A water fight in Chile's Atacama raises questions over lithium mining
October 19, 2018 9:47 AM   Subscribe

Reuters reports on the world’s two biggest lithium producers' plans to increase output by drawing more brine from beneath Chile's Atacama desert, the world’s driest, and the attendant environmental impact. The story includes an accompanying interactive infographic version and photo essay. The industry's impact in the region has also caught the eye of photographer Edward Burtynsky, with images of lithium brine operations in the Atacama forming part of the work in his collaboration with Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier, The Anthropocene Project.
posted by mandolin conspiracy (6 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
This seems less of an environmental issue and more of a milkshake battle between miners.
posted by zeoslap at 10:39 AM on October 19, 2018

This seems less of an environmental issue and more of a milkshake battle between miners.

I got that impression too until this bit:
The spat between Albemarle and SQM can be traced back to 2013, when government inspectors arrived at SQM’s installations and found something amiss.

Native Algarrobo trees - hardy desert hardwoods that survive by sending shoots deep into underground aquifers - were shedding their leaves and dying.

The 23 dead trees represented one-third of those SQM had committed to monitor. Like canaries in a coal mine, the health of the trees was meant to act as an early warning signal of water problems.
Those trees are dependent on the brine at least. It sounds like there isn't a sustainable way to mine the brine since it's accumulated over such a long period of time, but overdrawing when there are efficiencies to be developed in lithium extraction or its use in battery manufacturing seems a bit shortsighted.
posted by Mister Cheese at 11:01 AM on October 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

The only problem with Burtynksky is that he makes pollution and environmental destruction look so beautiful that I almost want people to do more of it just so that he can take pictures of it.
posted by clawsoon at 12:53 PM on October 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Just FYI, SQM is owned by Pinochet's son in law who acquired a previously state owned resource for pennies during his father in-law's regime.
posted by signal at 9:43 AM on October 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Meet Chemicals Billionaire Julio Ponce Lerou, Former Son-In-Law Of Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet:

In the late 1980s, when it was clear that Pinochet's days as Chile's leader were numbered, his government ramped up privatization efforts, turning many state-owned companies private and benefiting many of the general's allies. One of the companies on the privatization list was Sociedad de Química y Minera de Chile, or, as it is commonly known in Chile, Soquimich. (The company's English name: Chemical and Mining Society of Chile.)
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:55 AM on October 22, 2018

From that Forbes profile:

Ponce Lerou headed up a group of investors that bought up Soquimich shares at what Chilean investigators would later call bargain basement rates. Today, Ponce Lerou is chairman of Soquimich's board and owns a total of 84.1 million shares, or nearly 32% of SQM's total shares, according to SEC filings. That stake is shared with unnamed "related persons", according to SEC filings; FORBES is attributing 10% of the stake to these related persons and 90% to Ponce Lerou, giving him a net worth of $3.3 billion.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:59 AM on October 22, 2018

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