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Court Halts New Mining Permits in Argentina’s Key Lithium Region

A local court in Argentina has suspended new lithium mining permits in the Catamarca province in the northwest, home to many lithium projects, due to environmental concerns, the court ruling seen by Reuters showed.

The ruling affects the issuance of new mining permits for the key battery metal, but is not expected to impact current lithium production in Catamarca, industry sources told Reuters.  

The ruling was handed after an environmental complaint was filed in 2021 by a chief of the Atacameños Native Community, alleging that mining projects were authorized without proper consultation and environmental impact assessments. The plaintiffs also say that mining operations in Catamarca have restricted water supply to the local communities because of the use of “huge quantities of fresh and salt water.” A local river has dried up as a result, they add.

In the ruling seen by Reuters, the court ordered the local government in Catamarca to “refrain from granting new permits/authorizations” for mining operations in the area of Los Patos River - Salar del Hombre Muerto “until the new environmental impact study is complete.”   

The province of Catamarca is now reviewing the ruling, a source at the local mining ministry told Reuters.

Argentina is a large lithium producer as it is located in the so-called Lithium Triangle—a lithium-rich region of the Andes, encompassed by the borders of Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. 

Argentina has seen a boom in lithium production in recent years and it could even surpass its neighbor Chile as the top lithium producer in South America by 2030, some analysts believe.

Last year, Argentina’s lithium production jumped by 46% compared to 2022, to a record-high of 9,600 metric tons.

The court ruling, however, could delay some plans for lithium mining in Catamarca.

Earlier this year, India signed an agreement with the state-owned enterprise of Catamarca province for a lithium exploration and mining project in the Argentinian province.

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By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com

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