Barrick Rehires Industry Veteran to Rekindle Pascua-Lama Project

  • Company looking at underground ‘starter’ project in Argentina
  • Barrick previously said it would consider taking on a partner

Barrick Gold Corp., the world’s biggest gold miner, is turning to a 30-year veteran of the mining industry in a bid to kick start one of its most controversial projects.

George Bee, who worked for the Toronto-based miner for 16 years, returns to the fold this month to oversee the stalled Pascua-Lama project that straddles the Chile-Argentina border. His first task will be to advance a proposed “starter” project on the Argentine side, Barrick said in statement Thursday.

The $8.5 billion project in the Andes mountains has been shuttered since 2013, when a Chilean court accepted an injunction filed by indigenous groups over water-contamination concerns. That was followed by political opposition and further declines in gold prices that forced miners to cut spending. Now, with gold up 24 percent this year, Barrick is considering changes to the decade-old plan, including “a modest, scalable” underground project as a first phase.

Bee, who will report to Chief Operating Officer Richard Williams, was part of the Barrick team that developed the Goldstrike mine in Nevada in phases between 1988 and 1995.

“Just as the Goldstrike mine was completed in stages over time, we see significant benefits to approaching Pascua-Lama in the same way,” Barrick President Kelvin Dushnisky said in today’s statement.

Project Optimizing

He’ll work with Argentina Executive Director Juan Ordonez and the Chile team led by Sergio Fuentes and Rene Muga. The team in Chile will continue to focus on optimizing the project, while addressing legal, regulatory and permitting matters, it said.

In May, Barrick agreed to pay $140 million to shareholders who alleged the company misrepresented environmental compliance and the adequacy of its internal controls at Pascua-Lama. While it settled the suit, Barrick said those allegations are unfounded.

In a February interview, Executive Chairman John Thornton said Zijin Mining Group Co., with which Barrick created a joint venture at a mine in Papua New Guinea, may help turn Pascua-Lama into a success by spreading the financial and political risk.

Bee will also work on a development plan for the Frontera District, a 140-kilometer (87 miles) stretch on the El Indio belt controlled by Barrick.

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