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Lithium exploitation in the Salar de Oroz-Cauchari, Argentina


In 2019, official reports identified lithium projects in 23 northern salaries of the country. These projects are concentrated in the provinces of Salta, Catamarca and Jujuy. In 2019, two projects were identified in production stage (the Phoenix project in the Salar of the Dead Man, Catamarca and the OroRoz project in Jujuy), as well as a project under construction (the Project Cauchari Olaroz, Jujuy) and around 16 projects In feasibility and advanced exploration stage, among which the Cauchari project was included, in Jujuy [1].

In this case, the mobilization that It is generating the lithium / potassium extractive pressure in the Salaries Olaroz and Cauchari, also called Salar Olaroz-Cauchari, located in the Department of Susques (Jujuy) at an average height of 3,950 meters above sea level. This conflict is linked, not only by the connection between the salaries and the projects in question but by the concern of several of the indigenous communities of the area before social impacts (lack of prior consultation) and environmental (shortage of water) that already They are perceived since the productive mine started.

The conflicting projects in question are: the project (in expansion) OLAROZ, owned by the company SALES DE JUJUY, National subsidiary of Orocobre and its alliance with Toyota and the company JEMSE (of the Government of Jujuy). And, the Cauchari-Ororoz project, in advanced construction stage owned by the company ExAr, National Filial of Lithium Americas Corp, Jiangxi Ganfeng and Jemse (Jujuy Government) [1].

There are lithium exploration concessions on a surface of more than 100,000 ha in the olroz-cauchari salt and there are requests in administrative process for the same extension. The concessioned surfaces are overlap in part with the Community lands delivered by the same province between the years 2003 and 2008 to different Aboriginal Atacamean communities that live in the vicinity of Salar and with the Olroz-Cauchari Provincial Reserve (from 540,300 ha) that was created In 1981 for the conservation of Vicuña with Salar in its center (Göbel 2013: 139).

Producers AgroPastoRiles Attacks of various communities of the Department of Susques (Province of Jujuy) have been denouncing to the exar mining companies and salts of Jujuy for having violated the right to free consultation, previous and informed in the more than ten originating communities that inhabit the territory. These complainant producers are grouped into the collective the apachet that also denounces numerous irregularities and impacts of lithium-mining farms and explorations in the ecosystems of the Salaries of OroLoz and Cauchari, irregularities and cooptation of illegitimate consultation processes with which companies They validated their environmental impact studies, where only a minority sector favorable to companies participated and managed by the Provincial Government, excluding the process to the vast majority of the population that inhabits the Department of Susques.

In 2018, the apachet demanded the arrest of the "OLAROZ" lithium projects of salts of Jujuy and "Caucharí-Ororoz" of Minera Exar-SQM for the lack of studies by the provincial government and NATIONAL ON THE SALAR OF SALAR OF OLAROZ-CANUBARÍ, and suspend these mining activities until scientifically determines that water levels will not fall [1].

The producers attaches of this collective (which reach more than 120 members) are concerned about the indiscriminate water consumption that is using lithium mining machines, which exceeds 2 million liters per day according to Background that the companies themselves delivered to the communities, which is causing worrisome impacts on local ecosystems as is the increase in freshwater shortage, wetland drying, bofedales and vegas, as well as the increased deaths of the deaths of High Animals who graze the communities. Taking into account that the Department of Susques is located in full Puna that constitutes one of the areas of greatest aridity where water is scarce and originates in fragile pudding ecosystems from which the life of the people attaches and kollas depend vitally. that since ancestral times inhabit the territory.

Various investigations highlight as the Environmental Impact Study (EIA) of the Cauchari-Ororoz Project of Lithium Americas considered that the extraction of brine from pumping wells has a "severe impact" (Ausenco vector 2011: IV-26). This rating It is based on the cumulative, permanent and irreversible nature of the extraction of brine because the "reservoir will progressively decrease" and "extraction will not allow the return to the original conditions." Meanwhile "it is estimated that brine levels will be recovered at a very long term (geological time)." The extraction of groundwater for processing is also considered a severe impact considered that "the resource will not be available for other anthropic activities, in addition to the consequent modification of the existing hydrological equilibrium." Since 68% of the recharge of aquifers is consumed, the extraction of groundwater has a "degree of incidence [of] very high intensity." Finally "is considered a medium-term recoverability of the initial conditions" (Ausenco vector 2011: IV-annex). The conclusion of the study regarding the impact on waters is that "the effects of water extraction and brine causes depression of static levels, representing a risk for both water quality and resource availability "(Ausenco vector 2011: IV-26). (Quoted in Anlauf, 2015).

