conflict:Mining company Cerro Colorado, Chile
State or province:Tamarugal Province, Tarapaca Region
Location of conflict:Well Almonte, Mamiña
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Mineral ore exploration
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Copper
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Open-pit mine Production average 120,000 ton / year Copper cathodes, obtained from a leach and electro-obtaining process at a 210 ha plant. For fiscal year 2018 the mining reached an annual production of 66,279 tonnes of fine copper. It has a workforce of 1,038 direct employees and 1,320 contractors. Currently its infrastructure is composed of a crushing system, leaching stacks, solvent extraction plants, electro-obtaining ship. In the future, the construction of a 460 MW carbon plant and a sea water desalination plant is expected.

See more
Project area:16,664.
Level of Investment for the conflictive project467,000,000.
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:300 - 1000.
Start of the conflict:1991
Company names or state enterprises:BHP Billiton (BHP) from United Kingdom
Compañia Minera Cerro Colorado Ltda.
Rio Algom Ltd from United States of America
Relevant government actors:State Defense Council
Regional Community of the Environment
Environmental assessment service
Municipality of Pozo Almonte
Ministry of energy
Mining advice.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Indigenous Community Aymara de Cancosa
Indigenous Agricultural Association San Isidro de Quipisca
Indigenous Association Quechua Mamiña United
Community of waters of the Tampo de Mamiña
Avina Foundation
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Desertification/Drought, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Soil erosion
Potential: Soil contamination, Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsThe extraction of the bojeral water for the operations of the company, ended up drying five aspects that feed it. The drought caused moral, psychosocial and patrimonial damage, according to the complaint filed by the Community against CMCC in 2005
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Other socio-economic impactsAffectations about tourism, important economic activity for the locations of the sector surrounding the operation.
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project temporarily suspended
Court Case in Progress. The Aymara Community of Cancosa is Suing BHP Billiton for Water Rights and Environmental Damage.
Proposal and development of alternatives:After the different judicial processes interposed against CMCC, the company maintains a management plan for the Bojedal Lagunillas since 2006. Which includes supplying the Bofedal from Water until the year 2100. In March 2018, according to the company the recovery of the vegetation coverage of wine species was 94%. Despite this, the operation will continue to draw water from the aquifer until 2023, which continues to assume a risk to the ecosystem of the place.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Currently (2020) several judicial processes are still open between the communities and the company; As other other projects are in evaluation by the Environmental Assessment System (SEA): "Cerro Colorado Herro Supply Project Cerro Colorado" and "Project Continuing Cerro Colorado" pending the approval of the environmental impact study.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Normativa ambiental aplicable en Chile
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[click to view]

Informe de Sustentabilidad BHP Pampa Norte, 2018.
[click to view]

Sistema de Evaluación de Impacto Ambiental. Proyectos presentados por Cerro Colorado, 2020.
[click to view]

Romero Toledo, Hugo, Videla, Angélica, & Gutiérrez, Felipe. (2017). Exploring conflicts between indigenous communities and the mining industry in Chile: the socioenvironmental transformations of the Tarapaca region an the case of Lagunillas. Estudios atacameños, (55), 231-250. Epub 06 de octubre de 2017
[click to view]

Reporte de Avance del Convenio de Cooperación entre Ministerio de Energía y Consejo Minero

BHP Pampa Norte Cerro Colorado. BHP Billiton (2019)
[click to view]

Se cae venta de Mina Cerro Colorado: BHP y EMR Capital no logran acuerdo. Portal Minero (2018)
[click to view]

Cerro Colorado. Consejo Minero (CM), 2020.
[click to view]

Observatorio de conflictos mineros en América Latina
[click to view]

Comunidad indígena de Mamiña bloqueó acceso a minera Cerro Colorado y exige mejorar caminos. Edición Cero, 2013
[click to view]

Contraloría entrega ultimátum al SEA por consulta indígena. Chile Sustentable, 2013.
[click to view]

BHP Billiton amenza la laguna y pampa lagunilla. Coordinadora por la defensa del agua y la vida
[click to view]

Tribunal falla a favor de legítimos propietarios y ordena a Minera BHP Billiton cerrar pozo de agua utilizado ilegalmente. Edición Cero (2018)
[click to view]

Comunidades indígenas logran que Tribunal Ambiental paralice mina Cerro Colorado de BHP. Diario La Tercera (2019)
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

bhpbilliton Pampa Norte Compañía Minera Cerro Colorado CMCC en Mamiña - Chile. Aula Virtual 2020 Formador Quechua Chile
[click to view]

Meta information
Last update30/07/2020
Conflict ID:756
Legal notice / Aviso legal
We use cookies for statistical purposes and to improve our services. By clicking "Accept cookies" you consent to place cookies when visiting the website. For more information, and to find out how to change the configuration of cookies, please read our cookie policy. Utilizamos cookies para realizar el análisis de la navegación de los usuarios y mejorar nuestros servicios. Al pulsar "Accept cookies" consiente dichas cookies. Puede obtener más información, o bien conocer cómo cambiar la configuración, pulsando en más información.