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Barrick Gold: Veladero remedial works '100% complete'

After Argentine Judge Pablo Oritja maintained an order suspending operations at Barrick Gold Corp.'s massive Veladero gold mine last week, saying not enough had been done to meet remedial requirements after a leak, the miner has been in a scramble to show officials otherwise.

Andy Lloyd, Barrick's senior vice president of communications, said via email to SNL Metals & Mining on Oct. 3 that "a number of updates have been filed since judge Oritja's comments last week, demonstrating the necessary works are 100% complete."

Lloyd added that it was his understanding no more site inspections "are required in order for the court to make its decision."

For Barrick, it came as a shock when Oritja, a judge in San Juan province, Argentina, maintained the suspension, which went into effect Sept. 15 after the company reported a fluid leak including cyanide from a pipe.

The suspension order precipitated an ongoing investigation and a list of improvements Barrick needed to make at Veladero before operations could resume.

Barrick had expected the suspension to be lifted within about two weeks.

But Oritja ruled last week the suspension would continue as mine investigators reported Barrick had not done everything it was required to have the order lifted.

Now, in the wake of Oritja's decision, it remains unclear when a judge will revisit the order, though Barrick has stated that it does not expect the suspension to impact its gold production guidance. Last year, the mine produced just over 600,000 ounces gold.

Adding a wrinkle to the court decision making process, just days after Oritja maintained the Veladero suspension, he went on a previously scheduled two-week vacation.

An official that answered the phone at court head offices for the Province of San Juan, confirmed media reports that Oritja was on vacation. The official also confirmed that in his place, two other judges — Silvia Beatriz Rodríguez and Hugo Marcos Quiroga — would take over the file.

The official referred questions to Quiroga, who could not be reached by phone Oct. 3.

The ongoing suspension, an issue that is taking longer than Barrick had expected to resolve, raises the question of when it might start biting into Barrick's production guidance.

Barrick's Lloyd did not comment on that question by press time.

But Kerry Smith, a Haywood Securities analyst, figured that a protracted suspension, were that to occur, might start to bite by the end of the month when Barrick releases third quarter results.

"If they haven't got it up by then, there'll be an impact for sure," Smith said.

It's not a simple question to answer, Smith noted, as Veladero is a large heap leach operation. As such its heap leach pads would still actively leach ore previously placed on the pads despite the suspension to operations.