The beginning of the project

Unlike the case of large salt, in Olroz-Cauchari, the indigenous communities were legally recognized in the years 2000 and 2001, And between the years 2003 and 2008 they managed to provide the provincial state to give them the titles of Community land. The Town Association Atacama was created with transprovincial and transnational links. When in 2009, lithium exploration projects were beginning to be installed in the Salar. de Ároz-Cauchari mining companies They quickly developed a very elaborate strategy, legitimized as corporate social responsibility, of local intervention with various support and flexible aid measures, with which they earned the trust of many local settlers. They financed football rituals and tournaments, donated clothing, school supplies and construction materials for the Community Center and offered free transportation services. With its presence in the communities, companies began to cover the historical vacuum of the absence of the State in this peripheral region. The opposition to mining projects could not be effectively channeled from the beginning due to lack of economic means and by the absence of an articulation with national and international environmental rights support groups. Mining companies managed to obtain the approval of their exploration projects in the assemblies of indigenous communities in exchange for a very low annual reward to communities. This was not based on a participatory process with sufficient information and discussions of developmental alternatives. The absence of the State as a guarantor of compliance with the rights of communities and the corresponding legal process must also be highlighted. In addition, companies negotiated agreements with each community leader separately and not with the People Atacama Association, which agglutinates the different communities of the Department of Susques. Thus they could divide the communities, so they did not have to face a consensual strategy of them (Gobel, 2013).

Subsequently, the apachet collective emerged from People Atakama, who fights for territorial self-determination. The collective denounces the irregularities of impact studies, raises concern about the consumption of water and demand actual participation in decisions. In the absence of governmental responses, it has submitted a lawsuit for the impacts of lithium mining.

The families that make up the apachet collective were victims of the threats and harassment in 2012, when one of them received a beating and ended up in the hospital with different blows in the body. It was Hipólito Guzmán, brother of Carlos Guzmán, one of the referents of this group around which they had been organized to resist the exploitation of lithium in the area. Hipólito was also part of the Assembly and Rural Commissioner of Susques. Shortly before the attack, he had already denounced threats and verbal aggressions for his anti-mining position. "The people of the company and part of the community pointed out: they said that we were rebels, we did not let them work. Even Governor Gerardo Morales came to say that those who were against the lithium had to stop using cell phones "- says Carlos. "We ask ourselves, then all those who are in favor of mining are going to stop drinking water?" In the case I intervened the Osinaga Galcaler Turn Prosecutor's Office 7, no advances were recorded on the true responsible for aggression [2].

Violence Continue, too, in the courts of justice. It is what happened to Reinaldo Casimiro, who lives about two kilometers from the salar of Cauchari exploited, among others, by the exar mining. Since the company installed its lithium plant in the area, began to see how its flames, their goats, their donkeys and their sheep thinn at a striking rhythm. They were not a problem of animals, but about their environment: they were running out of pasture to eat. Casimiro faced the mining and the secretariat of Provincial Water Resources, which is the one that gives the permits, through a preventive action. Shortly afterwards she realized a worrisome detail: the representative of justice and the defender of the interests of the company were a woman and husband. The case is in charge of Dr. María Laura Flores, judge of first instance of Jujuy's environmental court. Her husband is the lawyer Fernando Eleit, vowel of the Jujuy mining chamber, member of Lithium Corp and partner in a study that advises mining projects in the Argentine Northwest [2].

D Corporate and State Iscosses to advance projects and paint them from green:

We note that both the government and the companies that drive both projects use discourses plagued by euphemisms Like "Green" mining, "Sustainable", "Responsible" of lithium on each occasion that is possible to legitimize the boost of projects in Salar, attract investment from ethical investors and justify them within the framework of the energy transition towards Renewable energies.

At the Government level, the Ministry Secretariat dependent on the Ministry of Productive Development, Highlight the country as part of the lithium triangle, impeller of green economy and supplier of materials Necessary for the boom of electromavility [3]. At the provincial level, the Ministry Secretary of the Province of Jujuy stands out lithium as one of the essential materials for the energy transition, adding that this material constitutes one of the "energy alternatives for the care of the environment" [4].

