The evaluating commission, led by region XII's governor Liliana Kusanovic and also comprised of regional officers from several ministries, unanimously voted in favor of the project despite opposition from certain communities on Isla Riesco, environmental NGOs and some local authorities.
The project's EIS was submitted around the middle of January last year. Since then, the ministry's evaluation service asked the company to submit three addendums on the project responding to questions made by the ministry and other authorities on environmental issues.
Critics of the project have said Mina Invierno will negatively impact wildlife, forestry and tourism on Isla Riesco, the country's fourth largest island.
Mina Invierno involves an open pit operation to produce 6Mt/y of sub-bituminous coal over a 12-year mine life, based on current reserves of 73Mt. The company's general manager Jorge Pedrals previously told BNamericas that construction is expected to start immediately after getting environmental approval.
Mina Invierno is expected to substantially reduce the country's dependence on international markets by replacing close to 30% of current coal imports with local production. Chile currently imports 94% of coal used in power generation. Mina Invierno will replace imports from countries such as Colombia, Indonesia, Australia and the US.
The Invierno deposit is one of three coal concessions in the zone that were privatized in 2008. Together with Río Eduardo and Elena, the three deposits contain more than 1Bt of reserves.
Minera Isla Riesco is a JV between local fuel distributor Copec and shipping company Ultramar.