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Gold Fields Chilean mine project hits ‘severe weather’ delay, released chinchillas doing fine

Gold Fields Chilean mine project hits ‘severe weather’ delay, released chinchillas doing fine
Gold Fields in late 2020 launched an operation to relocate a colony of about 25 highly endangered chinchillas, a species almost hunted to extinction for its highly coveted fur. (Photo: Courtesy of Luis Ortega)

The $940-million Salares Norte project in the Chilean Andes has hit a fresh delay because of “severe weather”, highlighting the risks of building a mine at such latitudes and altitudes. But the surviving chinchillas of its wildlife relocation debacle are still doing just fine. 

Gold Fields said in an operational update for the third quarter (Q3) that its construction activities at Salares Norte were again affected by Covid, with “severe weather conditions that flowed over from the second quarter”. The project lies between 4,200 and 4,900 metres above sea level, and so weather is clearly a risk at such altitudes. 

The weather woes included “various snow and white wind events in July and high winds for the remainder of the quarter”. A “white wind event” would basically be a blizzard. 

Still, the project has not been blown completely off course and while there may be a three-month delay from original guidance, the mine is expected to pour its first gold by the middle of 2023 at the latest.

Gold Fields flagged in August that the project could now cost up to $940-million (R17.23-billion) from an original estimate of $860-million. Such cost increases are not unusual in large mining projects, especially those being carried out in remote areas in arduous terrain. 

The project has had other issues, notably the distraction posed by a colony of endangered chinchillas that the company has been trying to relocate – part of its environmental obligations. The relocation was stopped after two of the endangered rodents that were captured died, but two others were successfully moved to new habitats nearby. 

The relocation of the chinchillas remains on hold until further notice from the authorities, but the two surviving chinchillas that have already been relocated are being monitored, Gold Fields said in its update. Adapted to such a hostile environment, it seems the pair survived the severe weather. DM/BM

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