On the other hand, during the world's largest mining convention Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada ( PDAC) (Association of Prospectors and Developers of Canada, in Spanish) carried out every year in Toronto, Canada, representatives of the National Government and Governors of several Argentine provinces, among them that of Jujuy, highlighted the geological mining of Argentina and the Opportunities for international mining companies in the country. Likewise, mining painted in the country as an inclusive, sustainable and green activity that improves the life of the population. The PDAC is an "annual conference where mining companies around the world converge to do business and ensure that they can continue to operate in a way in which they can continue prioritizing profits regardless of costs" that their operations generate for communities: costs environmental, social and / or human rights [5].

using the same mining corporate discourses, the Argentine delegation highlighted lithium as a vital metal to face " New challenges of the green industrial revolution "[6].

Sa Lar de Ároz: speeches CORPORATE GREEN WASHING

In Toyota Group Corporate Mining Spaces [7], Jemse and Orocobre try to consolidate as mining companies that are in a perfect position to capitalize on the demand for lithium. Jujuy Energy and Mining State Society (J.E.M.S.E) For example, attempts to capitalize on the infrastructures of the province to make investment project more attractive, pointing out that "Province of Jujuy presents an interesting model for lithium investment, since it is a mining province par excellence ... It has high voltage lines close to the salar, accesses by paved national routes "[8]. Orococre tries to capitalize on the transition to electromobility in order to attract investors interested in investing in "green" projects by "recognizing that climate is changing and that there are risks and opportunities that are emerging ..." [9]. "

Olroz- Caucharí: Corporate green washing speeches

The Canadian company Lithium Americas also tries to capitalize the decarbonization in the context of the energy transition and promotes its lithium projects emphasizing that "batteries Lithium are essential for a future energy of clean energy that is based on the expansion of carbon free renewable energy and emission electric vehicles. " [10]. According to the Executive President of Lithium Americas, Jon Evans, "the number one objective of the lithium is to address climate change. You can not address climate change without batteries "[11].

Also, in your desire to show a friendly and respectful face with the environment in front of your investors Ethics, the company incorporated into its operations environmental, social and governance factors (ASG) [12]. While some consider ASG factors as a potentially useful tool in favor of social justice and to combat climate change, others are concerned that ASG factors are deceiving investors: "In many cases they cynically give them a 'new Green name ', without presenting perceptible changes in the background of its operations or on their strategies, their purpose is simply marketing "[13].

It should be noted that on September 30, 2021, five lithium mining companies who represent more than half of world lithium production, including Ganfeng Lithium Co., Ltd and Orocobre Ltd They formed the International Lithium Association (ILIA). Both companies agree that this association will promote the "sustainable supply" "reliable" and "lithium responsible" necessary for the "transition to carbon low economies" [14].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Lithium exploitation in the Salar de Oroz-Cauchari, Argentina
State or province:Jujuy.
Location of conflict:Susques
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional 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
Mineral processing
Specific commodities:Lithium
Potassium, borono.

Project Details and Actors

Project details

There are 3 lithium projects between the salaries of Ororoz and Cauchari in different phases of advances (operation, construction and advanced economic evaluation):

1. Salar Ároz: Orocobre S.A, Toyota Tsusho, Jemse.

In 2010, the Australian mining company Orocobre, Toyota Tsusho (Japan) and Jemse (Province of Jujuy) began a joint venture for the Salar de Ororoz project, and thus began the first lithium extraction project in Argentina since 1997. The procedure of The EIA began in 2010 when the company presented the first environmental impact report, but due to the additional requirements of UGAMP and amendments to the licensing procedure, the project was just approved in 2012. In 2015, the plant began to work and in 2016 the production was 11,485 tons of LCE (prices began below USD 6000 / tonne at the beginning of the financial year and at the end of 2016 there were more than duplicated this amount). In 2018, Orocobre announced the progress of stage 2 of expansion of the olroz lithium plant, in order to increase the capacity of lithium carbonate production at 25,000 tons per year (reaching a total of 42,500 tons per year), as well as From 17,500 tonnes per year announced previously (the average price in the quarter from October to December 2018 was US $ 10,587 per ton). (Orocobre, 2018a) [15].

This new phase of development implies an investment of US $ 291 million, of which an agreement was recently closed with the Mizuho Bank Ltd to ensure US $ 180 million. With this extension it will be the lithium mine with greater capacity in Argentina [16].

2. Salar Cauchari-Olroz (Lithium American-GFL).

The plant located in the Salar de Ororoz-Cauchari, located 300 kilometers west of San Salvador de Jujuy, will have a total of 20 pools totaling 1,200 hectares, according to Minera Exar. The mine seeks to extract lithium in brine in a conventional manner. It plans to pierce a total of 40 brine production wells in the mine [17].

