Chile: El Tatio to be declared natural monument excluding geothermal exploration

Alexander Richter 28 Jan 2010

Chile's senate has approved a measure to declare the geysers at El Tatio natural monuments in order to preclude geothermal development in the area.

In news on Chile, it is said that the country’s “senate has approved a measure to declare the geysers at El Tatio natural monuments in order to preclude geothermal development in the area. President Michelle Bachelet must still approve the act.

The measure was introduced after an uncontrolled 60-meter eruption of steam occurred at El Tatio during geothermal exploration late last year.

At the time, the regional environment commission in Chile, Corema, called for Geotérmica del Norte, jointly owned by Chilean State holdings and Enel, an Italian consortium, to stop work at the site, and opened an inquiry into the matter. Investigation into the occurrence is ongoing and the suspension remains in place.

Local community members from nearby San Pedro de Atacama, Calama and other areas called for authorities to adopt measures to mitigate the “serious damages provoked by the exploration of the El Tatio geysers,” the third largest in the world.

In a statement, they blamed Geotérmica del Norte for lack of expertise in exploration and say the company is acting in bad faith to deceive the communities.

The senate met in a special session last October to analyse the possible environmental damage provoked by Geotérmica’s exploration, and are now calling for the area to be named a natural monument and sanctuary of nature. The exploration was done based on a host of inaccurate and poor technical and scientific information based on the true impact that the drilling would provoke, according to a senate statement.

“An area of such natural beauty and of interest to science and tourism that is considered a national and international milestone should enjoy special protection to avoid such accidents as occurred in October,” the senate says.

The senate says it recognizes that geothermal power is an important clean source of energy, but emphasizes that it should not be promoted to the detriment of the country’s natural heritage.

During Ricardo Lagos’s presidency, between 2000 and 2006, there was a proposal to declare the area a national park.

Ana María Barón, president of the group United for El Tatio, suspects it did not go through because geothermal exploration plans were already in the works.

Barón is hopeful that Bachelet will sign the measure into law before she leaves office in March, but does not believe it will be effective as other such zones have been exploited by mining companies.

But, she does believe that COREMA will reject the project, which would be effective in putting off exploration. “I think that is the only way to save the geysers, and that is still pending,” Barón tells Recharge.”

Source: Recharge News