The minor offense is the extraction, between October 2019 and September 2020, an average annual flow 452 litres/second (or more) of brine from salt flats. This is in excess of the limit of 442 L/second set out in environmental resolution No. 21/2016.
The serious offence refers to a US company that does not follow the regulations in the Aquifer Alert Sectors Early Warning Plan.
According to the Superintendence, the incident relating to the serious offence occurred in March 2021. Albemarle did not notify the SMA that it had activated its Early Warning Plan, and failed to immediately reduce brine extract from the Atacama Salt Flat for the February-March 2020 period.
The charges are based upon environmental inspections that were performed by officials of the SMA and experts from National Geology and Mining Service and the Agricultural and Livestock Service. According to the statement, these inspections began in 2018 at facilities associated with the lithium chloride plant project.
The communiqu mentions that Superintendence personnel also compiled historical records relating to water usage, which Albemarle presented in its environmental monitoring reports.
These charges are based upon information provided by the company and support the actions of the SMA in this territory. Cristbal de La Maza, Superintendent of Environment, stated in the statement. Lets not forget that in addition to Albemarle, another three mining companies operate in this area – Zaldvar (CMZ), Escondida (MEL) and Soquimich (SQM). Their activities could directly affect ecosystems or communities and they have all been penalized to date for environmental violations.
Albemarle has a period of 10 business days from the time the charges were filed to prepare a compliance plan, and a period of 15 business days for appeal.
Albemarle takes lithium-rich brine below the Atacama salt plain and places it in open-air pools at the Salar plant. There, it reaches a concentration 6% by solar evaporation. The company then turns the distilled brines into lithium carbonate and lithium chlorineide at its La Negra chemical facility near Antofagasta in northern Chile.
La Negra produces 44,000 tonnes per year of battery-grade lithium carbate. It is currently expanding to a third phase, which will increase its production to more than 80,000 tons annually.