According to the company's studies. The project has proven reserves of 276.2 thousand tons of equivalent lithium carbonate (LCE) and probable of 1,675 million tons of LCE. It is estimated that the Cauchari-Ororoz mine contains 1,100 million cubic meters of brine reserves with a Law of 607 mg / L lithium. It is estimated that the project contains 682,920t lithium metal and 3.6 million tons of equivalent lithium carbonate (LCE) in measured resources.

To produce 20,000 t of lithium carbonate, the Canadian Lithium Americas proposes extract 400 l / s brine and 60-80 l / s freshwater (Lithiumamericas 2011) [18].

In 2016, the Canadian company Lithium Americas Corp. (LAC) and the Chilean Chemical Society and Minera company of Chile S.A. (SQM) agreed to participate in a joint venture of 50/50 for the ExAr Minera Project. JEMSE also joined the project with a property share of 8.5%. SQM has been involved in scandals regarding investigations in Chile on tax evasion, bribes and financing of political parties during 2016-2017. In the media, this whole situation was known as the SQM34 scandal.

According to the technical report or 43-101 of LAC35, the last EIA for exploration was presented to the provincial government in February 2017 and according to interviews conducted by the Farn [19], it was approved in August 2017.

The project initially requested mining concessions for exploration at 60,712 ha, of which 28,717 ha have been granted to date. The concessions are adjacent and cover most of the salar Cauchari and a portion of Salar Olaroz. Companies conducted a feasibility study in September 2019 to increase the initial production capacity of 25,000 TPA to 40,000 tPA lithium carbonate [20].

In May 2021, the Minera Lithium Americas, together with its partner Ganfeng, announced that they approved the phase 2 expansion of its lithium-oroz lithium project to increase the project capacity of 40 to 60 thousand tons per year. It is expected that this phase of the Caucharí-OroLoz lithium project begins its execution in the year 2025. Through a press release, the President of Lithium Americas, George Ireland, expressed his enthusiasm regarding the project. "Caucharí-Olaroz is on the way to becoming the new greatest lithium brine operation of the last 20 years," he said [21].

GANMEG progressive investment in the project- in January 2017: Ganfeng acquires a 19.9% ​​stake in Lithium Americas as part of a strategic investment in the Caucharí-Ororoz lithium project in Argentina. The following years was expanding its percentage in the project by increasing in February 2020 its property to 51% through the subscription of new exar mining actions in exchange for a cash payment of £ 12.4 million (US $ 16 million). The remaining participation of 49% in the project was then left in the hands of Lithium Americas [17] [20] [22].

3. Cauchari: Advantage Lithium Corp. and Orocobre S.A

The Cauchari, Lithium Project (Lithium Carbonate, Li2CO3), Potassium (Potassium Chloride, KCL) and Boro is in Advanced Economic Evaluation. According to Argentina's Ministry Secretariat, it has a projected capacity of 20,000 tons per year of LCE (quality batteries) [1].

Project area:1,200.
Level of Investment for the conflictive project641,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:3,800.
Company names or state enterprises:Toyota Tsusho Corporation (Toyota) from Japan
Minera Exar
Ganfeng Lithium Co. (GFL) from China - Propietaria del 37,5 % de Minera Exar
Mitsubishi Corp. from Japan - accionista
Sales de Jujuy S.A. from Argentina - Compañía operadora local
Orocobre from Australia
Jujuy Energía y Minería Sociedad del Estado Company (JEMSE) from Argentina
Lithium Americas from Canada - Propietaria del 62,5% de Exar
SQM from Chile - Tuvo parte de Exar y la vendió a Ganfeng
Relevant government actors:Government of the Province of Jujuy.
Jujuy Energy and Mining State Society (JEMSE), mining company of the Provincial Government of Jujuy.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Collective Apacheta (Susques),
Farn (Environment Foundation and Natural Resources)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Arguments for the rights of mother nature


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Desertification/Drought
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
Potential: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsDivision of indigenous communities (in favor and against the project)


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Court decision (undecided)
Strengthening of participation
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Indigenous communities of resorts are divided in favor and against lithium projects. A collective of resistance has been formed but there are also members of the communities that work for companies. Lithium projects advance and there are mining and technology companies interested in exploiting lithium in these salaries.

Sources & Materials

[1] Argentina Proyectos Avanzados de Litio en Salares. Subsecretaria de Desarrollo Minero. Documento publicado en junio de 2019.

[2]Oro blanco: la violenta disputa por el agua en Argentina. Escrito por Emiliano Gullo y Ezequiel Fernández Bravo. Publicado en Diálogo Chino el 20 de mayo de 2020.

