Communities Demand Transparency in the Approval of Barrick Gold's Dominican Republic Mine Expansion

MiningWatch Canada — Earthworks

Impacted communities and civil society organizations in the Dominican Republic condemn the lack of transparency in the approval of an environmental license for the expansion of Barrick Gold’s Pueblo Viejo mine. On May 23, the Diario Libre newspaper reported the Ministry of the Environment approved a necessary environmental license for Barrick Gold to build a second tailings dam at the mine site which would extend the mine’s life by at least 20 years. 

The timing of the announcement and the closed-door nature of the process has alarmed local communities and international organizations, who have been repeatedly denied access to the project’s Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA). Communities and organizations are demanding that the Government immediately release the ESIA for the expansion project. They also reinforce their calls for immediate relocations for the six communities downstream from the current tailings dam at the mine and remedy for environmental and health impacts in surrounding areas. 

“There hasn’t been any transparency with the communities during this process," said Pedro Guzmán from the Comite Nuevo Renacer, a collective of six communities impacted by Barrick’s current operations. "The documents should be public and the communities should have access to all of them to have clarity around what is going on where we live."

The expansion would include a second mine waste storage facility, known as a tailings dam, in addition to the 52 million cubic meters of waste already stored at the mine. Article 42 of the Dominican General Law on the Environment and Natural Resources (64-00) states that environmental and social impact assessments will be public documents, subject to discussion. In recent years, both Barrick and the government have faced strong criticism for a lack of clarity around the project and minimal engagement with communities. 

“We have been requesting information on Barrick Gold’s expansion project since last year, including the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment and the pre-feasibility studies," said Fernando Peña of the Espacio Nacional por la Transparencia de La Industria Extractiva, a coalition of civil society organizations monitoring extractive industries in the Dominican Republic and member of the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative. "We never received any relevant documents. The government and the company should rectify this lack of transparency and immediately make the ESIA and environmental license public."

In March of 2023, Barrick released a Technical Report on the Pueblo Viejo mine in advance of their annual shareholder meeting, stating the ESIA had been “prepared and submitted to the Ministry of Environment in October 2022.” This report was the first clear indication of the location, size and specifications of the tailings dam in the public record, despite repeated requests from communities for information. It claims the new tailings dam would be “one of the largest earth core rockfill dams in the world.” 

The report also identifies the need to resettle seven communities, without specifying which communities, as part of the operation and expansion of the new tailings storage facility. It is evident that Barrick has not provided impacted communities with important information that would allow them to make informed decisions and provide meaningful input in a project that will clearly have a severe impact on their livelihoods and future generations. 

The Government of Canada expects Canadian companies operating abroad to abide by all relevant laws and to adopt internationally recognized best practices and internationally respected guidelines on Responsible Business Conduct. Barrick in its most recent sustainability report highlights its commitment to respect human rights informed by the expectations by the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and other standards such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC) Environmental & Social Performance Standard. 

Both the OECD Guidelines and the IFC Standard stress the importance of providing adequate and timely information on the potential environmental and social impacts of the company’s activities, as well as ensuring meaningful community engagement through consultations with local communities. 

“Barrick’s expansion plans for its Pueblo Viejo mine will have life-altering impacts on surrounding communities," said Diana Martin from MiningWatch Canada. "Canada expects its companies to carry out meaningful stakeholder engagement — and that means communities need access to information in a manner that is timely, inclusive, and transparent."