Chile okays lithium miner SQM’s plan to remedy water violations

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows the brine pools of SQM lithium mine on the Atacama salt flat in the Atacama desert of northern Chile, January 10, 2013. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chile’s environmental regulator on Monday approved a $25 million compliance plan by top lithium producer SQM SA , ending a multi-year investigation by Chilean authorities that found the miner had overdrawn lithium-rich brine from the Atacama salt flat.

The 18-month remediation plan includes a new online system to monitor SQM’s extraction rates of both brine and fresh water from beneath the salt flat, which lies amid the world’s driest desert.

As part of the plan, the fourth submitted by SQM over two years, the company also committed to reduce its extraction of brine by more than regulators say it drew in excess of its permits, to compensate for the infraction.

SQM did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Atacama, home to top lithium producers SQM and Albemarle, supplies more than one-third of the world’s supply of the ultralight metal, a key ingredient in the batteries that power electric vehicles.

Tensions have flared in the remote region of northern Chile as booming demand for lithium has forced producers of the so-called white gold to compete for scarce water with sprawling copper mines, a booming tourism industry and indigenous communities.

Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by David Gregorio and Marguerita Choy

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