12 February 2019
Cuajone mine in Peru: reports of landslide damage, and a fatality, caused heavy rain
Cuajone mine in Peru is a giant mine and smelter located at an elevation of 3,400 metres in the Andes. The mine, which uses open pit excavation to extract copper ore from an enormous deposit, is owned by Southern Copper. The Google Earth image below gives an idea of the scale of the mine:-
This area of Peru has suffered unusual, very heavy, rainfall in the last few days. At least 10 people have been killed in various incidents, with mudslides and rockfalls being widely reported. Southern Copper has reported that production at Cuajone mine has been reduced for three to five days as a result of damage inflicted upon its infrastructure by the heavy rains. It is reported that a worker has been killed by a mudslide, reportedly in a ravine.
Whilst the picture is uncertain, there are various reports about fears that there has been a tailings failure at Cuajone mine. The basis of these reports appears to be observed contamination of the river downstream of Cuajone mine. This report is from CNBC:-
“Peru’s environmental regulator OEFA has been investigating a potential tailings spill at Southern Copper’s Cuajone mine, after being alerted by local residents of a “greenish solution” that started streaming into a nearby river.”
Whilst Southern Copper denies that there has been a tailings spill, this event is being taken sufficiently seriously that OEFA have a statement on their website confirming that it is being investigated. At present this does not appear to be a tailings dam failure, and there is no obvious signs of this type of event on the satellite imagery of the last few days. However, these reports of landslides at Cuajone mine are likely to raise concerns about the management of tailings at large mine sites, and once again reiterates the problems that the mining industry is facing with safe slope management.
Meanwhile, there has been yet another mining related landslide in the Hpakant area of Myanmar, this time killing six people. This is the latest of the long and desperate recent history of jade mining landslides in Kachin state. The death toll in 2019 is already at least ten people, this will inevitably increase substantially in the months ahead.