[3] South America's Lithium Triangle and the Future of the Green Economy. Ministerio de Desarrollo Productivo de Argentina. Publicado en enero de 2020.

[4] En el nombre del litio - Calma Cine y Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN) (2021)

[5] Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (2021). Digging into mining industry trends: reflecting on PDAC 2021

[6] MiningWath Canada (2021).” PDAC 2021” (documento no publicado)

[7] Paving new roads for Next-generation Automobiles with Stable Supplies of Lithium. What is Toyota Tsusho?. Toyota Tsusho

[8] Minería. JEMSE.

[9] 2020 Sustainability Report. Publicado por Orocobre en octubre de 2020.

[10] Lithium for a Clean Future. Lithium Americas.

[11] Lithium Americas CEO on his outlook for US lithium production.

[12] 2019 Sustainability Report. Lithium Americas. Publicado en noviembre de 2019.

[13] Sustainable finance is rife with greenwash. Time for more disclosure. Publicado el 22 de mayo de 2021.

[14] International Lithium Association (ILiA) established to be the voice of the global lithium industry for the ‘lithium century’. Publicado en Newpress el 30 de septiembre de 2021.

[15] Extracción de litio en Argentina: un estudio de caso sobre los impactos sociales y ambientales.

[16] Con una inversión de US$295 millones, Sales de Jujuy inició la fase de ampliación de Olaroz . Panorama Minero.

[17] Cauchari-Olaroz Lithium Project, Jujuy province, Argentina. Publicado por Energy Business.

[18] Cauchari-Olaroz. Lithium Americas.

[19] Extracción de litio en Argentina: un estudio de caso sobre los impactos sociales y ambientales. Página 21. Gómez L., Höglund Hellgren, Marchegiani P. FARN

[20] NI 43 – 101 TECHNICAL REPORT Updated Feasibility Study and Mineral Reserve Estimation to Support 40,000 tpa Lithium Carbonate

[21] Proyecto de litio Caucharí-Olaroz fase 2 iniciaría a mediados de 2022. Publicado por Tiempo Minero el 31 de mayo de 2021.

[22] Cronología del negocio del litio de Ganfeng. Publicado por Bnamericas el 7 de mayo de 2021.


Nació otra mixta del litio. Mining Press. 16/11/12

Web Orocobre. Detalle del proyecto e inversionistas

Las comunidades originarias frente a la extracción de litio. La Izquierda Diario, 3/02/2018

Destacan que el proyecto de litio será el más grande del mundo. telam, 14/11/18

Minera EXAR inició producción de litio en proyecto Cauchari Olaroz. Minería Pan-Americana. 15/11/18

SQM se retira de Cauchari-Olaroz: conforman unión entre Lithium Americas y Ganfeng Lithium. El inversor energético minero

La fiebre del "oro blanco": ¿fortuna o infortunio para Argentina?. Escrito por Linda Pressly. BBC News. 20 de octubre de 2019.

Denuncian inacción del gobierno ante impacto ambiental minero en Susques. Jujuy al momento, 5/11/2013

Conflicto Minero: Productores atacamas de Susques denuncian impactos por explotaciones de litio. OCMAL.

Irremediable desenlace: productores de Susques denuncian judicialmente la explotación de litio en Jujuy. Prensa Jujuy, 19/11/2014.

Si nos terminan el agua en Susques nos morimos todos. La Gaceta, 5/11/2013

La producción de Olaroz-Cauchari será la más importante del país. Vía Jujuy, 14/11/18
La producción de Olaroz-Cauchari será la más importante del país

Litio: Los mitos del oro blanco. Escrito por Vanina Lombardi. Universidad Nacional de San Martín.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Científicos Industria Argentina - Litio: Impacto ambiental (2 de 2) - 24-05-14. TV Pública Argentina. Viajamos a la provincia de Jujuy para conocer a un equipo de biólogos en el salar de Olaroz que realizan un estudio de impacto ambiental en conjunto con una empresa que explotará litio.

Científicos Industria Argentina - Litio: Impacto ambiental (1 de 2) - 24-05-14. TV Pública Argentina. Viajamos a la provincia de Jujuy para conocer a un equipo de biólogos en el salar de Olaroz que realizan un estudio de impacto ambiental en conjunto con una empresa que explotará litio.

Orocobre Limited - 360º Video Tour of Olaroz Lithium Facility

Meta information

Last update23/11/2021
Conflict ID:3963



Inversores de salar de Olaroz


Imagen de proyecto de litio en salar de Olaroz