Principal applicable environmental laws

What are the principal environmental laws applicable to the mining industry? What are the principal regulatory bodies that administer those laws?

The main environmental laws in the country are Law No. 19,300 (the Environmental Framework Law), Law No. 20,417, which created the Ministry for the Environment, the Service of Environmental Assessment and the Superintendency of the Environment and Law No. 20,551 (Regulating Mines and Installations Closure).

This regulatory structure is set on a nationwide basis, with few exceptions to the procedure, and forces all provinces to follow the same process once they have received environmental approval applications. The exceptions are limited and the process is designed to incorporate any local or special features of the location where the project is located. Additionally, the information regarding these special features is generally public and the relevant agencies are holders of such information.

The main agencies overseeing environmental issues are the Ministry of the Environment, the Superintendency of the Environment and the Environment Assessment Service. Also, regarding mining, Sernageomin plays a relevant part in every aspect of the project and in the planning and approval of the mine closure procedure.

Environmental review and permitting process

What is the environmental review and permitting process for a mining project? How long does it normally take to obtain the necessary permits?

Mining projects are expressly mentioned as one of the activities subject to the Environmental Impact Assessment Service. This service requires the project to submit either an environmental impact declaration or an environmental impact study. The difference between the necessity of the submission of either of these documents is reliant on the environmental concerns of the project and the specific criteria to determinate it and, therefore, the relevant law and regulation. Generally speaking, the declaration is needed for minor projects where the potential harm to the environment is limited, whereas the study focuses on major and more environmentally perilous activities.

In consideration of the process, the authorities, once receiving the required documentation, have 120 days to deliver a decision on the application. If, after this period, there is no official response, there is a legal presumption that the project is authorised. However, there are several deferrals to this term and usually the final authorisation takes between four and 12 months.

Once the operations are authorised, the Environmental Assessment Service will produce a global environmental permit certifying that the project complies with the environmental requirements.

Closure and remediation process

What is the closure and remediation process for a mining project? What performance bonds, guarantees and other financial assurances are required?

Law No. 20,551 sets the procedure and measures the mining companies must perform regarding mine closure. The core idea behind this legislation is that the mine closure is an integral part of the operation of the project and it must be considered and implemented progressively through its exploitation. It also implements the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

As such, the mining company must establish a guarantee up to the value of the implementation of all the closure and post-closure measures previewed in the closure plan. The amount of this guarantee is determined considering the cost of remediation and closure and post-closure measures. The specific time for the submission of this guarantee is set following the rules regarding the assumed life of the deposit, taking into consideration the estimated life of the extraction operation.

The relevant authority for this procedure is Sernageomin

Restrictions on building tailings or waste dams

What are the restrictions for building tailings or waste dams?

Supreme Decree No. 248 from 2007 for the ‘Approval, Design, Construction, Operation and Closure of Tailings Dams’ establishes technical requirements and safeguards for those facilities. All the specific measures regarding environmental impacts and safety mechanisms for communities are determined case by case by the environmental authority and the National Service of Mining and Geology, depending on the exact location of the dam and the level of risks that its construction presents.