This mine was authorised despite exploiting a deposit that lies beneath an aquifer that was considered as a strategic emergency reserve for the city of Seville. It has been continuously sanctioned for illegal sutraction of water from the aquifer and mine managers have been convicted of contaminating it with arsenic.
|Status||Operational underground mine / open-pit mine|
|Concession||Junta de Andalucía 7532|
Until 2020 it operated as an open-pit mine. In 2021 a new underground mining project was authorised in association with a polymetallurgical plant to process zinc, lead and silver in addition to copper.
|Minerals||Ag Cu Zn Pb|
The deposit exploited by the mine is located under the Gerena and Guillena-Cantillana aquifer, bodies of water considered to be a strategic emergency reserve for human consumption in Seville in the event of shortages. Cobre Las Cruces has been repeatedly sanctioned for illegal sustraction of groundwater from this aquifer.
In 2016 the Provincial Court of Seville convicted three former executives of the company for continuous crimes against the environment and damage to the public hydraulic domain, for contaminating with arsenic and illegally extracting groundwater during the initial open-pit development phase (2005-2008).
In 2018 the Supreme Court upheld a Council of Ministers sanction of 923,091 euros for illegal sustraction of groundwater and a compensation of 276,927 euros for damage to the Public Hydraulic Domain of the Gerena-Posadas groundwater body. Since 2014, successive sanctioning proceedings have been initiated for the same reason, establishing sanctions and compensation of more than 6.5 million euros. In parallel, new criminal proceedings have been opened for the continuation of these actions.
The ore processing plant has involved the discharge of almost 10 million cubic metres of water contaminated with heavy metals in the Lower Guadalquivir Special Area of Conservation (SAC), through a 12-kilometre pipeline to the discharge point in La Algaba (Seville), directly into the Guadalquivir river. The planning permission for the discharge pipe was refused at the time by the town council of La Algaba, but the mining company obtained a precautionary measure to install it, subsequently annulled by the High Court of Justice of Andalusia when the work was already completed. The municipality of La Algaba finally granted the licence by means of an urban development agreement in exchange for 600,000 euros.
In 2003, the Government of Andalusia granted the exploitation concession to Cobre Las Cruces, in accordance with the Environmental Impact Statement of May 2002. In 2005, 2007, 2016 and 2020, successive modifications to the Integrated Environmental Authorisation (AAI) were processed. The 2007 AAI allowed a wastewater discharge of 900,000 m³/year into the Guadalquivir Estuary (a Natura 2000 designated area), which has been taking place since 2009, 24h a day, 365 days a year. The 2020 AAI increases the authorised discharges in the same spot to 2,340,000 m³/year.
An adequate Environmental Impact Assessment regarding impacts in the Natura 2000 has never been carried out, neither in 2002 nor in 2020, taking into account the environmental objectives of the estuary and the designated Natura 2000 site. The discharges also affect the Doñana National Park.
The High Court of Justice of Andalusia annulled the second modification of the Special Plan of the Cobre Las Cruces mine, which aimed to extend the scope of the mine for the construction of new waste dumps, and which had not been subject to an adequate strategic environmental assessment. This annulment was later confirmed by the Supreme Court and the environmental permits for the waste dumps were also annuled by the Superior Court of Andalusia. The third modification of the Special Plan of the Cobre Las Cruces mine, which sought to allow a new ore processing plant, has also been appealed in court and is currently suspended as a precautionary measure.
In 2013, the Gerena Town Council instituted a sanctioning procedure for 23 urban planning infractions, including the unlicensed construction of mine ponds and buildings that did not appear in the mining project, facts that were also investigated by the Public Prosecutor's Office.
In 2010 the company established the Cobre Las Cruces Foundation, which is responsible for social engineering efforts. Its activities include the development of educational materials ('Didactic Guide to Mining') and programmes ('Mina en el cole') for schools in affected municipalities, an 'environmental award', funding for local nonprofits and social groups, and agreements with local councils for grants and funding.
Cobre Las Cruces has also participated in several European projects focused on the so-called 'Social License to Operate', such as the INFACT and NEMO projects, which have been criticised for collecting sensitive information about the groups and social movements that have been denouncing noncompliance by mining companies.
The mining company has been the subject of disciplinary proceedings arising from accidents, some of them fatal. Cases of subcontractors concealing industrial accidents have also come to light.
The Cobre Las Cruces mining project has received numerous subsidies. In 2003 the Spanish Ministry of Economy granted it 36,942,760 euros and the following year the Regional Ministry of Employment of the Government of Andalusia granted it another 10,555,074 euros. The latter subsidy was conditioned on compliance with the provistions of the 2002 Environmental Impact Statement. In 2021, Cobre Las Cruces won a lawsuit against the government in the Spanish Supreme Court for having been denied in 2018 a subsidy of 23 million euros to develop the new mining project.
Cobre Las Cruces has also been a beneficiary of EU funds. It was the coordinating entity of the INTMET project, a 7.8 million euro project in which it received 2,737,426 euros, and beneficiary of the NEMO, INFACT, BioMOre, and RAWMINA projects, having received 1.5 million euros for the last one.
In view of the Administration's inaction, environmental groups have filed several complaints with the Guadalquivir Water Authority (leading to several sanctioning procedures), the Andalusian Regional Government, the Andalusian Ombudsman as well as the Public Prosecutor and criminal courts, leading to convictions. Various resolutions and authorisations relating to mining operations have also been appealed in contentious-administrative proceedings.